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Far-Right Parties Might See Gains in European Elections

European Parliament elections are currently underway and set to conclude on June 9. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, declared her candidacy in February and is widely anticipated to secure a second term.

As Europe braces for these elections, considered as 27 separate contests across member states, polling data suggests that far-right parties are on the brink of significant gains. This potential shift reflects a broader rightward trend that has shaped European politics over the past decade.

In Germany, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is poised for significant gains despite setbacks in the 2021 Bundestag elections, where it lost 11 seats and approximately one million votes. European elections, which typically attract Eurosceptic, anti-globalist, and more politically extreme voters, provide the AfD with a crucial platform. The AfD successfully increased its vote count by over two million between the 2014 and 2019 European elections, indicating its growing influence.

The AfD has been widely accused of extremism, with the German judiciary supporting these claims due to multiple instances of racist and neo-Nazi statements by party members. In January, a BBC investigation revealed that senior AfD members, including an advisor to the party’s co-leader, had attended meetings with neo-Nazi influencers. Discussions at these meetings reportedly included plans for the deportation of millions of asylum seekers and individuals with “non-German backgrounds,” even those with German citizenship.

These revelations ignited a national debate on whether the AfD should be banned and prompted large-scale anti-extremism protests across Germany. More than 300,000 people took to the streets in cities like Berlin, Cologne, and Hamburg, protesting what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described as “an attack against our democracy and in turn on all of us.”

Despite their setbacks in 2021, the AfD remains a significant force, polling as the second most popular party nationally. Like many far-right groups across Europe, the AfD has reacted strongly to pro-Palestinian protests, positioning itself as a defender against perceived anti-Semitism, despite its controversial history.

Following the scandalous remarks on deportations, the AfD was expelled from the pan-European coalition group Identity and Democracy (ID) in the European Parliament. Although they remain on the ballot in Germany, they have become increasingly isolated from other far-right parties.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s rebranded party, the National Rally (RN), is expected to capture over 30% of the vote, significantly outpacing President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble, which is polling around 15%.

Following the AfD’s controversial statements, Le Pen distanced her party from them, signaling a strategic shift towards the center ground in an attempt to appeal to a broader electorate. This is a marked change from her previous presidential campaigns, which were characterized by appeals to extremist elements. The recent surge of pro-Palestinian sentiment has sparked intense debate in France, with the RN capitalizing on these issues to strengthen its stance on immigration and national identity.

Le Pen’s move to moderate her party’s image contrasts sharply with the RN’s historical roots in racism and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party’s founder, has a long record of xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic statements and convictions for Holocaust denial.

In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni‘s Brothers of Italy (FdI) party is expected to follow a similar trajectory. Since becoming Italy’s first female head of state in October 2022, Meloni has maintained a significant lead over the Democratic Party (PD), trailing by approximately 10 points.

The FdI, often labeled as neo-fascist, has advocated for strict measures against refugees and migrants. Like the AfD and RN, they are Eurosceptic and anti-globalist, reflecting a growing sentiment of skepticism towards NATO and Atlanticism within Italy.

As the elections progress, parties will form coalitions within the European Parliament. The center-right European People’s Party (EPP), which currently holds 187 seats, is projected to decrease to around 170 seats. Similarly, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), which has 148 seats, is expected to see a reduction, while the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) may gain up to 20 seats, capitalizing on shifting political dynamics.

These elections are unfolding against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, which is driving the EU closer to a potential regional confrontation with Russia. Despite anticipated losses for her coalition, Ursula von der Leyen’s position appears secure due to her critical role in managing the EU’s response to the conflict.

While the “green wave” of the 2019 elections focused the EU on ambitious climate goals, the 2024 elections are heavily influenced by war and geopolitical tensions. As right-wing populism continues to rise, concerns about the future of the European project and its ability to address regional challenges remain critical.

These far-right movements, fueled by ethno-nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and distrust of supranational organizations, highlight the urgent need for the EU to effectively navigate the continent’s evolving political landscape. The challenge lies in addressing these complex issues while maintaining unity and stability across Europe.

The growing influence of far-right parties raises questions about the sustainability of the European project. These parties, driven by a worldview rooted in nationalism and opposition to migration, reflect broader societal frustrations and the perceived failures of current political institutions to address economic and security challenges. The 2024 elections will be a crucial test of the EU’s ability to adapt and respond to these emerging threats, shaping the future trajectory of the continent’s political landscape.