The Platform

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The recent European elections witnessed a significant surge in far-right parties.

Earlier this month, the European Union’s political landscape experienced a significant shift. A noticeable rightward drift has emerged in many member states, raising concerns about the future direction of EU governance and policy. The surge in far-right and populist movements has disrupted traditional political dynamics, ushering in a period of uncertainty. The implications of this shift on international relations, social policy, and European unity are becoming increasingly apparent.

The European Parliament, the EU’s legislative body, consists primarily of delegates chosen by the national legislatures of member states. With 720 seats, it is the only directly elected legislative body within the EU, representing the citizens of its member nations. The Parliament is responsible for negotiating EU legislation with member state governments, approving the EU budget, and ratifying international agreements. Members are elected every five years and also select the Parliament’s president, who serves a two-and-a-half-year term.

Far-right factions of varying ideologies have been on the rise across Europe. These groups are categorized into three types: conservative parties with neo-fascist roots, populist or nationalist populists, and nostalgic nationalists. After the Second World War, most voters believed that the extreme right would never again ascend to power. Mainstream political parties traditionally refused to collaborate with far-right factions. However, these taboos are gradually eroding.

Hardliners now dominate over the left, liberals, and moderates. Notably, the election results in France, Germany, and Austria have surprised many. In France, the pro-Russian National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, secured 33% of the vote, more than double that of Macron’s Renaissance party, marking the highest level of support for the far-right in decades. The European People’s Party secured 190 seats, the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats of Europe (S&D) 136 seats, the Left Party 39 seats, Renew Europe 80 seats, and the Green Party 52 seats. In response, President Emmanuel Macron dissolved the Parliament and called for new elections. Additionally, amidst political turmoil across Europe, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced his resignation following his party’s electoral defeat, having secured only 5.9% of the vote.

Similar patterns emerged in Austria and Germany. The election delivered a severe setback to leaders such as Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Scholz’s Social Democratic Party fared poorly, with the far-right Alternative for Germany securing 16% of the vote. Despite being mired in controversies, Alternative for Germany finished second. In Austria, the conservative People’s Party garnered nearly 24% of the vote, while the far-right Freedom Party received around 26%.

In Italy, the Brothers of Italy party, led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, also performed well.

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, emerged as one of the election’s biggest surprises amidst a growing right-wing trend. Despite receiving 44% of the vote, this was Fidesz’s worst performance in a European Parliament election, while the newly formed Tisza party garnered 30% of the vote.

Experts suggest that the success of right-wing candidates could reshape politics across Europe. Globally, the European Parliament is often seen as a reflection of European nationalism. A strong right-wing presence in the Parliament could hinder the passage of new laws addressing issues like security, climate change, or competition with China and the United States. The EU was formed to enhance trade and collaboration among member states, establishing a common market throughout Europe. However, the rise of the right-wing could undermine this unity.

European unity was still viewed as a crucial peace goal after the Second World War. Over time, the EU has become a stable global organization, but this election underscores a recent rightward trend in the politics of many European nations. Some believe this outcome could jeopardize geopolitics.

The war in Ukraine, now in its second year, presents a fresh dilemma for the EU, which must decide how to support Ukraine in the coming years. If Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his aggression beyond Ukraine, the EU may face difficult decisions regarding its response. Additionally, questions about reducing dependency on the U.S. and how Brussels will manage relations with China have surfaced.

Historically, Europe’s right-wing factions have opposed immigration, refugees, and the European unification project, while also harboring racist and anti-Islamic sentiments. Although they lack a viable plan for Europe’s socio-economic development, these groups continue to appeal to voters with their extreme politics.

Some accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of fueling the rise of the far-right in Europe, a concern particularly for leaders in Germany and France, who accused Russia of attempting to influence European votes ahead of the election. Russia, however, remained silent on the matter. Experts argue that the Kremlin has consistently opposed NATO and the West’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict. Russian think tanks have worked to sow discord within Europe’s political landscape, targeting the elections as part of this strategy. A more pro-Russian European Parliament could strain Europe’s relationship with NATO.

Public dissatisfaction with issues like immigration, unemployment, and inflation has driven voters toward the right wing, while left-wing parties have lost touch with these voters. As disillusionment grows, voters might swing back to the left. In a democracy, public support naturally oscillates like a pendulum. The critical question is whether those now coming to power can effectively govern.

With the far-right gaining traction, Europe’s political landscape is more divided and polarized than ever. This development raises serious concerns about the EU’s ability to address critical global challenges such as economic competition, climate change, migration, and security. As Europe navigates these turbulent times, the stability and unity of the EU are under threat. Will this significant rightward shift signal a new era in politics, or will it exacerbate divisions and complicate efforts to uphold the European ideal? The full impact of this historic election will become evident in time.

S.M. Sayem is a Dhaka-based foreign policy analyst studying Economics at the University of Chittagong.