Between 6 and 9 June, 400 million Europeans voted in the European Parliamentary elections to select 720 representatives. This turnout represented 51% of those eligible to vote, slightly higher than in 2019 (50.66%) and significantly more than in 2014 (42.61%). Despite this increase, considering the time of multiple crises we are facing, which are even threatening the existence of our liberal democratic model, this trend is not reassuring. It highlights a growing disengagement of Europeans from the EU and democratic political processes.

European elections: results against pro-European and pro-democracy parties

The results of the European elections are synonymous with weariness with traditional political parties. This reflects the political situation in the European member states.

Strengthening of the far right in the EU elections

Reworking data provided by the Pew Research Centres, on average, 53% of citizens across the north-south, east-west European axes does not trust democracy, because the latter is not able to provide valid answer to their needs especially since an average of 59% of the citizens believe that their national economy is going bad.

Such a level of dissatisfaction and fear of welfare loss has probably contributed to the rise of far-right parties within the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR, 83 seats, +14 since 2019) and the Identity and Democracy Group (ID, 58 seats, + 9 since 2019), which have been able to catalyse attention building on common fear and using populist rhetoric to provide simple answer to complex problems.

Certainly, the electoral gains of the far-right parties in the aftermath of the European Parliamentary elections were unprecedented. Yet, the real winners in terms of numbers of seats are still traditional parties like the centre right European People’s Party (EPP, 189 seats, + 13 since 2019) and the centre left Socialists and Democrats (S&D, 136 seats, – 3 since 2019).

In this respect, what should be of concern is not the result of the EP elections per se, but the progressive normalization and consequent legitimization of far-right ideas and rhetoric within the European political arena. Indeed, if one looks at both the European Parliamentary elections and national elections through a long-term lens, it becomes clear that far right parties have for long been on the rise at both the European and national levels.

Results reflect national situations

Within the European Union, member states are also facing the rise of the far right at national level:

  • Government coalition: At national level, far right parties are part of governing coalitions in countries such as the Netherlands or Italy, but also Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden and Croatia.
  • At the heart of government: In Austria, the far right is leading in the polls, poised to take over the government in September.
  • Within national parliaments: In France, the Rassemblement National (RN), which garnered nearly a third of the French votes in the EP elections, could soon lead the French National Assembly.

When it comes to the results of the European Parliamentary elections, right and far right parties came first in six EU member countries. According to Politico polls of polls data:

  • In Austria: the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (ID member) got 25.4% of the vote, and 6 sets.
  • In Belgium: although Renew and S&D coalitions got the majority of the seats, the Vlaams Belang (ID Group), as a party, came first, with 3 seats and 14.5% of the preferences, followed by the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (ECR, 3 seats, 14%) .
  • In France, the Rassemblement National (ID) got 31.4% of the vote and 30 seats, overcoming the S&D and the Renew Coalition.
  • In Hungary and in Italy: governing parties such as Fidesz (NI) and Fratelli d’Italia (ECR) got respectively 44.8% (10 seats) and 28.8% (24 seats) of the vote.
  • In the Netherlands: Wilder’s Freedom Party Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), competing as party, got 17% of the vote, less than the S&D coalition and of the national elections results of last year, but still enough to get 6 seats at the EP.

In many 5 EU countries, such as Germany for instance, far right parties arrived second.

The consequences of the rise of the extreme right for the European institutions

The success of the far right, through its beliefs and political positions, has had and will have an impact on the political agenda and institutions of the European Union in the coming years.

A loss of power for democratic and pro-European parties

The rise of the far right was mainly at the expense of Renew Europe (74 seats, -28 since 2019) and the Greens (51, -20 seats since 2019). The ECR, led by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, directed by Marine Le Pen of the Rassemblement National have been able to aggregate right, far right and ultra-nationalist parties in the upcoming EU Parliament, leaving the liberal and green parties with limited room for influencing the EU agenda.

Indeed, if combined, the ECR and ID group will control 141 seats, without counting, for instance, the Alternative für Deutschland’s 15 lawmakers and the 10 representatives of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party among others. If those forces were to unite, they could hold 166 seats – more than the S&D group.

Potential implications for European politics

Although such a right and ultra-right alliance seems not possible, given multiple power games as well as ideological divisions, it should anyway put rightward pressure on those who are willing to strengthen the EU institutional setting and political agenda, especially at the time when the new President of the Commission, once proposed by the European Council, will need to be approved by an absolute majority of the EU Parliament.

Indeed, as the number of far-right lawmakers increases both at national and EU levels, the positions of EU member states and their governments within the Council might change, leading to a softer approach in supporting EU policies, in favour of national interests and priorities. This shift may be particularly evident regarding the Green Agenda.

Examples of nationalist or even ultra-nationalist influence

The success and influence of nationalists and ultra-nationalists is nothing new. Here are a few examples to prove it.

The Green Deal: a turning point?

As highlighted above, looking at the results of the elections from the perspectives of citizens’ preferences, it is evident that the Green national parties, with the exceptions of the Netherlands and Denmark, were the ones experiencing substantial losses.

This negative trend could undermine not the rulemaking of the Green Deal, which was abundantly done in the previous legislature, but the implementation of what has been already decided.  For instance, building on the widespread pan-European farmer protests, already in February 2024, the ECR and the ID called on the Parliament to reject the Nature Restoration Law, which aims at rehabilitating at least 20 per cent of EU land and sea areas by 2030 and all degraded ecosystems by 2050. Similarly, they do not support the ambitious carbon reduction target of 90 per cent by 2040 that the European Commission proposed in February 2024.

To make the situation even worse, many parties within the EPP have been quite timid on climate policy during the electoral campaign, with Manfred Weber maintaining the EPP is the group of industries and farmers and would rediscuss the planned phase-out of the combustion engine by 2035. Such a rear from the EPP, whose candidate for the Commission Presidency, Ursula Von der Leyen, has been the one pushing for the European green agenda in her previous mandate, might result in the EU being unable to be a credible global leader in the fight against climate change.

Migration: a question of security rather than humanity?

Migration is another issue where both the ECR and the ID did not only capture the concerns of citizens but also irresponsibly fuelled fears to lose access to welfare, in terms of healthcare, housing and the cost of living. Yet, the European institutions and Parliament somehow confirmed their arguments.

Indeed, in the past years, the European approach towards migration has been focused on ways to block migrants arriving in the EU by outsourcing migration management to third countries, even those with poor human rights record. At the same time, migration has been increasingly framed as a security issue, allowing the deterrence of irregular migrants.

The results of the European elections: a new strategy for the pro-EU parties?

Certainly, now that it is still possible, the winning strategy for traditional pro-EU parties is not to mimic far right movements propaganda on migration and the green agenda but to develop concrete policy planning to face and overcome citizens fears by providing alternative answers to their everyday problems. Otherwise, the risk is that ultranationalist rhetoric will be normalized as well as populist propaganda.

To date, if one has to look at how citizens foresee the future of the Union, the capacity of far-right parties in some of the EU funding countries to attract voters from the young generations is certainly a worrying trend. In Germany around 16% of the young voters (14-24 years old) supported Alternative für Deutschland (+11% in comparison to 2019). In France, the Rassemblement National was the most popular choice among 32% of the 18-25 age group. In Italy, 22% of voters aged between 18 and 24 voted for Fratelli d’Italia and 3% supported Lega (ID).

While those data shows that the majority of young people did not vote for the right and extreme right, it also indicated that an important part of European citizens, the one that will build the European future, does not hold any hope in traditional pro-EU politics.

Copyright Header Picture: Daniel Jedzura