With fewer than 20 days to go before the European elections, the atmosphere is becoming increasingly tense and, in some cases, polarized. The latest physical attacks on politicians in Germany have caused concern and awakened memories of the country’s Nazi past. The rightwards shift of EU societies is reflected in polls that put the Far Right in third place behind the European People’s Party and the Socialists. This trend is even stronger in France, where Marine Le Pen is making strides.

The Rise of the Far Right

“If the predictions prove correct, a large part of the big picture of the upcoming European elections will be the historically significant rise of the Far Right. The polls currently put parties including Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National in France, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and Alternative for Germany (AfD) comfortably in first or second place. Broadly speaking, this rise can be attributed to these parties’ extraordinary ability to exploit to their advantage the rapid pace of social change, the polarization surrounding various social, identity and cultural issues, the generalized economic precarity, and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis across the continent. And, of course, many of these far-right forces have no qualms about riding on the back of wide-ranging groundswells of nationalist and populist feeling and seeking electoral gains under their banner. These include anti-systemicism, social reactions against the political ‘establishment’, the distrust or dissatisfaction which Europe’s climate policies arouse in many citizens, and the sense of insecurity which increased migrant and refugee flows have provoked among segments of the population,” explains Vassilis Ntousas, Senior Manager for Europe at the German Marshall Fund.

At the same time, the decision by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to exclude the Identity and Democracy (ID) party candidate from the May 23 televised debate in the European Parliament has displeased the far-right camp.
“It’s clear there is censorship on the part of the European public broadcasters,” said Anders Wistisen, a Danish far-right MEP who represented ID in the debate staged by POLITICO and Studio Europa in Maastricht.

For its part, the EBU sent an email (which Wistisen showed POLITICO) to senior ID politicians on May 7, stating that no one from that grouping would be able to participate, since ID had not formally approved a main candidate to chair the next Commission.

Looked at in this light, what the alliances and the European project itself will look like in the wake of the elections appears hard to predict.

Vassilis Ntousas explains that “The most crucial element will be the willingness or not of the European People’s Party—which every poll sees crossing the line first at the European level, well ahead of the Eurosocialists in second place—to cooperate or align with the far right on specific issues in order to implement its agenda. However, recent experience at the national level tells us that whenever the Center Right has collaborated with the Far Right, while it may reap political benefits in the short term, in the long run it is the extremists that gain most from the partnership by being brought into the political limelight. Moreover, citizens become ‘desensitizing’ to these parties’ often extreme rhetoric and political agendas. Whatever happens, this means that there will be a lot at stake at the pan-European level in the upcoming EU elections, despite previous iterations having played out almost exclusively in national terms. In short, the citizens of Europe will be presented with a clear political choice.”

On the other hand, even the so-called Far Right is not homogeneous, with policies and party lines in common. As Ntousas notes: “There may be some common elements, such as a general desire to curb the power of the EU or an agenda to drastically cut migrant flows, but there are multiple issues on which there is anything but a consensus across the Far Right. The AfD, for example, is still calling for Germany to leave the EU, a position which clearly differs from that of many other far-right parties, including the Rassemblement National in France and the Swedish Democrats, who have softened their anti-European stance. At the same time, Italian Prime Minister Meloni strongly supports the Euro-Atlantic line in favor of Ukraine and its territorial integrity, a position which contrasts starkly with the line taken by the AfD, FPÖ and Orbán’s Fidesz, all of which maintain close ties with the Kremlin.”

The Case of Italian PM Meloni

Meloni is expected to figure prominently in post-election developments. Asked during the first tele-debate whether she would work with the ECR (Eurosceptics), Commission President and EPP candidate Ursula von der Leyen said, seemingly with an eye on the Italian prime minister, that “It depends very much on how the composition of the parliament is and who is in what group.” Talking in Split, she did however reject any collaboration with “the extremists of the right and left and Putin’s proxies.”

From her place on the Council, Meloni herself has chosen to diverge from the Far Right’s hard political line. Reportedly, she tries not to upset the political apple cart, while remaining assertive. Even when tensions escalate, she is one of those who know how to dispel the intensity.

The EU’s ability to continue moving forward as a bloc, despite disagreements between member states, is now at stake. Meanwhile major challenges remain unresolved, the war in Ukraine continues to rage, the Middle East is in flames, and extremist forces are doing their damnedest to start a political earthquake that will destroy whatever cohesion has been achieved over the last five years of unprecedented crises.