Europe shifting further right (III)

The far right is gaining strength in the European Parliament, now claiming almost a quarter of MEPs. Commission President von der Leyen seeks ultra-right support to water down the Green Deal.

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (own report) - Following the European elections, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is continuing her efforts to attract at least some individual far-right parties into future majority voting arrangements in the European Parliament. In particular, von der Leyen and allied German politicians have their sights set on closer cooperation with the Fratelli d’Italia party of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and possibly even with the wider ECR parliamentary group, which Meloni’s party supports. Behind this move is a desire shown by EU member states and the Commission to water down the Green Deal. Business-friendly reversals and delays could prove difficult to implement in cooperation with the Green Group and sections of the Social Democratic Group. Much of the ultra-right spectrum, on the other hand, is willing to help. Indeed, the experience of recent years has shown that the Commission was only capable of pushing a whole series of climate-damaging measures through Parliament by gaining the support of the ECR Group. Discussions of the future of the Commission and its political direction are expected to take place on the fringes of the G7 summit in Italy from Thursday.

Almost a fourth of all seats

The June elections to the European Parliament have brought remarkable success to parties of the extreme right in a whole series of member states. In Germany, the AfD came second with 15.9 per cent of the vote. In France, Rassemblement National (RN) achieved an impressive 31.37 per cent. RN trounced President Emmanuel Macron’s party, Renaissance, who only received 14.6 per cent. Far-right parties emerged as the strongest force in Austria (FPÖ, 25.7 per cent) and Belgium (Vlaams Belang, 14.5 per cent), came second in, for example, the Netherlands (PVV/Geert Wilders, 17.7 per cent) and Romania (Alliance for the Unification of Romanians, 14.9 per cent), and third in Spain (Vox, 9.6 per cent) and Portugal (Chega, 9.8 per cent). The two far-right groupings in the parliament, ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) and ID (Identity and Democracy), have managed to increase their MEP numbers from 69 to 73 (ECR) and from 49 to 58 (ID) respectively. If we factor in the non-attached MEPs from the AfD, Hungary’s Fidesz and others, the proportion of ultra-right MEPs in the new European Parliament is close to 25 per cent.

Seeking a majority

Efforts to create a stable majority in the European Parliament have long begun. It is a question of finding backers for the political projects of the next European Commission, whose leadership is claimed by the incumbent president Ursula von der Leyen. In principle, von der Leyen could continue to rely on the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) Group in an alliance between Social Democrats and Liberals. This would give her 401 MEPs, considerably more than the necessary majority of 361 MEPs.[1] However, the members of parliamentary groups often do not vote in unison due to national differences on policy. Observers estimate a typical drop-out rate of 10 to 15 per cent depending on the issues. So from the Commission’s point of view, a broader basis for decision-making is essential, especially now that opposition from within the latter two groups can be expected. In the last legislative period the Commission was often able to rely on Greens for parliamentary votes on realising the Green Deal. However, this faction has now fallen sharply from 71 to 52 seats. Apart from their numerical decline, there are key policy disagreements. The Commission, under pressure from member states, recently had to push a number of legislative proposals through the European Parliament that were unacceptable or difficult to accept not only for Greens MEPs but also for some Social Democrats. Plans to water down environmental protection and repel refugees are harder to swallow for these groupings.[2]

Help from the far right

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has increasingly relied on the tacit backing of the ECR Group. The Commission only succeeded in getting a tightening of the asylum law through Parliament by persuading MPs from Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia to vote in favour of the proposal. The Italian support came despite serious objections, while MEPs from Meloni’s coalition partner Lega agreed to abstain – contrary to their original intention to vote against.[3] There were as many as 340 occasions in which the Commission relied on votes from far-right MEPs (ECR or ID group members) to approve measures such as reduced carbon pricing for the automotive industry and retained fossil fuel subsidies, according to an investigation by the Green Group in the Parliament.[4] Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has, for some time, been seeking closer cooperation with the ECR – not only to generally broaden her voting base in Parliament but above all to drive through the anti-climate policy preferences of Member States and the Commission as well as various hard-right measures.[5]

The new firewall

The idea of maintaining a firewall, a cordon sanitaire, against the far-right is now a major focus of debate, alongside the difficult negotiations with the Greens. It is understood that von der Leyen will reserve the right to cooperate closely with Meloni and her Fratelli d’Italia party. Cooperation with ultra-right forces such as the Fratelli d’Italia has traditionally been considered taboo in the EU. However, von der Leyen has now redefined the criteria for becoming a political ally. For this, her key demands are that parties reject fundamental criticism of the EU, are willing to cooperate with NATO, and participate in the fight against Russia. As former CDU cabinet minister Jens Spahn recently stated, “The firewall that requires potential partners of the EPP to be pro-European, pro-NATO, pro-rule of law and pro-Ukraine runs to the right of Meloni’s party in the European Parliament.”[6] After the election, the question now arises as to whether the entire ECR should be explicitly embraced for cooperation [7] and how far this openness to the far right also applies to other parties, such as the RN in France. The fact that the polls indicate a good chance of victory for RN frontwoman Marine Le Pen in a run-off against Macron in the France’s 2027 presidential election only increases the pressure to include the RN, as a future presidential party, in any agreements.

The new pillar

With a view to EU policy in the next few years, observers point out that a further shift away from action on climate and the environment is increasingly clear with regard to the economic and business agenda for Europe. This is demonstrated by ever louder calls for the future ban on combustion engines to be lifted, for greater use of nuclear power (or, in the German case, a return to nuclear power), for weaker climate measures and laxer environmental regulations for agriculture. In the “strategic agenda that the heads of state and government want to adopt at the end of June for the next legislative period ... there is practically no sign of the Green Deal.”[8] The legislation needed for this agenda would probably be difficult to adopt with the votes of the Green Group in the Parliament. There will likewise be considerable opposition from parts of the Social Democratic Group. However, far-right parties in the ECR and ID parliamentary groups would provide some reliable support for the reversal plans.


More on this topic: Europe shifting further right and Europe shifting further right (II).


[1] European Parliament 2024-2029.

[2], [3] Thomas Gutschker: Europa rückt nach rechts. Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung 28.04.2024.

[4] Timo Lehmann: Konservative stimmten 340 Mal gemeinsam mit Rechtsradikalen. 24.05.2024.

[5] See also: Europe shifting further right.

[6] Nick Alipour: Jens Spahn: „Die Brandmauer in Europa verläuft rechts von Meloni“. 21.05.2024.

[7] Thomas Gutschker: Von der Leyen muss jetzt ihre Wiederwahl sichern. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 10.06.2024.

[8] Hendrik Kafsack, Christian Schubert, Niklas Záboji: Eine EU mit Rechtsdrall. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 11.06.2024.