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EU elections and the rise of far right

As curtains come down for the Indian elections in this year of worldwide elections, 70 more countries are going or have gone to the hustings around the globe. All these states are going to the polls or have elected new leaders from the United States to South America, Brazil to Taiwan. The European Parliament also […]

As curtains come down for the Indian elections in this year of worldwide elections, 70 more countries are going or have gone to the hustings around the globe. All these states are going to the polls or have elected new leaders from the United States to South America, Brazil to Taiwan. The European Parliament also goes to the polls between 6th June and 9th June 2024. It is the only directly elected transnational assembly in the world. The European Parliament represents European Union citizens at the European level. The members of the European Parliament (MEPs), along with the representatives of member states’ governments, make laws that affect the lives of EU citizens, ranging from the economy to immigration, poverty, climate change, and security. The European Parliament approves the EU budget and scrutinizes how the money is spent besides electing the President of the European Commission and Commissioners, making them accountable to the European Parliament.
This year, the European Right in all likelihood is going to strike rich in the European Parliament elections. It is predicted that around 25% of the seats in the European Parliament will be in the Far Right’s bags. It is apprehended that even if the center-right is not able to form a coalition with the far right, there are chances that, with more radical leaders in the European Parliament, the far right will still be able to influence many of the decisions of the EP.

‘Right of Europe’: The Eurosceptics
One of the hallmarks of the European Union has been its stability. This stability has meant that there has not been a war among its members, and it has enjoyed relative prosperity among itself. However, there has always been anxiety over the survival of the European Union as an institution, especially in the past decade and a half. The economic crisis in 2007-09, a debt crisis, a refugee crisis since 2015, a rise of the far right, and Brexit have perpetuated this anxiety among its constituents. It has always defied sceptics and has been able to maintain its status quo if not able to come out stronger. There have been ominous portents to its future, especially in light of a rising China with huge trade surpluses with all its members and the prospect of its rising power status largely in conflict with the economic expectations of the West and the war in Ukraine. Both these instances have made the imperative need for these states to unite even stronger.
The legitimacy of the European Union is sought to be challenged this time around with the probability that the elections might throw up an entirely new set of MEPs who go against the very idea of the European Union, known as the Eurosceptics. Europe’s far-right, by their very stated objectives, oppose globalism, immigration, asylum, and free and open borders. They have different views on the environment, agricultural subsidies, defence, and security issues, among many others, the core European Union principles. The predicted win of large numbers of MEPs from the right parties across Europe may have long-term implications for the European Union’s political direction that it might take after the elections. Most specifically, the European legislations on human rights, the rule of law, and its rise may upset the green and climate laws.

The Influence
of Far-Right
The potential surge in far-right representation within the European Parliament poses significant questions about the future trajectory of the EU. Historically, the EU has been a bastion of progressive policies, championing human rights, environmental sustainability, and economic cooperation. However, the far-right’s ascent threatens to challenge these fundamental values. Their staunch opposition to immigration and asylum policies could lead to stricter border controls and a more fragmented approach to handling refugees, potentially exacerbating humanitarian crises.
Moreover, the far-right’s scepticism towards globalism might result in a shift towards more protectionist economic policies. This could hinder the free trade agreements that have been a cornerstone of the EU’s economic strategy, potentially leading to trade conflicts within the EU and with external trading partners like the United States and China.

Climate and
Policies
The EU has been at the forefront of global efforts to combat climate change, setting ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting renewable energy. However, the rise of the far-right, which often questions the scientific consensus on climate change, could stall or reverse these initiatives. Far-right parties have historically prioritised economic growth over environmental protection, and their increased influence could lead to the rolling back of critical environmental regulations and climate action policies.

Defence and
Security Concerns
The far-right’s differing stance on defence and security issues may also pose challenges. While the EU has been working towards a more integrated and cohesive defence policy, the far-right’s nationalist tendencies could undermine these efforts. They might push for a more isolationist approach, weakening collective security measures and potentially straining relationships with NATO and other international security organisations.

Farm Subsidies
Agricultural policy is another area where the far-right’s influence could be felt. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been a significant component of the EU’s budget, aimed at supporting farmers and ensuring food security. Far-right parties, with their strong rural support base, may advocate for maintaining or even increasing subsidies. However, they might also push for reforms that favour large-scale industrial agriculture over smaller, sustainable farming practices, potentially impacting rural development and environmental sustainability.

Social Cohesion and Human Rights
The European Union has long prided itself on promoting social cohesion and upholding human rights. The far-right’s rise poses a direct threat to these values. Their anti-immigration rhetoric and policies could foster division and xenophobia, eroding the social fabric of EU societies. Additionally, their opposition to progressive social policies, such as LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality, could result in setbacks for social justice movements across the continent.

Future of
European
Integration
The outcome of the European Parliament elections will be a litmus test for the future of European integration. A significant gain for the far-right could lead to a more fragmented and less cohesive EU. It may embolden Eurosceptic movements in member states, potentially leading to more referendums on EU membership and further exits akin to Brexit. This fragmentation would weaken the EU’s global standing and its ability to act as a unified bloc in international affairs.
The upcoming European Parliament elections are poised to be a critical juncture for the European Union. The potential rise of the far-right represents a challenge to the core principles underpinning the EU’s success: cooperation, openness, and progressive values. While the EU has faced numerous crises in the past and emerged resilient, the current political climate suggests that the path forward may be fraught with new challenges. The decisions made in the coming months will not only shape the future of the European Union but also influence the global political landscape. As voters head to the polls, the stakes have never been higher for the future of Europe and the values it stands for.

Dr Amitabh Singh, Associate Professor, School of International Studies, J.N.U New Delhi.

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