What can the rise of the extreme right mean for Europe?

As citizens go to the polls in all 27 Member States, political uncertainty looms over the continent. For the first time, far-right parties, opposed to the establishment, can take nearly 20% of the seats in the next EU Parliament. The same parties govern – directly or indirectly – more than a dozen EU Member States. Among them are some founding states of the EU, such as Italy and the Netherlands, where over time they have gained an unprecedented and until recently inconceivable respectability. However, the same normalization process has not yet occurred in the EU although it probably will. However, it will develop differently than at the national level, due to some unique structural and political characteristics of the EU.

Firstly, the President of the European Commission, who will be appointed by the Heads of State and Government meeting in the Council, is neither legally bound nor politically expected to form a clearly defined political majority before the vote in the European Parliament . Likewise, newly elected members are not expected to choose sides before the election, and even if asked to do so by their own political parties, they will vote in secret. This explains why in 2019 Von der Leyen did not win the support of all the MEPs of the majority parties that supported her, and instead obtained the votes of those – such as the Polish PiS – who were not supposed to support her. As a result, the next EU Commission will not have a permanent majority, but one of variable geometry, which in turn will define the election of the presidential candidate.

Secondly, the EU Parliament is neither “European” nor is it a Parliament proper. It is not European to the extent that its members belong to national -not EU- political parties. Although incoming elected officials can join EU political groups, these groups are ideologically heterogeneous and cannot guarantee permanent political support for any presidential candidate. The European Parliament is not a Parliament, since it lacks legislative initiative, which corresponds instead to the EU Commission. This means that, although far-right parties can come together in a single group – compared to the current two groups of ECR ​​and ID – this alone will not be able to define the political direction of the Union. The far right will not be able to propose legislation, but simply delay or stop proposals from the European Commission, which is expected to remain in the hands of the majority parties. In foreign policy, the European Parliament has even fewer prerogatives, so even a large contingent of far-right parties will not be able to change things much.

These structural features of the EU appear to greatly limit the ability of the far right, even if united, to redefine the future direction of the EU.

Two other factors seem to cloud the possibility of the far right taking the lead in the EU.

The idea of ​​uniting far-right parties across the EU is an old dream, pioneered by Farage, Le Pen and Wilders more than 20 years ago. However, it never came true. Not only are these parties inherently incompatible with each other – think of their opposing stance on Russia – but their own nationalist approach prevents them from cooperating across borders. This suggests that, despite its historic rise, the far right will not be able to dictate the EU's priorities, which will remain in the hands of the majority parties.

However, while the far right will not gain political control of the EU project, it will, thanks to its record number of seats, gain profound and potentially destabilizing political influence.

To get an idea of ​​what awaits us, let's look at what has happened in recent months when the outgoing Commission president, feeling pressure from far-right EU parties and farmers' protests, abandoned her legacy : the Green New Deal. She did it to also regain the trust of her own party, the EPP, but also that of many liberals, such as the German liberal FDP, or that of French President Macron, who called for a “climate regulatory pause.” Previously, she also turned EU migration policy from a humanitarian challenge to a security issue, largely co-opting the project dictated by the far right.

From this point of view, these elections are going to accelerate a turn to the right that has already largely occurred inside and outside the EU, and take it to a different level.

Not only climate ambitions are at stake, but also the broader agenda of the traditionally integrationist EU. The enlargement of the Union, closely linked to institutional reform, is likely to slow down or even stop under the influence of the far right. The EU's next long-term budget, to be negotiated by the EP in 2026, will be reduced, which may create an unprecedented gap between citizens' expectations for the EU to address the big challenges and the means it will have to do so. do it.

Therefore, a good result for the far right may give them the opportunity to thwart, by slowing or stopping, the mainstream's integrationist agenda. This is what is at stake in these elections. A profound change of direction.