Doomsday Scenario in Europe

Anti AfD Demo - Credit : Flickr CC \ Martin Heinlein \ DIE LINKE

Patrick Costello sees ominous signs for far right gains in June’s European Parliament elections

The surprising result for Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Dutch national elections at the end of last year prompted a flurry of alarm in the UK press on the growing threat of the far right in Europe. These concerns have been heightened by polling earlier this year suggesting that the AfD in Germany is the second biggest party at 22% and that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) is consistently in first place with up to a third of the French electorate’s support.

The far-right surge takes place alongside a growing number of EU governments in which far-right and right populists already form part of the governing coalition. Italy’s prime minister, Georgia Meloni, started her political activity leading the youth movement of the neo-fascist MSI. Her MEPs now sit with those of the darling of the Trumpian right, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, as well as Members of the Finns Party, the junior coalition partner in the Finnish government and the Sweden Democrats, who are an essential part of the Swedish government’s majority. Within this European Conservative and Reform Group also sit members from the more explicitly far right Vox party of Spain and the Reconquête party of Eric Zemmour, positioned to the right of Le Pen in France.

The rightward turn of Europe’s electorate has been a gradual process, building over the last decade or so, against a background of post-2008 economic austerity. Concern is now growing as the parties scapegoating foreigners and migrants make major breakthroughs in national elections. Furthermore, the willingness of the centre-right to form coalitions with the far right has created fears of the same kind of enabling of the far right that occurred in the 1930s. The Nazi Party came to power in Germany on the back of only 33% support in the elections of November 1932. Brussels insiders have been heard to mutter darkly that there are too many Hindenburgs in today’s Europe, referring not to the airship disaster but to Paul Von Hindenburg, the conservative German President who enabled Hitler to become Chancellor.

At European level, to date the far right has been largely marginalised in the European Parliament through a concerted effort by the mainstream parties, including a “cordon sanitaire” around the most extreme members who sit in the Identity and Democracy group (including German AfD and French RN members). The majorities needed for legislation have been secured during the last five years by the centre-right, centre-left and liberal groups. Together with the Greens and the Communists, they have also successfully manoeuvred to exclude far-right politicians from the powerful Committee Chair positions.

However polling predictions for the June European elections have been suggesting for some time that the far-right breakthroughs at national level will be paralleled this time in the European Parliament. The big winners of the poll are expected to be Identity and Democracy who are set to become the third biggest group in the parliament (behind the centre-right EPP and the Socialists). Together with the European Conservative and Reformist Group, the far right is expected to be bigger than either the EPP or the Socialists. The temptation for the centre-right to become “European Hindenburgs” by forming majorities with the far right will therefore be high. This could have a devastating impact on EU policies, especially on the green transition and on migration policies.

There is a possible doomsday scenario in which Trump wins back the US Presidency, the far right holds the balance of power in the European Parliament and Marine Le Pen wins the French Presidential elections expected in 2027. However, there are several reasons for at least some guarded hope that the worst will not materialize. There have been at least two big recent European national elections where the expected triumphs of a conservative/far right coalition (Spain) or right-wing populist party (Poland) have not materialised. In both cases, the winners have been coalitions of left/centre-left and, in the case of Poland, centre-right parties. Even in the case of the Netherlands, the path to a coalition government that includes Geert Wilders is looking fraught at the time of writing. In Germany, hundreds of thousands have been participating in mass demonstrations across the country since mid-January protesting against the AfD. These appeared following the exposure of senior AfD presence at a Potsdam meeting discussing proposals for the mass deportation of all foreign-born Germans. The demonstrations have already had a negative impact on the poll ratings of the AfD.

Across Europe, the battle is on between popular fronts of anti-far right parties and various coalitions of the far right and their conservative enablers. The winners of this battle cannot yet be predicted.

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