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Far right set for sweeping gains in EU elections

Experts warn of obstacles in fortifying bloc's integration ambitions, policies

By CHEN YINGQUN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-26 07:38

This file photo taken on March 1, 2023 shows European Union flags flying outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [Photo/Agencies]

In a few months the European Parliament will face its once-every-five-year elections, and far-right parties are likely to emerge as the biggest winners, posing additional obstacles in the implementation of the European Union's internal and external policies, experts say.

From June 6 to 9 about 370 million voters in the 27 member states of the EU will cast their votes to elect the 720 members of the next European Parliament. It holds significant power, including the right to propose initiatives and veto EU budgets and key foreign policy decisions.

The periodic elections are often regarded as a barometer of political trends in Europe and the direction of the EU's internal and external policies.

As the EU has already suffered from a range of difficulties, such as geopolitical, economic and social challenges, this election should not be underestimated, Tian Dewen, a researcher on European issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.

Over the past few years the performance of EU institutions against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict may have disappointed many Europeans, Tian said, because they seem to have failed to protect European interests and instead acted as pawns of the United States, leading to a rise in euroskepticism.

He Yun, an associate professor at the School of Public Policy of Hunan University in Changsha, said the June elections for the European Parliament could produce significant gains for far-right, nationalist parties across the continent. This could disrupt the traditional centrist majority in Parliament and make it harder for the EU to move forward on issues such as climate change, migration, trade deals, EU enlargement and reforms needed for further integration.

With political winds shifting, the new parliament could balk at reforms needed to consolidate integration ambitions and effectively respond to external threats, he said.

Migration policies could shift in a more restrictive direction. Progress on climate goals could slow down. Trade deals such as Mercosur (the Southern Common Market) may be harder to finalize. Rule-of-law conflicts in countries such as Hungary may be harder to resolve. Reforms for further EU integration and enlargement to the East could stall, she said.

"A bolstered far-right could also pull moderate conservatives toward more hard-line stances on national sovereignty and border control. This would represent a 're-nationalization' of areas previously defined by multilateralism."

'Protest' against centrists

Despite the high stakes of the election, turnout may not be very high, Tian said, and far-right political parties may gain more seats based on recent trends. Voters making such choices may not necessarily agree with all the radical politicians' views; instead, it is often a protest against centrist parties from the left and right.

The centrist parties are losing their voter base mainly because they fail to represent the interests of the electorate, instead serving as proxies for internal and external forces, Tian said.

"This could lead to a rather ironic situation where many politicians who are against European integration are present in the European Parliament, which is supposed to promote it, further limiting the EU's capacity to act."

Moreover, the term far-right in Europe has become a stigmatizing label used by opponents, he said.

"This widespread issue is present both in the EU and in member state politics. When they can't garner voter support they label their competitors as far-rightist, which is actually a common tactic in Western political struggles."

If radical parties gain more seats, the EU may face more obstruction from the European Parliament, making "integration" decisions even more difficult, he said. While this is not ideal for the EU, it should also reflect on whether its actions align with the interests and true wishes of Europeans.

Institutionally speaking, a more diversified and even fragmented European Parliament could be beneficial in preventing Brussels bureaucrats from pushing through decisions under the EU name that do not serve European interests, he said.

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