Sunday

19th Sep 2021

Study casts doubt on possible far-right MEP alliance

Too many differences divide the European Parliament's far-right MEPs for them to ever create a cohesive EU-wide alliance, according to researchers of a new study.

The report published by the London School of Economics comes amid a gathering of Hungarian, Polish and Italian conservative-nationalist leaders in Budapest on Thursday (1 April).

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The Budapest talks, organised by Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán, seeks to create a new populist alliance after his Fidesz MEPs were booted out of the dominant centre-right group, the European People's Party (EPP).

Among those attending the meeting was Italy's Matteo Salvini, who wants the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) to join with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

Together, in theory, they would become the second-largest group in the European Parliament.

But one of the authors behind the new study has poured cold water on that ever happening.

Matthias Diermeier, from the German Economic Institute and the University Duisburg-Essen, said economic and political nativism, further divided by East-West perspectives, makes such an alliance a remote possibility.

"Our conclusion would be it is very unlikely that these differences can be overcome in an alliance, or the alliance would be so weak that it literally makes no sense," he said.

Diermeier along with Hannah Frohwein and Aljoscha Nau, from the same institute, drafted the 45-page report.

They found that nativist ideologies tend to divide far-right MEPs, often pitting eastern and western counterparts against one another.

These divides are further aggravated by historical grievances over Russia, for instance.

"The nativism core ideology prevents them from transnational cooperation," said Nau.

Although most of the far-right are drawn towards authoritarianism, deep divisions remain over how they view Russia and China.

Nau said the Western far-right tend to admire Russian strength while their eastern colleagues cringe at Moscow.

A similar geographic split on China also emerges, says Nau.

He says the far-right in the West are wary of China for economic reasons, while the east are more welcoming of Beijing's investments.

"It is economic nativism that divides them," he said.

The researchers drew their conclusions based, in part, by digging into European Parliament voting records spanning 2014 to 2019.

They then used the results to measure unity ranging from "total dissent" to "complete agreement".

The resulting data found that the radical right in the European Parliament are much more divided, compared to other political factions.

These divisions were even deeper when split among Western and Eastern perspectives.

And those dividing lines were the most pronounced on economic questions dealing with regional development, international trade, China and Russia.

The researchers also looked at how China uses soft power to sway EU policy through its so-called EU-China friendship group, an informal gathering of MEPs seeking ties with Beijing.

But Nau described its influence as a "mixed picture", noting that the group was suspended earlier this year after its chair become embroiled in a conflict of interest.

Opinion

Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame

Aside from the EPP, Hungary was also protected - at a member states' level - by key bilateral partners; and not only illiberal countries like Poland, Bulgaria or recently Slovenia - but most importantly also by Germany.

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