Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

EU far-right less impressive than predicted

The far-right League party stormed to victory in Italy and the National Rally just about won in France in Europe's 2019 election.

Far-right forces also did well in isolated pockets, such as Belgium and Slovakia, and nationalist parties won in Hungary and Poland.

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  • "The decisive battle for the future of our homeland will take place in the autumn," Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski said (Photo: ois.org.pl)

But the far-right was less impressive in Germany and further afield, posing questions on its future effectiveness in the European Parliament (EP) and its big-mouthed mission to transform EU values.

Divisions on EP tactics and on issues such as Russia or fiscal discipline also stand in the way of a more powerful anti-EU front.

"A new Europe is born. I am proud that the League is participating in this new European renaissance," party chief and Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini said in Milan on Sunday (26 May).

"The French president [Emmanuel Macron] turned this election into a referendum. He and his politics have been rejected," the National Rally party's top European Parliament candidate, Jordan Bardella, said in Paris.

They spoke after the League won 34 percent of Italy's vote compared to just six percent five years ago. The National Rally won 24 percent in France compared to Macron's pro-EU liberal party, Republic on the Move's 22 percent.

Smaller far-right parties also came on in leaps and bounds in Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, and Slovakia.

And the idea of a right-wing "renaissance" gained weight with victories by nationalist and increasingly anti-EU ruling parties in Hungary and Poland, where Fidesz and Law and Justice, respectively, came top with 52 percent and 46 percent.

"Hungarians gave us the task of ... stopping immigration all across Europe," and of "protecting Christian culture" Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said.

"We are small but we want to change Europe," he added.

Salvini has promised to form a new EP group with the National Rally and with far-right parties from 11 other EU states.

He boasted on Sunday that his new axis could get up to 150 seats.

But more conservative estimates put Salvini's group at fewer than 110 - far-less than the 25 percent needed to sway votes in the 751-seat EP.

The number of eurosceptic and nationalist MEPs overall could reach 173, compared with 154 in the last EP, the EU parliament's Sunday night projection said.

Renaissance?

The bump was less impressive than had been predicted, with the far-right losing seats in Germany, where the AfD party came fourth with just 11 MEPs, as well as in Austria, Denmark, and Spain.

Far-right parties also failed to make important gains in Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands, where one new far-right demagogue, Thierry Baudet, cannibalised votes from an old one, Geert Wilders.

The right-wing bloc's bombastic rhetoric on migrants and Christian values was meant to tear down the EU establishment's more liberal beliefs.

And Hungary's Orban still spoke of "a new era against migration" on Sunday.

But another big story from Europe's election night was a resurgence by Green and Liberal parties, with the Greens coming second in Germany, amid signs that many EU voters were shifting in the other direction.

Salvini's optimistic figure of 150 included the Brexit Party of anti-EU MEP Nigel Farage, which won in the UK, but which will melt away when - or if - Britain leaves Europe.

Orban's win might also do little for Salvini in terms of future EP formations if the Hungarian leader stays in the centre-right EPP bloc, which suspended him for domestic abuses, but stopped short of kicking him out.

"We would not like to belong somewhere where we don't have an influence on the main strategy issues," Orban said on Sunday.

Divisions

EP tactics aside, the new EU right is also divided on topics such as Russia and fiscal discipline.

Polish, Nordic, and Baltic state nationalists harbour deep mistrust of Russian president Vladimir Putin's revanchism for historical reasons, while Italian, French, and German far-right leaders are among his best friends in Europe.

Italian and French populists want the EU to let them overspend on welfare and for Germany to pick up the bill if need be, but Dutch and German nationalists do not want to subsidise the south.

The Polish ruling party is also more interested in fighting upcoming national elections than in playing Salvini's EP games.

"We have to remember the decisive battle for the future of our homeland will take place in the autumn," Law and Justice chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Sunday.

A pro-EU group, the European Coalition, came a strong second with 37 percent in Poland. A new green and liberal party, called Spring, also got six percent.

If they were to join forces and if outgoing EU Council president and former Polish leader Donald Tusk came home to give the opposition a boost, then Kaczynski's right-wing vision of Poland might soon be a thing of the past.

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