Monday

21st Jan 2019

Far-right MEPs to remain powerless in next parliament

  • Jobbik MEP Krisztina Morvai with Hungarian flag in EU parliament (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Next year's EU elections are to usher in more far-right MEPs, but they are unlikely to make a mark on policy.

A report out on Tuesday (25 June) by Counterpoint, a UK-based think tank, says that the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament will "in all likelihood" result in a "number of populist radical right gains."

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But in a note of comfort for centrist and left-wing EU politicians, the study suggests far-right MEPs will continue to be a loosely-knit force in the EU assembly.

The same problems that beset them in the current term - being too diverse to form a cohesive group and being "ostracised" by other MEPs - are set to stay in place.

At the moment, most of the "populist radical right" MEPs are either not attached to any group - such as those from Hungary's Jobbik or France's National Front - or form part of the 34-strong Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EDF) group.

They make up a fraction - less than 60 - of the 754 MEPs from the 27 member states.

The report finds that while they are keen on speaking - often taking the floor to espouse their national party's platform - they are virtually nowhere to be seen when it comes to "substantive" policy making.

This is in part due to the "fundamental conflict" of despising the EU and not wanting to be part of its "machinery," but at the same time being fond of the recognition and the exposure that a seat in the parliament brings.

It is also due to fact the larger groups in the parliament snap up the majority of committee chairs and take the lead on policy reports.

"When compared to the other political groups, its [the EDF's] MEPs participate less often, write fewer reports and opinions, and are less successful at pushing through amendments and winning votes," Counterpoint says.

The report notes the group has shown internal coherence when it comes to scrutinising the EU budget, but on other issues its members are poles apart.

"UKIP [the eurosceptic UK independence party] and the Danish People’s Party sit on opposite sides of the economic left–right spectrum," it says.

"The perspective that really unites EFD members is euroscepticism," it adds.

Meanwhile, the real "troublemakers" in parliament are the far-right parties from the Netherlands (PVV), the UK (BNP), Belgium (Vlaams Belang) and Austria (FPO), who tend to be broadly "anti-consensus" across an array of policy areas, from immigration, to gender equality and minority rights.

Even though they tend to be lumped together under the label "populists," it does not mean they all want to be associated with one another - further weakening their capacity to influence decisions.

Some parties belonging to the EDF - which itself contains the openly anti-immigrant Lega Nord - have said they could not bear to be in a group with Hungarian nationalists Jobbik, whose MEPs are non-attached.

The far-left and the far-right

The report notes one peculiarity, which "may become more important" in the next parliament, however.

It is a similarity in voting patterns among the far left and the far right when it comes to economic policy issues.

Whereas the far left is likely to vote against them on anti-austerity grounds, the far right is likely to be against them because they say the policies encroach on sovereignty.

"The populist radical right’s tendency to believe that EU laws violate national sovereignty aligns with particular disagreements on the right and on the left," says the report.

Overall, Counterpoint believes the radical far right "still may well have little influence over the policy-making process" in the next parliament.

But this could create the new problem of disaffected voters wondering "what it is they can do to have any bearing whatsoever on the workings of the European Parliament."

"The difficulty for the European Parliament with respect to the populist radical right is not a question of policy, but rather a question of what the EP can do to show that it is responsive to the electorate," the study notes.

Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King's College London, agrees that EU leaders will have to react carefully to the 2014 elections if the predicted increase in far-right MEPs comes to pass.

"So many governments could be tempted to argue that this is a protest vote, a second order election," he said.

"But once you've argued that, it becomes contradictory to say that the European Parliament is the voice of democratic legitimacy and that we need to give it more power," he told this website.

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