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EU: What's next for right-wing parties in Brussels?

July 4, 2024

Right-wing parties in Brussels are regrouping after surging at the polls of the 2024 European Parliament elections. Some old alliances remain, some new ones are being forged, and there could be surprises on the horizon.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (right) share a laugh in Brussels
Despite the smiles, right-wing parties in the EU are not all working as oneImage: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/picture alliance

Far-right parties made big gains in EU parliamentary elections this June, shifting the political balance at both the EU and the national levels across the bloc.

A victory by the far-right National Rally (RN) in France, for instance, sent shockwaves through the country, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to call new national elections.

While the true strength of the RN within France's national parliament will not be clear until the second round of voting is completed on Sunday, right-wing parties in the European Parliament have begun to forge alliances for the upcoming legislative period — some old, others new.

The right-wing conservative ECR group is growing

To date, far-right, conservative-nationalist, right-wing populist and other parties on the right of the European political spectrum have essentially settled into two camps.

One is the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) parliamentary group, home to, among others, Poland's nationalist opposition party Law and Justice (PiS) and Italy's Brothers of Italy (FdI), which grew out of the country's post-fascist movement. Brothers of Italy leader and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni serves as president of the ECR party.

The right-wing conservative ECR has already laid out its priorities for the coming legislative period, namely "to ensure that the EU focuses on its core tasks," as well as "strongly opposing any move towards a supranational superstate."

On immigration, the ECR wants to do more to curb irregular migration as well as creating "regional disembarkation platforms outside the EU" to process asylum applications. At the same time, the group seeks to "tackle the root causes of migration." 

In terms of the environment, the group wants to reverse existing agreements to phase out internal combustion vehicles and has openly questioned efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The ECR has clearly expressed support for further aid to Ukraine in the face of ongoing Russian aggression.

Thierry Chopin, a political analyst at the Jacques Delors Institute, a Paris think tank, believes that Meloni's more moderate approach, especially when it comes to Ukraine, is part of a political strategy.

According to the latest statistics, the ECR currently holds 84 seats in the European Parliament, making it the body's third-largest bloc. On Wednesday, the party used its inaugural meeting to distribute posts for the coming legislative period. It is also likely that the ECR will play a key role in reelecting Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission in two weeks.

French far-right victory could impact EU, NATO

What is the far-right ID group up to?

The second-largest right-wing group in the European Parliament is Identity and Democracy, or ID. Parties in the group include Italian Matteo Salvini's Lega and Marine Le Pen's RN from France. Just prior to the June EU vote, ID expelled the Alternative for Germany (AfD), parts of which German domestic security services have labeled right-wing extremist.

The AfD expulsion, as well as a meeting between Meloni and Le Pen, have fueled rumors of the formation of a far-right "super group," but that does not seem to be in the works at the moment. Political analyst Chopin said Meloni's and Le Pen's political programs were simply too far apart for that to be a possibility, especially when it came to their attitudes toward Russia.

While Meloni has clearly positioned herself on the side of Ukraine, that has not necessarily been the case with Le Pen. Chopin said RN traditionally aligned itself more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nevertheless, the party has toned down its rhetoric in the wake of Putin's invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Chopin said the issue would take on greater importance if RN populists emerged victorious in the second round of voting in French parliamentary elections on Sunday. That is because France's parliament has control of the country's budget and thus, over Ukraine aid. Although he was unsure what policies an RN-led parliament would pursue, Chopin said it could very well be problematic for Kyiv.

At the moment, however, the final makeup of the ID group in Brussels remains unclear. That is due in part to the formation of another new far-right group in the European Parliament, the so-called Patriots for Europe.

'The best answer is to work hard together'

Patriots for Europe a new right-wing force?

Last Sunday, one day before his country took over the European Council's rotating presidency, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced the formation of a new right-wing alliance in the European Parliament. The bloc will be led by Orban, the head of the nationalist-conservative Fidesz party; Andrej Babis, former prime minister of the Czech Republic and head of the liberal-populist ANO (Yes) party; and Herbert Kickl, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). 

In an online manifesto, the three parties emphasized their desire to create a "Europe of nations," noting that they do not want an EU superstate. Their program puts great emphasis on national sovereignty and the need for countries to be able to exercise veto rights. They also want to protect what they call "European identity, tradition and customs, the fruits of its Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritage." Furthermore, the three called for a stop to "illegal migration to protect our cultural identity."

Orban regularly makes headlines in the EU for his use of Hungary's veto powers in the European Council, as has often been the case when it came to support for Ukraine. A vote in favor of opening EU accession talks with Kyiv, for example, was only made possible through the use of a procedural trick — with the vote taken after Orban agreed to temporarily leave the room.

According to media reports, Portugal's right-wing populist Chega party has also signaled interest in joining the bloc, and there has been speculation over the possibility of Salvini's Lega and Le Pen's RN joining — though both are currently still members of the ID Group. According to news agency DPA, Alice Weidel, co-chair of the now unaffiliated AfD, has said the German party will not join the group.

In order for the new group to attain the status of an official European Parliamentary bloc it must have members from at least seven EU states, though by now it will have likely already cleared another hurdle, that of having at least 23 members.

The final future makeup of the right-wing spectrum in Brussels still remains open, but should be clear by the time the European Parliament convenes for its constituent session on July 16.

This article was originally written in German.

EU vote in Germany sees far-right AfD in second place

DW Mitarbeiterin Lucia Schulten
Lucia Schulten Brussels Correspondent