Will far-right gains be able to influence EU policy?

Despite their increased presence, several factors suggest that their political influence will fall short of their electoral weight

Will far-right gains be able to influence EU policy?

As the dust settles on the European Parliament election results, attention has turned to the potential influence of the far right's electoral gains on EU policies. Nationalist, populist, and Eurosceptic parties have secured nearly a quarter of the seats in the EU assembly, capitalising on widespread voter dissatisfaction driven by concerns over rising prices, immigration, and the costs of the green transition. Despite their increased presence, several factors suggest that their political influence will fall short of their electoral weight, limiting their ability to significantly shape EU policies.

Lack of unity

First and foremost, these parties remain politically divided, which hampers their influence and limits their ability to leverage electoral victories. Far-right parties across Europe, such as France's National Rally, Italy's Lega, and Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD), share ideological similarities on issues like immigration, climate, and EU scepticism. However, they often disagree on critical matters, including economic policy and relations with Russia.

For instance, although French far-right leader Marine Le Pen recently urged Italy's Giorgia Meloni to form a right-wing grand alliance, her party and its allies expelled AfD just last month. Additionally, some of Meloni's allies reject an alliance with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz because of his pro-Russia stance. This lack of unity prevents them from presenting a cohesive front, diminishing their bargaining power within the European Parliament.

The challenge posed by these inter-party divisions is further amplified by the structure of the European Parliament. The Parliament operates on a coalition-building system where no single party can dominate. While growing in number, far-right parties remain a minority compared to centrist and left-leaning parties. This necessitates seeking alliances, which is daunting given their often radical and polarising agendas. Mainstream parties, wary of the far right's stances on the green transition, sovereignty, and EU integration, are unlikely to form coalitions with them.

Complex legislative process

Moreover, the far right's influence is curtailed by the EU's complex and multifaceted legislative process. With the European Parliament sharing legislative power with the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, policy changes require consensus among these bodies. Navigating this intricate system and securing support from multiple actors with differing priorities adds another layer of constraint on the far right's impact. Additionally, their lack of discipline in attending votes and actively participating in these institutions further diminishes their legislative influence.

While growing in number, far-right parties remain a minority compared to centrist and left-leaning parties.

Institutional safeguards within the EU also mitigate the far-right's impact. The EU's system of checks and balances, designed to prevent any single entity from wielding excessive power, ensures that radical policy shifts are difficult to achieve. For example, the European Court of Justice upholds the rule of law and can overturn policies that violate EU treaties. This judicial oversight acts as a bulwark against the implementation of far-right policies that contravene EU principles.

Shifting the dial

While the far right may not directly change EU policies through electoral victories, they can gradually influence policy by shaping the broader political debate and shifting the political centre of gravity further to the right. This shift is likely to push mainstream parties to adopt far-right demands on issues such as the green transition and immigration to avoid losing future votes.

For instance, although most of Europe's Green Deal directives—aimed at transitioning the EU to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050—were finalised recently, far-right opposition could undermine their implementation. Some mainstream parties are already backpedalling on climate policy to accommodate far-right views. This is evident in the centre-right European People's Party's (EPP) opposition to the planned phase-out of combustion engines by 2035, a policy strongly opposed by many far-right parties.

Additionally, the influence of the far right could pressure centrist parties to adopt harsher immigration strategies. This includes outsourcing immigration management through agreements with neighbouring countries and further politicising migration by framing it as a security threat.

The rise of the far right is a clear signal of discontent that the EU must urgently address. Ignoring this will allow these parties to consolidate their influence over its structures, posing a significant threat to its role, principles, integration, and policy-making. The EU's challenge is to respond effectively to this discontent while safeguarding its foundational values and maintaining a cohesive and forward-looking Union.

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