Rise of the right: big gains predicted for Eurosceptics in EU elections

Far-right support may be propelled by a rejection of the 'Brussels bureaucracy' and 'precarious' lives

Members of the far-right ID group
Matteo Salvini of the hard-line ID group says a Europe "without socialists in charge is possible and is needed"
(Image credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images)

As the EU gears up for elections next year, a new poll has shown that more voters are likely to back Eurosceptic parties than at the last election in 2019.

Poll aggregator EuropeElects has predicted the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group "become the third-biggest party" in parliament, up from fifth in 2019, the Financial Times's Andy Bounds reported, as the Conservatives and Reformists group also gains further traction. Pro-European groups across the political spectrum are "forecast to shrink".

Firing the "opening salvo" of an EU-wide election campaign at a recent rally in Florence, "Eurosceptic firebrands" from the ID group promised liberation from the "Brussels bureaucracy", Politico reported.

While "old taboos" dating back to Europe's war against the Nazis used to stop most of the electorate voting for the extreme right, these are "gradually being eroded", said the BBC's Katya Adler in June. Look "north, south, east and west" of Europe, and you will see "far-right parties of different flavours – nostalgic nationalist, populist nationalist, ultra conservative with neo-fascist roots and more – enjoying a notable resurgence".

Since Italy crowned far-right leader Giorgia Meloni last year, French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen and the ultra-right Alternative for Germany party have gained ground in the polls, and populist Geert Wilders has surged to victory in the Netherlands. 

Approval for the European far-right can be traced to a "polycrisis", suggested Nathalie Tocci, director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali think tank in Rome, writing for Chatham House. A global pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict has given way to "home-grown political disruption", which could be replicated in the European Parliament. 

Far-right leaders have seized upon "waves of fear and anger" throughout Europe, said Al Jazeera. A "backlash" against immigration, LGBTQ+ rights and abortion have also contributed to the groundswell.

The changing face of right-wing politics is also being credited for a lurch to the far-right. Gone are the days of the typical "white, male, non-graduate, and above all old" extreme voter, said The Guardian. Instead, the movement is being pioneered, in part, by young people.

Speaking to the newspaper, Dutch political scientist Catherine de Vries pinpointed the "precarious" lives of Europe's youth as a motivating factor for political drift. When examining the Dutch election, youth support for Wilders was sparked by issues such as "housing, overcrowded classes and struggling hospitals".

Across Europe, "the kids are alt-right", wrote Sebastian Milbank for The Critic earlier this year, and this "strain of anger and a changing generational mood" is "unlikely to be a passing fashion".

The continent will hold its breath for the parliamentary elections in June. The vote is likely to "translate into litmus tests" for the popularity of national governments and their opposition, said Tocci.

However, these far-right movements are "not a cohesive political group", explained former BBC correspondent Andrew Whitehead for The Wire. As such they will have to navigate the hurdles of inherent disagreement between them if they hope to score success. 

Indeed, given the "heterogeneous national mosaics" across the continent, Tocci added, the rise of the right may simply be an issue to be "assessed member state by member state".

This article first appeared in The Week’s Global Digest newsletter. Sign up for a preview of the international news agenda, sent to your inbox every Monday.

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