'Sharp right turn' projected for EU elections

27 Jan 2024 01:00pm
This photograph taken in Brussels on Jan 19, 2024 shows a giant EU flag under the Cinquantenaire Arch. - (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)
This photograph taken in Brussels on Jan 19, 2024 shows a giant EU flag under the Cinquantenaire Arch. - (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

BRUSSELS - A "sharp right turn" will sweep European Union elections this year, with populists, eurosceptics and conservatives projected to collectively grab nearly half of the European Parliament's seats, according to a study on Wednesday.

The report, by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), confirmed other polls suggesting far-right parties will make big inroads in the EU elections in June, rolling back left and centre-left parties.

"There is a strong possibility of pro-Russia party representation in the upcoming legislature," the ECFR said, pointing notably to three seats that could go to Bulgarian MEPs sympathetic to the Kremlin.

Other resulting policy upheaval could be a weakening of the enforcement of rule of law in Europe and of the bloc's actions to battle climate change, and a harder anti-immigration stance, said the report's co-authors Simon Hix and Kevin Cunningham.

Such a swing in Europe may well come five months before the United States votes to possibly bring back Donald Trump as president, which could produce populist and protectionist echoes across the Atlantic.

"Against a backdrop of stirring populism... parties of the political mainstream need to wake up and take clear stock of voter demands, whilst recognising the need for a more interventionist and powerful Europe on the world stage," Hix said.

"They should make clear... that it is they, and not those on the political fringes, who are best placed to protect fundamental European rights."

- Populist sway -

The ECFR's statistical look at polling across the 27-country EU surmised that the parliament's biggest political grouping, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) -- from which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hails -- would remain the largest after the vote.

But both it and the next-biggest, the Socialists & Democrats, would lose seats, with more radical movements on the left and right gaining ground to become mainstream voter options.

The Left grouping of communists, eurosceptics and social-democrats, and the populist right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), would have "a real possibility of entering a majority coalition for the first time ever", the report said.

Hix and Cunningham said they "expect populist voices, particularly on the radical right, to be more pronounced and involved in decision-making" to a point unseen since the parliament was created in 1979.

Together, a "populist coalition" of the EPP, the ECR and the ID would pocket 43 per cent to 49 per cent of the next parliament's 720 seats, they said.

Anti-European populists will likely end up as the top EU vote picks in nine countries -- including France, where Marine Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Rally is polling well ahead of President Emmanuel Macron's centrist Renaissance party; and Italy, with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party to consolidate its sway.

Populist parties were predicted to come second or third in another nine countries, among them Germany, where the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to double its score, as well as in Spain, Finland and Sweden. - Marc Burleigh / AFP

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