The Eurosceptic far-right in Brussels: will it really matter?
Lorenzo Torti / May 2019
There has been plenty of talk about a Eurosceptic wave with the potential of sweeping away Brussels as we know it. Polls indicate that this is very unlikely to happen: parties to the right of the EPP are not expected to gain more than 160 seats (in the “old” system of 751 seats).
So will it be business as usual after 26 May? Not quite. While it is true that mainstream parties will still have a majority in the European Parliament, Eurosceptic influence will certainly be stronger in the next EU legislature, both within and around EU institutions. The degree of that influence will be directly proportional to the degree of unity that Eurosceptic forces will be able to keep in different institutions.
The far right in the next EP
The gravitas of the next EP will still revolve around an alliance between the EPP, S&D and the liberal area (composed from ALDE + En Marche), potentially joined by the Greens. The big, and still unanswered, question is what will happen to the right of the EPP.
We know that Matteo Salvini has the ambition to create a united Eurosceptic front. The new group, called the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN) will be an extended version of the existing Europe of Nations and Freedom.
Salvini’s Lega is expected to be the biggest delegation in the group, followed by Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and Alternative für Deutschland. Such a group would certainly have more seats and influence than the ENF, but would be a long way from being a real threat to mainstream parties. That could change, at least partially, if Salvini manages to get Polish Law and Justice (PiS) and Spanish Vox into EAPN. Vox seems likely to join, while getting PiS onboard seems more difficult for two main reasons: 1) PiS has an official row open with the EU, and would not want to scare voters before the national elections in the autumn by teaming up with extremists in Brussels; 2) Many EAPN members are openly pro-Russian.
Another variable to watch out for will be whether Viktor Orban’s Fidesz will actually sit: should it leave the EPP a potential tie-up with EAPN should not be excluded, also given the close relationship between Salvini and Orban. The Hungarian PM could also act as a link between the EPP and the far-right, potentially facilitating closer cooperation on some specific issues, such as migration. Speculation aside, we will have more clarity only after the election, when it will become evident what is possible and what is not.
A Eurosceptic front in the European Council?
Closer political cooperation in the EP could pave the way for more structured coordination also in the European Council. The current Italian, Polish and Hungarian governments have many things in common in their approach to Brussels, regardless of their differences on specific issues. The newly elected Estonian government could also join the group.
Should Lega, PiS and Fidesz formally belong to the same political area in the EP, they could decide to put in place a proper coordination structure, which could result in the formation of a Eurosceptic front in the European Council. This could potentially alter the balance of power in the Council, especially given that other governments could join the group depending on the issue in question.
A more fragmented European Commission
The European Commission, traditionally the emblem of the “pro-EU institution”, will also feel the impact of a stronger Eurosceptic front. The Commissioners who are the expression of Eurosceptic governments will be more numerous than in the past, including from big countries like Italy and Poland. This is likely to be reflected in a more fragmented, and therefore weaker, Commission.
This could have significant policy implications, as the next Commission could struggle to be the driving force behind pro-single market projects such as the completion of the Digital Single Market, the Energy Union and the Capitals Market Union.
Overall, the “Eurosceptic wave” that many fear is unlikely to materialise. What is certain however is that Eurosceptics will matter more in the next political cycle, and they will surely make their voice heard much more than in the current term, with related policy implications.