The governing far-right constantly undermines EU integration

The governing far-right constantly undermines EU integration

On July 5, Georgia Meloni, Italy’s far-right leader and Prime Minister, met with her Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw. The meeting of the two PMs had emphasised, as was expected, migration. Italy wants to reduce the number of immigrants and refugees as a country that receives asylum-seekers who cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Meloni’s Fratelli d’ Italia (Fd’I) party, a successor of the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), envisages adopting severe measures against migrants. Poland hysterically opposes any solidarity plan among the EU member states concerning refugees. Exposing an aggressive Islamophobia, the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), claims the few thousand immigrants and refugees that Poland should accept would severely threaten the national identity of the 38 million population of the country.

Another far-right government, of Hungary, voted against a June 8 agreement aiming to balance the support provided by front-line countries and other EU members. Last week the two countries also vetoed a statement by EU leaders on priorities for limiting arrivals.

What the governing far-right can do? To block permanently the adoption of any EU policy that address critical issues.

As in the 2024 European elections, the far-right could gain more seats in the European Parliament, and general elections in some EU countries could lead to coalitions with such parties, further reflection on the rise of nationalism and anti-Europeanism can result fruitful.

Considering that the far-right in the European Parliament constitutes two Groups, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID). The first is a mosaic of 20 far-right, ultra-nationalist, and conservative parties, most of them marked by deep Euro-scepticism, such as PiS, the Fd’I, the Finns, the Spanish VoX, the white supremacist Sweden Democrats, and the conservative Civic Democratic Party among others. ID comprises the hard core of the European far-right: the Italian Lega, the French Rassemblement National (ex-National Front), the German AfD, the Estonian EKRE, the Danish DF, the Austrian FPÖ, the Czech SPD, the Belgian Vlaams Belang and the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV).

We also note that the Big European political families, have also their share of responsibility for the rise of the far right because they did not act to prevent their political cooperation with their national member parties.

The EPP waited too long to decide on suspending the Hungarian Fidesz party membership. Other political families avoid a so delicate and politically risky act.

Creating a theoretical framework

Since the economic crisis appeared in the EU, fiscal discipline became an absolute priority target for the mainstream political parties in Europe, especially among the governments of Northern countries.

Societal issues were considered not a priority. In addition, the political parties that supported the rights of vulnerable groups and opposed resistance to social health dismantling, restrictions of the budget for education, and pension reductions, became the enemy number one of liberal, conservative, and to some extent, social-democratic-led governments.

In the same period, the political environment around the mainstream political parties changed. Far-right parties that promoted an agenda comprising ultra-conservative views concerning migration and minority rights and liberal to neo-liberal proposals concerning economy emerged in several EU member countries. On the other side of the political spectrum, the traditional left-wing parties, replaced by new “big tent” parties such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and France Insoumise, tried to combine old Stalinist beliefs with modern approaches concerning the economy, fiscal policies, the environment, minorities, migration, and foreign policy.

Both political environments were Russophiles, at different levels and for various reasons, had a positive stance towards China, were Eurosceptic, and were affected by anti-Americanism.

In the first group of parties, the AfD party in Germany represents a significant paradigm. The party exploited the discontent of part of the German society towards the aid to the Greek economy and the economies of the south-European countries to penetrate the political system. The almost racist arguments of mass circulation media and some politicians enabled the then neo-liberal leaders of the party to achieve significant electoral gains.

The period, was also marked by social dissatisfaction, rising nationalism, and racism coupled with xenophobia and Islamophobia after 2015.

In some EU member states, electoral results did not permit the creation of coalitions between the mainstream parties, partly because there were profound differences of approaches, partly because the far-right parties were ready to support strict fiscal policies.

Thus, in some countries, the mainstream parties considered cooperation with the far-right. In some of them, such coalitions occurred in the past resulting in benefits for the mainstream partner, such as in the case of Slovakia, where the Slovak National Party participated in a government coalition with the PES member SMER-Social Democracy from 2006 to 2010. Other countries implemented a severe cordon sanitaire concerning cooperation with nationalist and racist parties, as in France and the Netherlands.

Interestingly, EU and US scholars assumed the task of providing a theoretical base for such planned coalitions. They promoted the concept of populism, with which they credited a wide range of political parties without any similarity. Thus, they provided a picture of a vast European populist family comprising AfD, the party of Marine Le Pen, Lega or the FPÖ, Syriza, Podemos, and La France Insoumise.

In a few words, they depicted populism as dangerous because irresponsible.

However, according to these scholars, some populists were not as harmful as others for the common good. Neglecting the use of the term far-right and replacing it with the most neutral “right-wing”, several scientific works suggested careful efforts by the mainstream parties could recuparate Lega or the FPÖ and include them in coalition governments. However, the left-wing “populist” parties were unrecoverable.

As facts demonstrated, the far-right in governments created more problems than benefits. We can only think of the Ibiza scandal, which threatened national security of Austria.

The responsibilities of the Big political families

In Austria, the FPÖ became a junior partner in government with the People’s Party (ÖVP) – an EPP member – in 2017. The EPP never questioned his member choice.

In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party provided parliamentary support to Lars Løkke Rasmussen‘s cabinets between 2016 to 2019. The governing liberal Venstre, an ALDE member, accepted it, and ALDE said nothing.

The Party of European Socialists (PES) suspended Robert Fico‘s Direction – Social Democracy (Smer-SD) membership after forming a coalition government with the Slovak National Party in 2006. However, in 2008 the suspension ended. In addition, PES and the S&Ds Group avoided questioning the racist statements of Fico against Roma, and LGBTI people, the hate speech against media, and its support to Russia. Smer is on the top of polls and could form a government again after November 30, 2023, general elections.

In Italy, the participation of the secessionist League and the neo-fascist National Alliance since 1994 in Silvio Berlusconi’s governments never provoked criticism from the EPP. On the contrary, the various parties Berlusconi formed enjoyed a first-class role inside the European Parliament.

In Estonia, the liberal Jüri Ratas formed a coalition government with the racist Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) in 2019. Ratas’ party is the Estonian Centre Party, an ALDE (and now Renew Europe) member, but ALDE did not oppose such a movement.

In Latvia, the National Alliance participated in several coalition governments since 2011.

The Finns Party joined the coalition government formed by the liberal Prime Minister Juha Sipilä in 2015. ALDE avoided any further discussion about its member Centre Party partnership. The 2023 Finnish parliamentary election pushed the Finns Party into second place.

In Sweden, the right-wing cabinet works closely with the white supremacist Sweden Democrats.

In Bulgaria, the EPP member GERB of Boyko Borisov partnered with an Alliance comprising the anti-Roma and nationalist parties IMRO – Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO), Attack, and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB).

On May 2023, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, participated in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Hungary, praising the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as the true defender of Europe. The CPAC – Budapest gathers ultra-conservative and far-right politicians, journalists, and thinkers from across the globe, including the leaders of the Identity and Democracy parties. Garibashvili’s party, Georgian Dream, was a PES observer member. PES opened a procedure aiming to suspend the observation status of the party. Before the final decision of the PES Presidency was adopted, Garibashvili announced his withdrawal from the socialist alliance.

However, among the prominent speakers were also Andrej Babiš and Janez Janša. Babiš is a former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, leader of the ANO party a member of the Renew Group. Remember that in 2018, 2019, and 2020, MEPs adopted resolutions pointing to the misuse of EU agricultural funds in the Czech Republic and the Prime Minister’s possible involvement. Janša is former Prime Minister of Slovenia, leader of the Slovenian Democratic Party, an EPP member, and a fan of Orbán’s political views.

Did the Renew Group and the EPP address these participations in the far-right meeting in Budapest?

The experience gained from these coalitions is generally negative. The far-right governments resulted in discrimination against the Roma people and inhuman treatment of migrants and refugees (Italy, Hungary), restrictions of media freedom (Slovakia), corruption (Czech Republic and Hungary), Russophilia (Hungary, Austria, Italy) and a general undermining of the EU integration process.

Should the European mainstream political families reconsider how they react to such political cooperation?


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