Marine le Pen Square

A European surge to the right – what next for the UK?

PRESIDENT MACRON of France got a shock when Marine Le Pen’s ultra-right wing National Rally Party won 32% of the vote in the EU elections from 7-9 June, more than double the vote for his own liberal Renaissance Party. He dissolved the French Parliament and called a snap election. In Germany, a similar drama unfolded as the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) leapfrogged over chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), coming second to the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The traditional Franco-German alliance, which has ruled the roost in the EU for years, appears to have been dismembered by the surge in populist support. Power now looks likely to shift to the new right-wing queens of the continent, Marine Le Pen of France and Giorgia Meloni, the ultra-right Italian prime minister, whose Brothers of Italy Party won a quarter of the Italian votes. Far-right parties also made major gains in Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and many of the smaller EU Member States. Now stunned officials are predicting that MEPs from the extreme right could form the majority ruling group, outnumbering the Conservatives and the Socialists who have held the top two dominant positions in the European Parliament for years. It is a frightening prospect.

This will be music to the ears of Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, whose nationalist party took the most votes in the EU elections and who is about to take over the rotating role of President of the European Council for the next 6 months. With 55% of votes counted, Orbán’s Fidesz Party won 43% of the vote, enough to send 11 delegates to fill Hungary’s 21 total seats in the European Parliament. However, the right-wing surge will not resonate so well with Sir Keir Starmer, who looks set to win a landslide Labour victory in the UK general election on 4th  July. Sir Keir was hoping to retune UK-EU relations after what he regards as the disaster of Brexit. There is even talk that a Labour government may revisit some of the Brexit agreements to make it easier for Britons to come and go in Europe. For all those who have holidayed in EU countries this summer, such news would be welcome. The long lines of people queuing for hours to get their passports stamped in non-EU passport lanes, are stark reminders of the joys of freedom of movement which we lost with Brexit. However, a new hard right bloc in Brussels may not welcome anything that could enhance the flow of migrants.

In a Continent that has prided itself on laying to rest the ghosts of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, the re-emergence of the radical right as a political force is deeply disturbing. But it is clear why it happened. The wave of green policies aimed at achieving net zero in Europe by 2050, has proved to be deeply unpopular, particularly with farmers and fishermen, and many who blame the loss of their livelihoods on EU policies. The Greens had a disastrous election, losing more than a quarter of their seats in the European Parliament, as climate slid down the ranks of voters’ concerns. The winners were the hard right, gaining votes from those struggling to comply with laws which will effectively ban the combustion engine, while enforcing Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) in town and cities across the EU. It now seems certain that a hard-right coalition in the European Parliament will demand a radical reappraisal of such policies.

There has also been widespread antipathy to the chaotic LGBTQ+ gender debate and the spiralling woke movement, which has left millions of voters convinced that politicians are not listening to the real issues that affect their everyday lives, like the cost-of-living crisis and the lack of affordable housing. The extremist right wing parties also tend to share a Eurosceptic mind-set, which could seriously undermine the future of the EU and lead to further Brexit-style withdrawals. They also share an alarming hostility to migrants, especially if they are Muslim, which could pave the way for explosive confrontations in the months and years ahead.

Vladimir Putin will be overjoyed that many of the passionate right-wing nationalists, who will now occupy the corridors of power in Brussels, are fans of his aggressive form of autocracy. Some share his opposition to supranational organisations like the UN, NATO and the EU itself. The AfD in Germany, Austria’s Freedom Party and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party all fall into this category and may question further EU aid to Ukraine. Nevertheless, Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy Party and Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice Party seem to be exceptions to this rule and are staunch opponents of Putin.

In times of strife, like wars, pandemics and economic crises, voters have often flocked to the traditional parties of power. In the UK the Conservatives and Labour have always fought for the middle ground. But with the polls predicting a collapse of support for the Tories and an attendant rise in backing for Nigel Farage’s right wing populist Reform Party, decades of tradition are disintegrating before our eyes. The same phenomenon is occurring across the EU, where the traditional parties are collapsing, and new extremist parties are filling the void.

For decades, leaders of the major political parties believed they could keep the radical right out of politics altogether. Setting up what the French call a cordon sanitaire — or firewall — they simply refused to rely on their votes to form a government or to pass legislation. Those days are gone in the EU and in the UK as well. With Nigel Farage’s Reform Party threatening to replace the Conservatives as the main opposition to Labour, it looks as if populist, Trumpian politics is on the march here as well as in America. It remains to be seen if the hard right can forge a new future for the EU and UK. As Mark Twain famously said: “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.”

If you appreciated this article please share and follow us on Twitter here – and like and comment on facebook here. Help support ThinkScotland publishing these articles by making a donation here.

Photo of Marine le Pen courtesy of Vox España –, CC0,


Weekly Trending

Scroll to Top