Voters across the EU will head to the polls to elect more than 700 MEPs for a five-year term and nationalist parties are set to enter the parliament in force.
More than 427 million people within the European Union (EU) will head to the polls between May 23 and 26 to vote in parliamentary elections, however, as in previous years a low turnout could mar the election, in 2014, the voter turnout was 43 percent, a historic low.
The last EU parliamentary elections were held in 2014, before the EU migrant ‘crisis’ engulfed the continent and before Brexit and US President Donald Trump were even on the political horizon. Since then the EU has faced a series of political, economic and social upheavals which have upended national politics. Now it could upend EU-wide politics.
A surge in far-right parties has meant that in Italy the nationalist Northern League formed a populist coalition and in Austria, up until this weekend when the far-right alliance collapsed, they formed part of a coalition government. Whereas in Germany, the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the largest opposition party.
The EU parliament has been ruled by an alliance between the centre-right European People's Party and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. According to recent polling, the alliance could lose its majority and right-wing parties are set to capitalise on this weakness.
So where is the nationalist far-right strongest in Europe?
By far the most significant right wing-populist government in the EU is in Italy. The Five Star Movement, alongside its coalition partner, the Northern League, commanded more than 60 percent of the vote.
The coalition government, created in June 2018, brought together a strange coalition between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio and the Northern League.
Matteo Salvini, in particular, has attempted to emerge as a dominant figure among far-right nationalists in Europe, aiming to bring together disparate nationalist parties under an umbrella.
Ahead of the EU parliamentary elections, 13 far-right nationalist parties came together in Milan, Italy. With the populist wind sweeping Europe, Salvini and his allies are hoping their newly-created EU parliamentary grouping Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), will become the third largest bloc.
The Northern League has found common cause with Austria's Freedom Party, Marie Le Pen’s National Rally party in France, Belgium's Vlaams Belang and the Netherlands' Party for Freedom, whose head Geert Wilders is known for his anti-Muslim statements.
The Northern League has in the past expressed eurosceptic (scepticism towards the wider EU project) positions and has chafed under Brussels’ desire for an ever closer union, something the party and other like-minded nationalists around Europe share.
Long considered an outlier amongst European nations for its lack of populist and nationalist parties, Spain more recently decided to give nationalism a chance.
On April 28, the far-right Vox Party, emerged into the Spanish political scene capturing more than 10 percent of the national vote, previously having only won 0.2 percent of the vote.
Vox has attempted to portray itself as defending the integrity of the Spanish state in light of Catalan separatist attempts in October 2017. It has argued that the other Spanish parties have not been strong enough in standing up for Spain in the face of Catalonia's push for independence.
The Andalusian regional elections in December 2018 foreshadowed the party’s emergence, with the party gaining a foothold in the regional parliament. Andalusia has become an important entry point for African migration into Europe, and the party has promised that it would take a harsh line against migrants, including deporting those who have come from conflict zones.
The far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has emerged as one of the most important political actors in Germany. The party was founded in 2013 in opposition to Germany’s financial support of Eurozone states and more broadly has taken a critical position vis-a-vis the EU, declaring that any further pooling of sovereignty with the EU would need to go to a national referendum.
In 2017, only four years after its founding, the party made a breakthrough in the German federal parliament gaining 91 seats, or 12.6 percent of the vote - an extraordinary achievement for a party that had not previously run for parliament.
The AfD is currently the largest opposition party in the German parliament.
The AfD has also capitalised on Angela Merkel's so-called ‘open door policy’ in which hundreds of thousands of immigrants, mainly from Syria, rushed into the EU. The AfD has argued that this flood of migrants has been dangerous for the future of Germany, in particular, the preservation of national identity. On the back of this the party also regularly espouses anti-Muslim rhetoric in a bid to rally its voters.
Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Rally, which until June 2018 was known as the National Front, is the face of the far-right in France.
When in May 2017 she was defeated in the run-off presidential elections by Emmanuel Macron she still managed to garner 34 percent of the national vote, a record for the far right, suggesting that the movement’s appeal, far from waning, has yet to hit the ceiling.
Le Pen’s party is currently leading the embattled Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party in polls ahead of the EU elections.
Like other far-right parties - Le Pen has often railed against Islam, the euro, mass migration, and what she sees as the loss of French identity.
More recently in an attempt to build a broader coalition of far-right parties, Le Pen attended a meeting of nationalists in Milan ahead of the EU elections - which was organised by the Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and head of the far-right Northern League.
Up until this weekend, the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) was in a coalition government with the Sebastian Kurz’s right-wing Austrian People's Party.
Both parties have often used anti-Islamic rhetoric and implemented anti-Muslim policies. Just recently, religious symbols for young Muslim girls were banned in primary schools, while those of other religions were not.
This follows a previous face veil ban which saw a law termed as the ‘Anti-Face Covering Act’ being used against a tiny minority of Muslim women who were wearing it.
During the EU ‘migrant crisis’ of 2015, Austria found itself at the forefront of immigrants attempting to cross into the EU. The FPO, alongside its main coalition partner, has used the ‘crisis’ to its advantage in a bid to drum up votes.
The scandal over the weekend, which saw the head of the FPO, Heinz-Christian Strache, filmed seemingly exchanging business favours for political help has resulted in his resignation and the party leaving the coalition. The strategic leaking of the video could damage the party in the upcoming EU parliamentary elections.
Other nationalist parties in Europe…
Visegrad grouping: A cultural-political alliance between the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia has seen them form a united front against Brussels and Berlin in particular in regards to migration and further attempts to centralise power in the EU.
Sweden: The Sweden Democrats, a party rooted in neo-Nazism, first entered parliament in 2010. In the 2018 elections, it captured more than 18 percent of the vote.
Finland: Unnoticed by many, Finland narrowly saw the far-right party, Finns Party losing the election to the left wing Social Democratic Party of Finland by only 0.5 percent, winning 17.48 percent of the vote. The party, which combines left-wing economic policies with social conservatism, has joined the pan-European alliance led by Italy’s Northern League.
Estonia: Another party that has joined the pan-European alliance is the far-right Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), which first emerged in the 2015 elections and since then has captured more than 18 percent of the vote. In the past the party’s leader Martin Helme has been quoted as saying “If you're black, go back” and “I want Estonia to be a white country.”
Denmark: The Danish People’s Party, an anti-immigrant and eurosceptic party, won 21.1 percent of the vote in the 2015 election, a high water mark for the party. However, with the migrant crisis receding there are signs that the party’s popularity is waning along with it. The Danish government has some of the most draconian policies in the EU with the government controversially confiscating immigrants’ property and using it to pay for their upkeep.
Netherlands: Like Denmark, the Netherlands has seen a lot of far-right radicalism. The anti-immigration and anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, one of the most far-right politicians the Dutch political scene was until recently the most popular far-right party. Since 2017, a new party has also emerged - the Forum for Democracy (FvD).
The FvD first won two seats in parliament in the 2017 parliamentary elections. More recently, in March it won 14.53 percent in provincial elections, coming first and earning more than double the votes of Geert Wilders’ party at 6.94 percent. The party wants the Netherlands to withdraw from the EU, restrict migration and enshrine into law the preservation of Dutch culture while restricting Islamic practices.
Hungary: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been one of the harshest critics of the EU, and in 2018 he won his third consecutive election comfortably with 49.2 percent of the vote.
Viktor Orban has cast himself as the defender of Europe from immigrants, Muslims and liberals within the EU that want to remove the Christian character of Europe. Hungary has another nationalist party Jobbik, which is not allied with Orban’s party and won more than 19 percent of the vote.