by Razvan Carcu
The left-right spectrum within the European Parliament paints a very lively and picturesque image of political movements all across Europe and, with the upcoming elections, this picture is about to get even more colourful as the surge in popularity of the far-right parties will most probably bring about a boost in the number of populist radical right MEPs. The question is, will they all stick together in order to push through their agenda?
At present, representatives of the far-right are either within the Europe of Freedom and Democracy or in the group of non-attached members, which consists of 31 MEPs, but not all of them are from the far-right movements. The Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) has a relatively low cohesion rate compared to other political groups and the same happens with the non-attached members, according to UK-based think tank Counterpoint.
In the forthcoming elections, the number of representatives of the populist radical right parties (PRRPs) is very likely to surge, if we take into account the percentages obtained by these movements at local, regional and national recent elections. Also, in preparation for the European Parliament elections, some countries have already made some polls in order to see the main voting tendencies.
And the far-right is growing strong, from the United Kingdom to southern countries like Greece or Italy. Of course, the far-right movements are actually grouped under this umbrella term, because in the northern parts these radicals militate for pulling their country out of the 28-state community. This is the case in the UK, while in the southern areas they are completely dissatisfied with the austerity measures. A common feature of these movements spread all over Europe is the battle against conventional parties, which feeds on popular discontent with the current political class. It has been acknowledged by the current Parliament that people’s anxiety, disillusionment, and economic instability have provided an ideal breeding ground for the far right.
The eight group
So the future Parliament will definitely include a larger number of far-right MEPs, who will be able to constitute a formal political group. Forming such a group will bring about certain advantages for the MEPs in terms of more speaking time in heated debates, as well as more funding and more staff to assist them. “Independent MEPs have nearly the same rights in the committee as the others. The only thing is that they cannot become President or Vice-President […] They don’t get that much money for public things. The non-attached members are funded by the Parliament, nearly the same as the groups, but not that much”, explains Dietmar Holzfeind, the assistant of MEP Andreas Molzer (from the Austrian Freedom Party). Taking into account that, according to the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, each parliamentary group will propose a candidate for the head of the European Commission, the EU’s goverment, it is important for the far-right European movement to have a representative.
Ganging up on conventional groups
In order to form a political group, the far-right representatives need at least 25 seats in the next Parliament. Also, these MEPs have to represent a quarter of the member states, which actually means seven countries. So they need to whip up 25 MEPs from seven countries. Recently, Marine Le Pen, daughter of infamous Jean Marie Le Pen, has started talks with Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, to form a pan-European eurosceptic power bloc.
The pillar on which the group will sustain itself will most likely come from Le Pen’s National Front, which made out of her party the main option in the upcoming EP elections. According to a recent poll carried out for the Nouvel Observateur, the National Front has outranked mainstream parties, like the UMP and the Socialists, gathering the support of 24% of the French voters. Taking into account this percentage, which has risen three points since the last poll, and the number of seats that France has in the future Parliament – 74 – the National Front will bring 18 seats to the table , which is roughly two thirds of the number of MEPs needed to form a political group.
(You can see more data here https://infogr.am/Evolution-of-French-voting-for-European-Parliament/)
The other seven MEPs might come from Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Greece, but apparently not from the UK, as the far-right UKIP has rejected an alliance with Le Pen altogether. The Hungarian movement Jobbik might bring into the alliance three or four MEPs as well as Austria’s Freedom Party. The extremists from the Greek Golden Dawn party will bring in only one seat, most probably. They could have occupied two or three seats out of the 21 awarded to Greece, but a huge recent scandal, involving the killing of a rap singer, made their popularity plummet.
Power to the Eurosceptics?
As the number of PRRPs grows in the next legislature, their chances to be game-changers increase a great deal and so will their “blackmail power”. “Even now, when there are important votes, we are contacted by groups like the EPP or ECR to vote on their amendments when it’s very close, so they consider us vote-swingers. When we will be bigger, the influence will be much higher. You don’t have to have the majority to impose your position”, Holzfeind says.
But Counterpoint considers that these far-right MEPs don’t really have power inside the Parliament, claiming they have little impact on policy and substantive issues. Also, „MEPs participate less often, write fewer reports and opinions, and are less successful at pushing through amendments and winning votes”, the British think tank found.
The real question is: Will the radical right group stick together until the end of the legislature? Back in 2007, a group called „Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty”, formed by right-wing and nationalist parties, but widely considered as a far-right movement, had a very short life. It was formed in January and seized to exist 10 months later, after Italian MEP Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, made some comments that the Romanian MEPs within the ITS group found insulting. So even if it will be rather easy to form an anti-European, anti-immigration and Eurosceptic political group, the problem is keeping it together and functional throughout the next Parliament.