Euroscepticism vs. Unity: Forecasting Europe’s Political Future

, by Konstantin Chopov

Euroscepticism vs. Unity: Forecasting Europe's Political Future
European Parliament, CC BY 2.0 <> , via Wikimedia Commons

European parliamentary elections are about to take place in June, and this time their outcome could potentially have the strongest implications for the European Union’s (EU’s) future as a unitary entity. As the EU has increasingly begun to drift rightwards, there is a potential for this development to manifest itself at the supranational level. As of end-January this year anti-European populists were projected to win in 9 EU-member states such as Austria, France and even Poland that has recently started its reconciliation with Brussels after Donald Tusk acceded to power. The fears of a potential far-right majority in the European Parliament are very legitimate not only due to the polling data. The European Parliament exercises significant power over the EU policy agenda and plays one of the principal roles in appointing the President of the European Commission – the de facto President of the EU. Therefore, the possibility of the EU potentially getting its first far-right or very right-leaning President would most likely be a significant risk for its future as an entity. However, while the significant increase in popularity of Eurosceptics across the EU is an obvious fact, I view the level of concern and anxiety surrounding the outcomes of this year’s European elections and the significance of the role of the far right in shaping EU’s future in general as largely premature and exaggerated.

Firstly, because of the nature of the EU’s supranational political landscape that historically tends to favor large, cohesive, and center-leaning political groups. This political culture established and solidified itself decades ago, leading to the formation of the “super grand coalition." – an alliance between three major groups within the European Parliament – the center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), center-right European People’s Party (EPP), and a “third way” liberal-centrist alliance that is now called Renew Europe. Due to their moderate stances, those parties tend to appeal to a broad European electorate and therefore have enjoyed substantial political influence throughout most of the existence of European institutionalism. Therefore, considering their long history of cooperation, it is likely that after 2024 the European Commission will be headed by the “super grand coalition” rather than by an alliance between Christian Democrats, conservatives, and a far-right Identity and Democracy Movement as some commentators predict. If the current polling will be taken into account, in 2024 despite declining popularity the “super grand coalition” will be able to secure itself a substantial majority, with Eurosceptics projected to earn only around a quarter of seats. If those predictions materialized in June, despite boosting its influence, the far-right would most likely cause only minimal impact on key agenda items aimed at providing financial aid to Ukraine or promoting renewable energy investments.

Secondly, securing power in most cases multipartisan national-level European politics requires consensus, the need to find which significantly moderates previously radical populist parties. This phenomenon has recently occurred with Italy’s Georgia Meloni. While during her election campaign, she frequently flirted with fascism and Euroscepticism, supporting the naval blockade of North Africa as a tool to halt illegal migration, upon her appointment Meloni was forced to compromise with multiple moderate and establishment actors within the Italian political system, whose support was crucial for her appointment to the Premiership. After her accession, the number of migrants coming to Italy has doubled and Meloni herself rapidlytransformed “from being an anti-E.U. ideologue to a pragmatic pro-E.U. leader”. Similar developments have taken place in the Netherlands where populist Geert Wilders after an unprecedented victory at the recent parliamentary election failed to form a coalition after months of negotiations despite backtracking on a multiple controversial campaign pledges prior to negotiations. Therefore, despite their substantial appeal to some voter demographics, it could be argued that the ability to moderate their views to reach consensus is in most cases the only key for populists to national-level positions of power in the EU.

Overall, although this year the political stakes in the EU are high, the anticipated surge of Euroscepticism is less significant than portrayed. This overstatement can partly be attributed to the proponents of Euroscepticism themselves, who have apparently managed to successfully propagate a narrative of division, fear, and uncertainty among a sizeable proportion of the European electorate.

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