Analysis. The EU's top officials have already come to terms with the advance of the far-right shown by opinion polls. At this point, the only red line is to be clearly pro-NATO.

The rise of the extreme right in Europe is no longer a taboo

The Blind Leading the Blind, a 1568 painting by Brueghel the Elder, offers the best representation of the moment Europe is currently going through: “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14; Luke 6:39).

After ambiguous signals by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about a possible alliance with the far right, Council President Charles Michel (who, however, has no hope of keeping his seat) made his own overtures on Tuesday at the Democracy Forum in Copenhagen, claiming that “what really matters are policies” and “substance,” not labels.

“At the Council, there were doubts before the elections in some member states, but then we saw that it was possible to work with the governments of those countries even if there was a far-right party in the coalition.” With less than a month to go before the European elections, the EU’s top officials have already come to terms with the advance of the far-right shown by opinion polls. At this point, the only red line is to be clearly pro-NATO.

Since 2010, the extreme right has been growing in the EU. Almost all EU countries have substantial radical right-wing populist forces in their parliaments (with Ireland and Malta as the only exceptions). In two countries, Hungary and Italy, they lead the government (Poland was also on this list until recently, the only country where the far right has experienced an ebb). The extreme right is part of the government in Finland and Slovakia, supports it in Sweden (where it rose from less than 2 percent in 2006 to more than 20 percent in 2022), won the last legislative elections in the Netherlands, and is expected to emerge victorious in Austria and lead the next government after the September elections. In nine out of 27 states, the far right is now at over 20 percent (plus Portugal, where it reached 18 percent at the last elections), while the parties of the traditional right are progressively moving toward more radical positions.

This situation will have consequences for the fate of the EU – even if the mistrust in the EU that unites these parties doesn’t allow them to go beyond the short-sighted defense of national “interests” and form a bloc. Despite von der Leyen’s openings towards some in the ECR group (especially Fratelli d’Italia), in the hope of retaining her seat, the next European parliament is expected to have the same majority alliance, PPE-S&D-Renew, as the current one. That is, if the commitment made by Renew, S&D and the Greens not to vote for any candidate for the presidency of the Commission who is open to cooperation with the radical right is respected by all the parties that are part of these groups.

However, the boundary between the mainstream right and extremist positions is becoming more and more porous. The European construction was a promise of peace, of a large market based on fair competition, of common citizenship; there was even the hope of a social Europe on the horizon. Today there is war at the gates and the Enlightenment idea of “sweet commerce” is giving way to the reality of international competition crushing the EU between the U.S. and China.

Terms such as “the border,” “protectionism,” “sovereignty” are now common currency, used by everyone, including the left. This is a reaction to the effects of economic globalization, the crisis of political representation and distrust in traditional parties perceived as powerless, compounded by the 2008 recession, the 2015 refugee crisis, Islamist attacks and post-COVID inflation. A common tactic is being employed: after the flop of Brexit, the far right (except on the margins) is no longer advocating for leaving the EU, but is demanding to change it from within. That is, to hollow it out: an à la carte Europe where everyone adopts what suits them, a bountiful ATM for supposed national interests in the short term, with the Green Deal becoming the enemy to be defeated.

This is the shift made by the National Rally in France, which is no longer talking about leaving the euro, as Marine Le Pen was doing just a few years ago. Young frontrunner Jordan Bardella is preparing an alliance with the classical right ahead of the next French presidential elections.

Furthermore, the advance of the far right is having another effect: that of turning the June European elections into a sum of 27 national elections, where in each country the center of the political clash is local, while the European perspective fades away amid general disinterest.

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