June 12, 2024

IntelBrief: European Union Elections: A Pull to the Right in a Complex Security Landscape

AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File

Bottom Line Up Front

  • Economic and security concerns among EU voters led to an increase of support for the far-right and center-right in the European Parliament elections, with the liberals, and particularly the greens, experiencing heavy losses.
  • Considering the popularity of the Rassemblement National in the EU elections, Macron called for snap elections, just weeks away from the Summer Olympic Games in Paris.
  • The surge in far-right support during the EU parliamentary elections indicates that far-right priorities on migration – an issue that was a fixture of election campaigning – will continue to be mainstreamed at the regional level.
  • The shift to the right and the growing support for Russophile candidates in the European Parliament will likely bolster Russian interference operations aimed at undermining support for Ukraine.

The European Parliament election results highlight a fractured Europe at a time of rising security threats. In France, Austria, and Germany, the far-right made significant gains, while in Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk's centrist party surpassed the far-right for the first time in a decade. These differing trends across the 27 member states overall culminated in an increase of support for the far-right, as well as a notable win for the center-right European People’s Party, while the Greens and Liberals experienced heavy losses. Predictions of a surge in support for the far-right meant that many were watching the election results as an indication of the strength of the movement on the continent. The election is also estimated to have had a 51 percent turnout rate of EU citizens, which, if confirmed, will be the highest turnout since the 1994 EU parliamentary elections.

The new Parliament's composition highlights how vastly different citizens across the Union respond to Europe’s foremost challenges. According to polling platform Focaldata, which conducted its survey in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Sweden on June 6th, the predominant concerns of EU voters were “Improving the economy and reducing inflation,” “International conflict and war” and “immigration and asylum seekers". The gains by the far-right and losses by the Greens and Liberals thus indicate a shift to the right driven by discontent over issues related to security and the economy. In the months preceding the election, migration and the cost-of-living crisis emerged as two key issues galvanizing voters, with the latter causing political instability and gathering thousands for protests across Europe in the past year.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National achieved unprecedented success in the European elections with 31.5 percent of the popular vote. This prompted President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the Parliament and call for snap elections on Sunday. While Macron aims to present his centrist Renaissance as the moderate choice amidst a rising far-right, officials from French left-wing parties have already announced plans to unite in response. The implications are myriad, and many analysts have branded the move as a dangerous gamble that may potentially bring the far-right to power. In a controversial move, Eric Ciotti, the President of right-wing Les Republicains expressed his interest in an alliance with Rassemblement National on Tuesday, underscoring the risk Macron is taking by calling for elections.

The snap elections, to be held at the end of June and beginning of July, also come at a time of rising concern surrounding security threats to the Summer Olympic Games, set to take place in Paris from July 26 to August 11. Multiple individuals have been arrested for plotting attacks against the Games and Islamist propaganda outlets such as pro-Islamic state Halummu have encouraged attacking the Paris Summer Olympics with dynamite, explosives, Molotov cocktails, and knives.

The issue of migration has remained a fixture of the campaign process at both the national and regional levels. Far-right parties have shown their adept ability at capitalizing on the increasing number of individuals attempting to make the journey to Europe – translating this momentum into electoral wins. Candidates in the EU elections continued this trend by making the issue a key part of their campaign narratives and platforms. The lead candidate in the EU elections for Les Republicains in France, François-Xaiver Bellamy, focused his campaign on immigration. He met with border police in mid-April to reaffirm his party’s opposition to the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum. He claimed that European countries were “helpless” to the “border crisis.”

The gains made by far-right parties in the elections this weekend not only indicate that the Bloc will continue to draw a hard line on migration moving forward, but that the center-right may continue to be pulled further to the right on the issue in the coming years.

Current divisions on the EU’s New Pact and immigration policy more broadly may be stymied, as an emboldened far-right potentially seeks further concessions. Moreover, there may be an increase in the current trend to outsource parts of the EU’s immigration management to third countries, some, such as Tunisia, with accusations of human rights abuses toward migrants. The complexity and divisiveness of the issue, as well as its importance to EU voters, indicates that it will continue to be one of the decisive issues in future European elections at the regional and national levels, including the upcoming snap elections in France.

The shift to the right, and the growing support for Russophile candidates in the European Parliament, will likely impact Russian interference efforts. In the lead-up to the EU elections, significant Russian interference operations took place at European institutions with the aim of swaying public opinion and policy against continued support for Ukraine. The Dutch newspaper NRC, for example, implicated far-right populist parties like Rassemblement National and the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany in a paid scheme to promote Russian propaganda through the Voice of Europe, a Czechia-based propaganda outlet financed by pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk.

The stability of support for Ukraine amidst varying political stances within Europe reflects a complex and potentially fragile dynamic. Currently, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which includes Italy’s far-right led by Giorgia Meloni, supports Ukraine, aligning with broader European Union policies that endorse economic sanctions and military aid against Russian aggression. Conversely, the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, which includes figures like France’s Marine Le Pen, has shown a far more Russophile approach. This shift could lead to internal EU debates and potential fragmentation in Ukraine policy, especially concerning sanctions and military support.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban remains a significant outlier within the EU, maintaining close ties with Putin, which could create friction and obstruct unanimous decisions required for stronger actions against Russia. In combination with the decline in support for parties like Renew Europe (of which Macron’s Renaissance is a part) which have played a major role in pushing for European Strategic Autonomy, it is likely that Russia will feel emboldened to carry out more interference operations aimed at undermining support for Ukraine.