The last almost 25-year period has been marked by milestones such as 9/11 of 2001, the global economic crisis of 2008, the refugee crisis of 2015, the Covid-19 pandemic and, finally, the war in Ukraine and another one in Israel. 2024 will certainly have its own milestones – one of them, undoubtably, will be the European elections in June. Recent surveys suggest a shift to the right and, the surge of the far-right in particular which signals the likely reshaping of the European political landscape after the elections. In search of the truth, this analysis poses four basic questions concerning this issue and provides optional responses to them.
1.) What has led to the decline of the liberal idea and the surge of far-right in Europe?
If you take a closer look at the aforementioned benchmarks, you will see that they have created different types of security challenges not only to Europe but to the whole world, such as the need to create physical security, financial and banking security, health and food security and, finally, defence security. These security challenges have led to security responses not only at EU level but also at national level, including travel restrictions, border closures, restrictive migration policies, advanced banking security measures, boost of defence industries and many more.
How could anyone assume that the quarter of a century marked by the abovementioned benchmarks, and the last 10 years in particular, have not left a strong imprint on Europe’s political landscape?
These security challenges, and the steps they require are one of the primary reasons for the erosion of the Liberal concept. Add to this the fact that Liberal / Green parties not only have failed to offer valid answers to the issue of war, but also couldn’t provide solutions to actual and mounting problems in Europe such as social / housing and environmental challenges, not to mention the expansion of global tech companies.
The above security challenges, the inadequate responses to them and also the basic instinctive fears triggered by these crises have together led to a conservative critique of the incumbent political systems and the surge of sovereignist forces which is expected to reach its peak in 2024. As part of this process, it is not only the conservative right-wing political parties that have strengthened in a number of European countries, but also those of the radical right. From the Netherlands to Austria, from Germany to France and from Italy to Slovakia, there are many examples of the rise of the far-right.
2.) Why is far-right able to spread so quickly and successfully all across Europe?
The key, apparently, is the high-level connectivity between national far-right parties.
Of course, populism as a key feature of these parties is important, as is the fact that in Europe, housing problems do exist, but what matters most is the strong links between the parties which allow them to pass on ideas and success stories to each other. This is not an old-fashioned Comintern-type connectivity, but rather a modern flexible network of instant response.
Charismatic leaders such as Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and others are capable of reaching people by awareness-raising messages in their own countries and, smart enough to think in big – these leaders are aligning with each other in order to become stronger and also to further reinforce the validity of their own narratives. After the victory of Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party in the Dutch elections back in November, Marine Le Pen was quick to claim that ’Wilder’s victory demonstrates that Europeans are contesting the functioning of the EU’ and ’wish to control immigration’.
Another reason why these parties perform so well in terms of both social acceptance and popularity – as if their historical sins had never happened -, is that they often consider and call themselves populists rather than far-right or radical and that play on words helps them a lot. Instead of joining racists, people prefer to support populists – pure psychology.
3.) Is external meddling on behalf of the far-right a likely scenario?
In far-right political milieu, external financial support is always highly appreciated – this has .been revealed many times in recent years when it has come to the bank accounts of some extreme right parties and politicians. By external sponsorship one should mean foreign governments and not necessarily European ones.
As it has become obvious over the last couple of years, there is one specific field Russians are mastering in, called meddling. In a nutshell this is about dirty games of misinformation campaigns, influence operations and state-sponsored hacking aimed at manipulating elections in foreign countries.
Why the situation would be different for the European elections in 2024, especially in view of the fact that Russia has entered the third year of a war in Ukraine which it had planned to be a week long?
The situation has reached a stalemate on the frontline – a lot is at stake not only for Ukraine but also for Russia. With increased influence of the anti-Ukraine far-right in Brussels, Russia can only win. In other words, as far as the 2024 European elections are concerned, for Moscow, meddling is a ’must’.
4.) Is the war in Ukraine really having such a major impact on the situation?
’There’s no more money for further subsidies’, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner told protesting German farmers in Berlin, adding that ’the money was needed because of the war in Ukraine’.
So, the answer to our question is yes, Ukraine is crucial, and not only at national level. During the debates in the European Parliament there is a major disagreement between MEPs on further military and financial assistance to Ukraine. While the majority of the political groups in EP, including the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group claim that supplies must continue, the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) Group says that the EU should not provide more support to corrupt Ukraine and the suffering of the civilians must be ended. It is also becoming more and more difficult for the European Council to reach unanimity when it comes to voting on further financial aid for Ukraine.
Based on clear scientific data, experts found that voters are most influenced by their fear. The war in Ukraine, which is taking place so close to the EU’s external borders, seems to be one of the major fears for Europeans. The concerns of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell who pointed out in an interview with The Guardian that voters are motivated by their fears, are not just empty words. According to his opinion, voters’ fear of the unknown may lead them to back rightwing populist parties because uncertainty creates a hormonal activity directed by fear and that calls for a security response. (In his interview, he clarified that by unknown and uncertainty he meant the two wars, one in Ukraine and another in Israel.) ’Parties that can play on fear in human beings and offer bad responses to good questions can attract the support from the European population’, Borrell concluded.
It may happen that European voters will not be, after all, fully convinced by toxic racist and anti-migrant narratives of the far-right and, will not vote for them – that’s when the ECR, with its traditional conservative values, may be the safest choice for many. The Conservatives may not win the EP elections, but they could still be among the big winners, as they seem to be the political group that can fill the right-wing gap between EPP and ID with its traditional values-oriented approach.
As for the position of the EU on Ukraine, the apparent shift from the centre, on both sides of the political spectrum, also means that the possibility of compromise between the different political groups is diminishing. And, ultimately, this will make it very complicated for Ukraine’s leadership to survive the coming crucial months.