Most recently a group of 9 EU countries under the leadership of Germany have started to intensify talks on changing the voting system from unanimity to qualified majority voting (QMV) in foreign and security issues. Such a significant legal change would not only reduce the importance of negotiations, but it could also become a dangerous political tool should radical (on any end) parties ever come into power in Europe`s “big” countries.
Introduction of QMV would undoubtedly lead to an increased influence of “big” countries on European politics. But is this really in the best interest of Europe, when far-right movements apparently are just getting stronger in Germany, France, Spain and Italy? Even if their coming to power does not seem likely today or tomorrow, it can’t (and shouldn’t) be ruled out on the longer term, especially when the continent faces unprecedented challenges such as migration, inflation and the war in Ukraine?
Far-right parties in Western Europe have already shown once how easily they can benefit from generic crises. The massive and constant flow of migrants starting in 2015 not only brought panic and showed the lack of professionalism of some European governments, but also meant a breakthrough for radical parties that have earlier struggled to mobilize even small and radical parts of the electorate.
As of 2023 we might be witnessing the “second wave” of the rise of these parties. A recent poll shows that Alternative for Germany (AfD) has just become the second strongest party in the country ahead of the CDU/CSU. In June, AfD won its first ever election in a district of the central state of Thuringia. Certainly an alarming sign for the mainstream parties before some state parliament elections come next year.
Far-right parties have shown an increasing trend in France as well. National Rally (RN) leader Marine Le Pen got more than 41% of the votes in the runoff of last year`s presidential elections, demonstrating a clear increase in the number of her supporters. An April poll states that Le Pen is already more popular than president Macron. At the moment we are yet to see how recent violent riots impact the domestic politics of France, but cases like this usually serve as a good tool to play on some xenophobic and anti-migrant strings.
In Spain, ultra-conservative Vox party has high chances to become a kingmaker at the upcoming snap elections in late July. While polls show for the moment that the mainstream right-wing Partido Popular (PP) party will likely win the general elections, it will most probably lack the necessary majority for governing. In this case Vox will be in the comfortable situation to influence Spanish policy on Europe. They might even contribute to the improvement of the relations with Italy since the latter`s prime minister Georgia Meloni is well known about her support for Vox. From this perspective, the future of the (Western) Europe’s far-right parties does not look that hopeless, and they are not as isolated as it is often perceived. The above mentioned parties are actually gaining popularity in the countries which are eager to introduce QMV in foreign and security issues of the EU. Imagine if Le Pen together with Vox and AfD would be able to decide on how to deal with Russia. Today the general support of Ukraine against the Russian aggression is still strong but what if some far-right governments are given the chance to change this based on their own conviction? No doubt a more divided Europe would only play into the Kremlin`s hand in this regard.
The introduction of QMV could pave the way for radical parties to boost their hazardous politics onto the European level. Of course, far-right parties governing multiple Western European countries simultaneously is the worst-case scenario, but nothing can make us sure it will not be the case in the unforeseen future. If this happens smaller – democratic – countries in the EU can be basically left with no voice when it comes to important political decisions. And make no mistake, extreme-right parties will never hesitate to override these weaker positions. Does it still sound like a democratic institution?
All in all, unanimity shouldn’t be taken as an obstacle in the EU`s decision making process. It is an integral part of checks and balances and its future role in preserving European democracy should not be underestimated.