Far-Right Parties Poised To Make Major Gains in EU Elections

By Adeline Von Drehle
Published On: Last updated 06/06/2024, 06:27 PM EDT

European Parliament elections began on Thursday, kicking off four days of voting across 27 member states, where about 350 million voters will be electing 720 politicians. Polls suggest that the far-right will make major gains this year. Various far-right parties could win the largest share of seats they’ve ever held in the European Union’s legislative bodies, possibly surpassing the traditional center-right coalition in numbers.

The vote comes at a pivotal moment for the EU, which will have its first election since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which caused serious disruptions to the European economy and spirit. The European Union only holds an election once every five years, so the outcome of these elections will influence European policy for the rest of the decade.

The European Parliament is the only EU institution where representatives are directly elected, and as such operates as the space most indicative of voter sentiment. In the elections, politicians from individual countries stand for their respective parties at a national level. If they are elected to the European Parliament, they will likely join one of seven main groupings that traverse the political spectrum.

The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) has been the EU legislature’s biggest alliance since 1999, and remains so with 176 seats. At its helm is Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking a second term as president of the European Commission. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) is the EU’s second-largest coalition. With a center-left lean, S&D is projected to, at best, hold on to its 139 seats.

It is expected that both the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy Group (ID) – which currently hold 69 and 49 seats respectively – will make significant gains in the election. Far-right parties steer Switzerland, Italy, and Hungary, and are an integral part of governing coalitions in Finland, Sweden, and Serbia. It is likely that ultraconservative members will get a lion’s share of the seats in these countries.

Even in countries not governed by the far-right, such as France and Germany, ultraconservatives are crushing their competitors in the polls. In France, the far-right National Rally (RN), led by RN president Jordan Bardella, are ahead with 33% of the vote, or more than twice the support of French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party. Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) holds a second-place lead despite being riddled with scandal.  

Many are shocked at the rise of the far-right, and are looking at top voter concerns to explain the seismic shift. No two European countries are alike, so the importance of issues differs from nation to nation. Still, there are many topics that hold significance across the bloc, such as immigration, climate change, security, and support for Ukraine.

Immigration in particular is on the tip of the tongue across the continent because of rising migration to Europe. The EU received 1.1 million asylum requests in 2023, the highest number since 2015. Voters across Europe are increasingly drawn to far-right politicians who promise to restrict immigration and espouse a “positive approach to their homeland,” as the far-right Austrian Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl put it.

These politicians are engaging in nationalist rhetoric which, while speaking to the grievances of their constituents, might spell trouble for the EU as an entity that relies on international cooperation. As the winds change in Europe, far-right gains and centrist losses may also offer a glimpse into Western voter sentiment ahead of America’s presidential election in November, where former President Donald Trump continues to lead President Joe Biden in the RCP Average by 0.5 points. 

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