As some of Europe’s most conservative parties struggle to make inroads at the national level, their leaders are reorienting their gaze towards the European Parliament. Since June 2021, they have held meetings with increasing frequency, with the goal of establishing a parliamentary “far-right supergroup.” Theoretically, the group could grow to include as many as 145 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), tying the moderate Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) for the second largest in the Parliament. But questions remain about the feasibility of the group actually forming, and the group’s effectiveness if it does so.
Falling Back to Parliament
Some European far-right parties have shifted their focus to the EU to compensate for their loss of support on a national level. For example, Germany’s Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD), who infamously outperformed their 2017 election poll numbers, lost eleven seats in Germany’s 2021 elections, with a net loss of over one million voters. Groups like AfD, who made headlines in the past but have now plateaued or even lost support on a national level, may feel compelled to seek support with likeminded parties in Europe. By cooperating, they could feasibly establish a large platform on the European level through which they could publicize their ideas and advance their agenda.
Efforts in 2021 to Unite the European Right
Although Europe’s far right parties concern themselves primarily with their own national interests, leaders came together with shared grievances during two “summits” that occurred in 2021. On July 3, sixteen signatories signed a document that outlined the group’s desire to fight for “the future of the EU, the protection of nations, of families, and traditional Christian values,” according to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The group specifically condemned overreach from the EU, and demanded new ways for national courts to override or re-negotiate EU court decisions.
The December 4 meeting in Warsaw saw two key developments: more inflammatory language and an increased sense of urgency. First, in front of a monument dedicated to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, French politician Marine Le Pen directly accused the EU of blackmailing and threatening Poland, whose far-right Law and Justice party won a whopping 45.4% of the vote and 26 parliamentary seats during the May 2019 European Parliament elections. Second, the leaders promised to meet more frequently, hoping to consolidate faster in order to counterbalance an emerging German government under Chancellor Otto Scholz that will make “federalism a priority and… increase migration pressure.”
The Madrid Summit: Reasons for Worry and Optimism
At the end of January 2022, the group met again for a two-day summit in Madrid, organized by Spain’s Vox party. How this gathering unfolded might tell us a good deal about the future of this potential “supergroup.”
Reasons for Worry
The Madrid summit did have some successes. First, the meeting proved that far-right leaders can leverage their momentum to organize another meeting in only a month and a half, by far the shortest amount of time between summits. They also further underlined the broad areas where they are in agreement: fighting back against the “globalist trend” that attacks the “sovereignty of nations,” the EU’s “’disastrous’ migrant policy,” and the need to defend “the primacy of national constitutions over European law.” In this way, they continued “the work begun at the Warsaw summit,” the proclaimed goal of the Madrid meeting according to Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s Vox party.
Reasons for Optimism
But besides a show of unity centered around these vague, generalized statements, the concrete achievements were far less impressive. Once again, they failed to create an official group. The number of participants actually went down from the December Warsaw meeting, dropping from sixteen to fourteen. Finally, other key far-right leaders, like Matteo Salvini of Italy’s La Lega party, were absent again.
The summit also showcased a good deal of infighting among those who did participate, especially concerning Russia. Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party and Spanish participants explicitly denounced Russia’s recent aggression in the Ukraine. But Le Pen and Orbán refrained from making similar statements, and Le Pen even outright refused to sign a declaration that made any mention of Russia in a negative light.
These debates demonstrate why a “far-right supergroup” may be harder to establish in the European Parliament. Each participating party is fundamentally rooted in nationalism, and thus each leader has “separate routes in domestic politics and… different goals in Brussels” based on what most benefits their respective country. Orbán has refused to condemn Putin because of close economic and political ties. Le Pen has personal financial connections with Russia. These clash with the views of Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s far-right Prime Minister who feels threatened by Moscow’s aggression due to his country’s close proximity and difficult history with Russia. Polish journalist Wojciech Przybylski called the “transnational meeting of nationalist parties” both a “paradox” and a “PR stunt,” which can only work to boost support among Europeans on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Maybe he’s right.
Conclusion: A Real Threat or a Paper Tiger?
Hypothetically, the threat of a far-right supergroup has not completely dissipated. It seems that they have many reasons to bind together, as opposition from restrictive COVID measures and mass migration continues to generate more radical politics. However, even if they do succeed in creating a common declaration, one needs to ask how well they would function together in practice. Indeed, fundamental differences might fracture the coalition from day one. Different factions disagree about a variety of key issues. And oftentimes, “they simply don’t like each other.”
Sustained, constructive cooperation is unlikely and maybe even impossible. In the meantime, however, they do enjoy these “headline-generating” gatherings that function as public shows of power in times of weakness. Maybe that is their real objective.