European elections expected to bring rise of extreme right and return of austerity

Millions of voters across Europe are preparing to elect new delegates to the European Parliament. The region is facing concerns over the rise of the extreme right and a new wave of austerity measures

June 05, 2024 by Ana Vračar
MEPs voting on the 2020 EU budget. Source: European Parliament/Flickr

Almost 375 million people in Europe are eligible to vote in the upcoming European Parliament (EP) election, scheduled for June 6-9. Polls predict a surge in votes for extreme right parties, aligned with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) groups, though the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP) will likely remain the largest bloc.

The election of 720 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) will be followed by the appointment of a new President of the European Commission, a new set of commissioners, and the President of the European Council.

The potential rise of ECR and ID to match, combined, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) reflects national election trends, where extreme right parties have capitalized on the lack of policies prioritizing people’s rights over multinational profits. This has happened in virtually all member states of the European Union, from Germany to Italy to Croatia.

These EU-level policies, like austerity measures, have had significant impacts. Sophie Lecron, an EP candidate for the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PVDA-PTB), criticized European policies for forcing countries to cut social budgets and limit public investment. “Technically, this austerity was suspended during the pandemic, but in reality there was a lot of austerity at all levels of power in Belgium,” Lecron said.

Austerity measures are preparing a big comeback in Europe, described as “austerity 2.0” by trade unions and left-wing politicians. Marc Botenga, PVDA-PTB’s only MEP in the last cycle of the EP, warned that this plan aims to favor multinationals at the expense of government and public services. “In other words, they are preparing a social bloodbath at the European level.”

Extreme right parties, such as Brothers of Italy, Alternative for Germany, and the National Rally in France, have gained support by exploiting the void left by previous austerity measures, promising better lives by stopping immigration and increasing military spending.

However, it’s not just the extreme right pushing these agendas. Under the leadership of EPP’s Ursula von der Leyen, the EU has already increased its military commitments, strengthened its NATO alliance, and – inspired by Giorgia Meloni’s plans in Italy – basically outsourced push backs of people trying to reach Europe to countries in North Africa.

Low turnout undermines legitimacy

Legitimacy concerns also plague the European Parliament, as voter turnout for EP elections is often lower than for national elections, with some countries like Slovenia and the Czech Republic seeing turnout below 30%. Efforts to boost turnout, such as combining EP elections with local elections or referendums, have not significantly increased voter interest and may bring even more benefit to the extreme right.

Despite the expected gains for the extreme right, there will be MEPs opposing pro-war and anti-people policies, as well as the austerity programs endorsed by other parties. “During the COVID-19 crisis, we unmasked the secret contracts between the European Union and major pharmaceutical multinationals. During the energy crisis, our parliamentary group was at the forefront of the fight for a price cap,” Botenga pointed out.

The Left plans to continue advocating for a different vision of Europe. Rudi Kennes, trade unionist and MEP candidate, said this vision comprises Europe as a place “where not the freedom to enslave and make unbridled profits are untouchable, but the social rights of the working class.”