Eurosceptic and populist forces in the European Union

Paris – Populist and eurosceptic parties have emerged in many countries of the European Union and although not all go as far as wanting a Brexit-style departure, they are no friends of Brussels.

European voters go to the polls to choose a new parliament from May 23-26 and gains for eurosceptics and the far right would be a new blow for the bloc’s established leaders as the Brexit crisis rumbles on.

Here is a look at nations with significant eurosceptic, anti-establishment and anti-immigration parties:

 

– Britain –

In a referendum on June 23, 2016, Britons voted to quit the EU by 52 percent to 48 percent.

The outcome stunned the EU and the wider world which had thought that despite all the brickbats pointed at Europe, Britons would in the end balk at actually leaving.

The divorce process has been fraught and two extensions to the original March 29 deadline mean Britain could well still vote in the European Parliament elections unless a Brexit plan is agreed very quickly.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) capitalised on the strong anti-EU mood to score a major victory by taking 24 of Britain’s 73 MEP seats.

This time around, anger at both the ruling Conservatives and opposition Labour Party over Brexit could push voters into the arms of two newly-formed groups: the Brexit Party — which leads in the opinion polls — and pro-EU centrists, Change UK.

 

– France –

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party, which has 14 out of 74 French MEPs, has toned down its anti-European message but maintains a tough anti-migrant stance.

Eurosceptic right-wing parties The Patriots, which is pushing to leave the EU, and Debout la France (France Stand Up) have two seats each.

On the far-left, France Insoumise (France Unbowed) — with three Euro-MPs — is against certain EU treaties but is not pulling out of the bloc.

 

– Germany –

The anti-migrant and anti-Europe Alternative for Germany (AfD) won its first seats in the national parliament in 2017 with nearly 13 percent of votes.

It is Germany’s single biggest opposition party but holds only one of the country’s 96 MEP seats, losing six after a series of defections.

 

– Italy –

Italy’s ruling coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and anti-immigrant League party won the 2018 national election on an anti-migrant and anti-EU platform but notably stepped back from demands to exit the eurozone single currency bloc.

The populist government clashed with most of its EU partners when it closed its ports to refugees and has sparred with Brussels over budget numbers.

Of Italy’s 73 Euro-MPs, six belong to the League and 11 to the Five Star Movement.

Hardline Interior Minister and League head Matteo Salvini has called on nationalist parties across Europe to join forces and form a new alliance after the election.

 

– Hungary –

Prime Minister Viktor Orban regularly criticises the EU, particularly over immigration policy.

Orban’s populist government faces the threat of European sanctions over the rights of minorities and refugees, and academic and media freedoms.

Orban’s Fidesz party — which has 11 out of 21 Hungarian Euro-MPs — was in March suspended from the centre-right European People’s Party, the EU’s biggest political grouping.

After recent talks with Salvini in Budapest, Orban said he was “convinced that Europe needs an alliance of anti-immigration parties”.

Europe’s extreme right

 

– Austria –

The far-right Freedom Party entered the government of conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz in 2017, with the post of vice chancellor going to leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

While defending a hardline policy on migration, the party — which has three of Austria’s 18 European seats — has abandoned its flirtation with a referendum on whether to leave the EU.

 

– Czech Republic –

Prime Minister Andrej Babis has locked horns with Brussels over migration.

The premier, who is the Czech Republic’s second wealthiest man according to Forbes, faces charges over an EU subsidy scam. He has consistently rejected the accusations against him as a politically inspired plot.

Babis’ populist and centrist ANO party holds only two of the republic’s 21 European Parliament seats but emerged as the biggest winner in October 2017 national elections and was able to form a minority government.

The anti-migrant Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party, which is looking to bag its first seat in the European parliament, favours a “Czexit” from the EU.

 

– Poland –

The eurosceptic ruling conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) holds 14 of Poland’s 51 European seats, and is polling well for the upcoming vote.

The country faces EU sanctions over what Brussels sees as consistent threats to the independence of its judicial system and civil society.

Are the nationalists on the rise across Europe?

 

– The Netherlands –

The Freedom Party (PVV) of Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders promotes a “Nexit” from the EU. It has four of 26 Euro-MPs and became the second biggest force in the national parliament in 2017 polls, securing 20 of 150 seats.

The emerging Forum for Democracy party also backs leaving the EU.

 

– Denmark –

The Danish People’s Party, with four out of 13 Euro-MPs, is anti-migrant. It wants to reform rather than quit the European Union. It backs Denmark’s minority centre-right government but does not participate in it.

Key facts on the European Parliament

 

– Estonia –

The anti-EU, far-right EKRE party has seen a surge in support, becoming the third largest party in national elections in March.

Prime Minister Juri Ratas has drawn the party into a three-party coalition with five ministerial posts. It holds no seats in the current European Parliament.

 

– Finland –

Finland’s far-right, anti-immigration Finns Party more than doubled its seats in April national elections, closely tailing the leftist Social Democrats who won only narrowly.

The eurosceptic party — which has two of 13 Finland’s European seats — does not advocate leaving the EU altogether but wants reforms of the bloc.

Far-right make gains in Finland

 

– Portugal –

The Socialist government is in alliance with the Left Bloc, which wants Portugal to leave the eurozone single currency area, and the Communists, who envisage leaving the euro and possibly also the EU. The two eurosceptic parties have four of the country’s 21 European seats.

 

– Romania –

The Social Democratic Party government has had several run-ins with Brussels and has been threatened with “swift” consequences by the European Commission over proposed judicial reforms seen as a threat to the independence of the courts. The party holds 10 of Romania’s 32 European seats.

 

– Sweden –

The far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), with two of 20 Euro-MPs, went into last year’s parliamentary elections with the promise of a referendum on a “Swexit”, but have since softened their stance.

SD now wants the EU to work on a new treaty limiting the areas of cooperation to those not infringing core elements of sovereignty, thus excluding defence, foreign policy and immigration. Failing that, Sweden should reconsider membership.

By Vincent Drouin