In early September, Santiago Abascal, chairman of Spain’s far-right Vox party, announced that his country had been chosen to host the next summit of “European patriotic and conservative leaders” to be held this month. The meeting, probably held in Madrid, represents the next step in these forces’ attempt to integrate themselves as a “conservative” bloc in European politics, acceptable to a wider right-wing audience.
It is not just an alliance of marginal opposition forces, but an alliance that already holds power in several European capitals. Indeed, the last such meeting was held in Warsaw, Poland, on December 4, under the auspices of Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of the ruling Law and Justice party. The meeting at the Regent Hotel brought together far-right luminaries such as Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (also from Kaczyński’s party), his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán, the leader of the National Rally Marine Le Pen, as well as Abascal and of the far-right leaders of Flanders. and Estonia.
The summit resulted in a brief one-page statement denouncing the status quo in the European Union. He attacks the “disturbing idea” of a Europe “ruled by a self-proclaimed elite”. The document highlighted how this elite is implementing “the arbitrary application of European law” and a continent-wide “social engineering” program aimed at “separating people from their culture and heritage”.
But if the language was harsh, what especially marked this summit was that it was the first official meeting bringing together representatives of the two groups to the right of the European People’s Party (EPP), the main Christian Democratic force. in the European Parliament. While some major far-right forces (such as Matteo Salvini’s League and the Alternative for Germany, AfD) were absent, the summit stressed the strengthening of relations between European conservatives and reformists (ECR, a group comprising formerly the British Conservatives) and the more extreme right-wing Identity and Democracy (ID), as well as Orbán’s Fidesz party, unaffiliated at European level since leaving the EPP in March.
The parties involved in these groupings come from different political traditions and, in some cases, even compete electorally at the national level. But while the tensions between these forces have long justified the existence of two rival currents in the European Parliament, it could be history after this month’s summit, as they contemplate the creation of a “supergroup” bringing together the European Parliament. extreme right in European politics.
Already in the Warsaw declaration of December, the signatory parties pledged “closer cooperation in the European Parliament, including the organization of joint meetings and the coordination of votes”.
Le Pen expressed his conviction that this unprecedented goal was within reach: “We can be optimistic about the creation of this political force in the coming months”, commented the president of the National Rally. This goal was shared by Orbán, speaking to the press ahead of the meeting: “We have been working for months to create a strong party family. I hope we can take a step in that direction.
As Miguel Urbán, member of the European Parliament of the Left Anticapitalistas, explained in a Twitter feed, Orbán is indeed the key to the formation of this “supergroup”. He bridges the gap between far-right governments in Central and Eastern Europe and the far-right in the Mediterranean, not least because of his close personal relations with the ruling party in Poland for Law and Justice and the former Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini. But this also owes to the international projection and prestige of the Hungarian Prime Minister, hailed by personalities like Tucker Carlson, among the base of the ECR and ID parties. If Salvini had already proposed to create a far-right alliance similar to the approach of the 2019 European elections, the change of political context is finally pushing these forces to take the plunge.
There are ideological obstacles to such a pact, although they may seem insignificant to many observers who see all these forces as a homogeneous “populist right”. These parties place different emphasis on political and religious traditionalism and have differences on foreign policy, being particularly divided over their relations with Russia and, to a lesser extent, China.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also opened up divisions: some court the anti-vax movement and its conspiracy theories more openly than others, such as Le Pen and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, who have instead taken a more ambiguous position, focusing on the criticism of the foreclosure measures. . Illustrating the contradictions, Orbán – the most fiercely anti-Communist hard-right figurehead – nevertheless received the blow from Sinovac, in the context of Budapest’s relatively good relations with China.
If such differences can be concealed in the name of unity, there are also practical problems: the ECR grouping has been partly consolidated as an alternative to the ID, which in recent years has been characterized by internal instability and multiple disputes between its constituents. parties. So if these forces are coming together now, what has changed?
On the one hand, after years of enjoying significant electoral growth, many of these parties appear to have leveled off and would need a political and media boost. It seems that one of the figures with the most to gain from such a “supergroup” federating the hard right is Marine Le Pen. While she aspires to reach again the second round of the French presidential election in April, she faces the unfortunate competition of pundit Eric Zemmour, including the new Reconquest! (Reconquest!) Risks dividing the far-right vote and allowing other candidates to sneak in.
Meanwhile, in Spain, Vox is seeking to strengthen his prospects of ruling with the Popular Party (Partido Popular, PP) of Pablo Casado, the main conservative party in the country for four decades. Although these forces remain in competition, with the far-right party trying to steal voters from the larger PP, Vox’s votes have already supported PP-led regional governments in Madrid and Andalusia, the administration of Isabel Díaz. Ayuso in the capital region being seen as a potential model. for a right-wing national government in 2023. Vox leader Abascal also offers other far-right European forces a particular channel of influence in Latin America. Through his eccentric theory of an “Iberosphere,” he began to forge closer ties with like-minded parties in the Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking world, including Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
This alliance also aims to organize the right flank of European politics in the current conflicts at EU level. Fidesz and Law and Justice, which govern Hungary and Poland respectively, have open conflicts with Brussels over the independence of the judiciary, but also over their asylum and immigration policies and against the rights of women and sexual minorities.
These conflicts were particularly sharpened, from the point of view of these parties, by the arrival of a new coalition government in Germany, made up of the Social Democrats of Olaf Scholz as well as the Greens and the Free New Liberal Democrats. They fear that Berlin will harden its stance towards Budapest and Warsaw, especially now that Greens co-chair Annalena Baerbock has become foreign minister. That said, during his recent visit to Poland, Baerbock notably watered down his campaign criticisms against the administration of law and justice, speaking vaguely about resolving the “differences” between the two countries and supporting the Polish government in its dispute with Belarus over refugees at the border.
Orbán nevertheless underlined the stakes of the conflict from the point of view of the extreme right: in December, while the new coalition was not yet formed, he had already described it as an executive supporting “immigration policy, gender [a dog whistle for LGBT-friendly measures] and a federal and pro-German Europe. The Hungarian Prime Minister defiantly insisted: “Let’s not fold our arms, let’s prepare for battle. “
If the “battle” with the new government in Berlin, added to certain voting difficulties, may push the European far right to stick together to warm up, another development of the recent German election also pleads in favor of a such pact. Parties that enter the German Bundestag twice in a row have access to federal funding for their party’s foundations – and after retaining most of its seats in the September elections, the AfD’s Desiderius Erasmus Stiftung (DES) is now eligible for state funding, to be used at the party’s own discretion. According to some media, this will start with the hiring of more than 900 staff.
If it resembles its counterparts elsewhere on the political spectrum, like the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung of the Christian Democrats (or even the much smaller Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung of Die Linke), it could allow DES to open offices in dozens of other countries. Thus, the founding of the AfD could succeed where former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon failed, and create a far-right cross-border think tank for Europe.
The potential forces behind this pact should not be underestimated. Adding together the current members of the European Parliament from the ECR and ID groups, as well as Fidesz d’Orbán, this would represent some 149 MEPs – enough to get ahead of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and create the Assembly’s second force. from Brussels. Even if some parties remained outside the “supergroup”, or if the center-left bloc sought to integrate forces like the erratic five-star movement in Italy, the far right would still be the third group, well ahead of the Liberals of Renew Europe (101 deputies), not to mention the Greens and allies (seventy-three) or the left (thirty-nine).
If this is Brussels arithmetic, left-wing MEP Miguel Urbán also recalls that “this movement should not be read only in terms of the European Parliament, but in the perspective of a broader politico-cultural counter-revolution. “The growth of these parties has enabled them to push conservative and liberal parties more to the right, to harden official EU policies and public discourse on issues such as immigration or welfare and, no less important, to set the agenda of rival parties and media around issues such as immigration and security.
As Urbán points out, far-right forces have repeatedly shown that they are ready to fight to change the terms of the political debate. It is high time for the left to prepare as well.