Is a triumph of the extreme right in the EU elections being prepared?

Press conference of extreme right-wingers from France, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic / Photo EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK

Rising food costs, economic stagnation and falling living standards could push voters into the hands of the far right in this year's European elections, which could further shake up the political agenda in Brussels, reports AFP. EU citizens face multiple crises. While the European Union's economy was recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, Moscow invaded Ukraine in 2022, forcing Europe to look for new sources of energy.

Gasoline and electricity prices have risen, hurting households and businesses. At the height of rising living costs, Europe's far right has thrived. Giorgia Meloni won the elections in Italy in 2022 and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands last year.

"There is a correlation between the rise of populist forces and the economic and financial crisis. Today, the radical right significantly exploits the feeling of impoverishment and the very strong pessimism among voters," says Thierry Chopin, a political scientist from the Jacques Delors Institute.

The majority of citizens expect a decline in living standards

Inflation is still falling, giving European politicians hope that the EU economy will improve after more than a year of no growth. But the improvements will start to be visible only after the summer, and not during the elections for the European Parliament in the EU countries from June 6 to 9.

Almost three out of four EU residents believe their standard of living will fall this year, and almost one in two say it has already worsened, according to the European Parliament's Eurobarometer survey published in December.

About 37 percent of those surveyed stated that they have difficulties paying their bills. Factory closings are becoming more common in the automotive industry, especially in Germany. Between November and January, auto parts maker Bosch said it was cutting 2.700 jobs, while ZF closed a factory employing 700 people and Continental announced it would cut several thousand administrative jobs.

Germany is in recession and it affects all of Europe

"German industry has been hit hard by high energy prices and is suffering from the electric transition in the automotive industry. At the moment we are not seeing a turnaround in orders," says Charlotte de Montpellier, economist at ING Bank.

Germany has been in recession since last year, and it affects all of Europe. Consumption is still weak due to high prices. The European Central Bank's record high interest rates to curb inflation are hurting investment and causing a slowdown in the real estate market.

Meanwhile, international trade, squeezed by China's slowdown, cannot compensate for weak domestic demand.

"The eurozone economy stagnated in (the fourth quarter) and we think it will stagnate in the first half of this year as the effects of past monetary tightening continue to be felt and fiscal policy becomes increasingly restrictive," said Jack Allen-Reynolds of Capital Economics.

Strong growth of parties belonging to the "Identity and Democracy" group

EU member states are also constrained by EU rules on public spending. France reintroduced the electricity tax in February, causing an increase of almost 10 percent. "Austerity measures could push a huge number of our citizens into the hands of the far right because they feel abandoned," warned MEP Philip Lamberts.

Several surveys show a sharp rise in far-right parties belonging to the group "Identity and Democracy" (ID). That grouping includes Marine Le Pen's National Rally, Germany's AfD party, Belgium's (Flemish) Vlaams Belang and Austria's FPO.

IS could become the third largest group in the European Parliament and threaten the liberal "Renew Europe" parliamentary group, which has similar strength to the growing radical right group the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

The extreme right could block greater integration

The ECR includes Georgia Meloni's party, Poland's PiS, Spain's Vox, etc. "The "grand coalition" that gathers the people's parties, the social democrats and "Let's renew Europe" should remain a majority in the European Parliament, but it will undoubtedly be weakened," Chopin said. .

According to a study by the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, this coalition could win 54 percent of the seats in the European Parliament this year, which is a drop from the current 60 percent. The extreme right is already putting pressure on the EU institutions, for example by supporting the farmers' revolt in the last few weeks.

If it emerges stronger after June's elections, the far right is likely to demand stricter migration policies and make it even more difficult to pass laws in certain areas such as environmental protection. The far right will also try to block further EU integration.

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