OpEd

The rise of extreme parties in the EU is an exaggerated fear

The growth of populist and extremist parties in the EU on the eve of the European elections is not a problem. The biggest problem is the departure of the traditional, center-left and right-wing and liberal parties from the values ​​they have been committed to until now. The biggest danger is giving up the principles of the center parties. As for the European Parliament, even in the future composition there will be a sufficient majority for the main traditional, pro-European parties. And there will remain support for EU expansion, for the Western Balkans and for Kosovo as well

There are less than 100 days left until the European elections, where the deputies of the European Parliament will be elected in 27 member countries. Political parties, at the national level, but also at the European level, are already increasing the campaign on the eve of these elections. They are approving their election manifestos, choosing the leading candidates for the position of the president of the European Commission. But the success of the political groups in the European Parliament depends entirely on the success at the level of the member states. Because the 720 seats in the European Parliament are separated and reserved for each member country, not for political parties. The number of deputies for each member country takes into account the number of inhabitants, with a positive discrimination for small countries. Thus, no country can have less than 6 deputies in the European Parliament, as Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta have, and no one more than 96, as Germany has. This is positive discrimination in favor of smaller countries. Thus, in Germany there is one MP per 850.000 inhabitants, while in Malta 1 MP per 83.000 inhabitants. The elections are called European because they choose the deputies for the European Parliament and they take place in the same time frame in all 27 member countries, that is, this time from June 6 to 9. In practice, they are a combination of national elections, because each country conducts them based on its domestic election laws. But when they take their posts in the European Parliament then the MPs line up across political groups. Participation in these groups also brings certain benefits. Those benefits are related to the greater opportunity to speak in sessions, to have rapporteurs and chairmen of commissions and delegations, more financial means for the group's activity and many others.

Traditionally, two parties have dominated the European Parliament. The European People's Party (EPP), which is positioned in the center right. In the last few compositions, it is the largest grouping in the European Parliament. In second place, and before that it was also the first, is the grouping of Socialists and Democrats from the left center. These two parties have many differences in their ideology, but in the European Parliament they have traditionally been partners on the main topics for the functioning of the EU. Because both of these parties have a pro-EU approach. But in recent times, both of these have declined, and in order to advance the development projects of the EU, they often needed the support of two other groups, which are pro-European. The Liberals and the Greens have played this role. With these four parties, the number of pro-European groups ends to some extent. Together they have the majority and will have it in the next composition, although it is expected that they will fall. To some extent, in some cases they can also count on some votes from the Conservative and Reform Party. More or less, this is the party created by the factions that left the EPP, because they did not agree with their support for the deepening of integrations in the EU and the increase of the role of the EU to the detriment of the competences of the member countries. In other issues, such as those of migration, traditional values ​​and identity, this grouping is close to the EPP. It is a mistake to call it "radical" or extreme, but the epithet "euro sceptic" can fit it.

All other groups are extreme, right or left. And they are expected to grow significantly. Polls show that these parties are benefiting from EU citizens' concerns about security and illegal immigration. The extreme left is more or less communist, often pro-Russia and China, and often against the United States of America. It is not rare when, even in the sessions of the European Parliament, deputies from extreme left parties talk about "American imperialism", a myth known from the time of communism.

But in the EU, the danger from these parties is being exaggerated, even though it is real that they will grow. The growth of populist and extremist parties in the EU on the eve of the European elections is not a problem. The biggest problem is the departure of the traditional, center-left and right-wing and liberal parties from the values ​​they have been committed to until now. The biggest danger is giving up the principles of the center parties. As for the European Parliament, even in the future composition, there will be a sufficient majority for the main traditional, pro-European parties. And there will remain support for EU expansion, for the Western Balkans and for Kosovo as well.

Far-right parties can pose a greater risk if they increase their influence, or take part in power in member countries. In the Netherlands this is not far away, as Gert Wilders, leader of the extremist party, has won the elections and is trying to form the government. Whether he will be in power or not will depend on other parties that can support him. The Netherlands is being watched closely, because traditional parties have had a so-called "sanitary cordon" and have not entered the government with extremist parties. If this passes in the Netherlands, it may happen later in Belgium, where a similar party may be a relative winner of the elections. And if they cooperate at the state level, then the traditional parties of the center can cooperate with the far-right parties at the EU level as well. And that then becomes dangerous. So, the influence of the extreme right will not depend on their strength in the European Parliament, but on the space that other parties will give them. Their influence at the EU level cannot be great because they are very different from each other. They differ in their attitudes about the rights of the LGBT community. From the extreme right from Eastern European countries there is a lot of homophobia. While this does not happen with those from Western Europe. For example, the leader of the extremist party in the Netherlands is himself a declared homosexual. They also differ greatly in their attitudes towards Russia. Some far-right parties have been and are in some cases pro-Russian, such as in France, Austria and Germany, while others in other countries are anti-Russian, such as in Poland and the Czech Republic. So, they share the populist attitude that foreigners and Brussels are to be blamed for everything, they are often also anti-Islamist, while they are not and cannot be a homogeneous group. And their success is now greater because of the phenomenon of fake news and disinformation campaigns that such pariahs benefit from. However, even though their voice may increase in the future composition of the European Parliament, they will not present any danger to the EU by themselves. The danger is when others buy into their agenda and rhetoric. And this is happening in some EU countries where the difference in attitudes between the extreme right and the center right is decreasing. And in some others, political ideology no longer plays a role, because for votes, for coming to power or other benefits, unprincipled coalitions also happen.