The Ebb and Flow of Right-Wing Parties: Is the Tide Receding?

Given the particularly favourable conditions for right-wing parties, such as geopolitical crises and economic turmoil, 2023 was anticipated to usher in a significant upswing in their influence. This concern was based on the fact the elections in the European Union in 2022 witnessed a notable surge in the fortunes of right-wing parties, as some of them made significant gains in key member states. Notably, the right-wing coalition secured power in Italy, while the Sweden Democrats played a pivotal role in supporting Kristersson’s minority moderate government. Additionally, Fidesz emerged victorious in Hungary, where they have held power since 2010. However, the outcome so far in 2023 has not replicated the previous year’s success. The paper, nevertheless, argues that although the charge of the parties positioned on the right side of the political spectrum has been seemingly halted, it has not been definitively defeated.

Namely, contrary to widespread expectations, the right-wing movement faced setbacks in the two pivotal parliamentary elections of the year, held in Poland and Spain. Notably, following the conclusion of the Polish elections on October 15, it became evident that the Law and Justice Party (PiS), often regarded as the strongest right-wing political force in Europe, had lost its majority and, consequently it is expected that they will after coalition talks, they will lose hold on power after eight years. Even though the PiS most likely lost power in Poland, they continue to hold the position of the largest party in the country, boasting substantial support from the public and retaining the potential for a return to power. In the case of Spain, there was an anticipation of a right-wing and conservative resurgence, especially after their success in regional elections. However, both the People’s Party (PP) and Vox fell short of the anticipated vote tally, while the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) outperformed earlier predictions. Should Pedro Sanchez fail to secure the support of separatist parties, the possibility of a new election taking place in January exists, which could potentially result in increased right-wing votes and the formation of a right-leaning government, with the latest polls showing just a slight increase in support for the PP. These two examples show that the right-wing forces have not suffered an irreversible defeat.

In addition, right-wing parties have seen successes in other elections this year, establishing a significant or even commanding presence in various countries. In the aftermath of the April elections in Finland, a new government with a right-leaning orientation was established, composed of the conservative National Coalition and the right-wing Finns Party, effectively defeating Sanna Marin’s Social Democratic Party. The Alternative for Germany’s (AfD) success in Germany was evident in three out of four state elections. Furthermore, there are expectations that the right-ultranationalist Slovak National Party will join the government with Robert Fico’s left-wing nationalist SMER-SD. Additionally, in the upcoming Dutch general elections in November, the newly formed centre-right, anti-establishment New Social Contract (NSC) is currently leading the polls. The right-nationalist Party for Freedom is projected at around 20% of the vote, doubling their 2021 performance, while the Forum for Democracy expected to achieve similar results as two years ago. Notably, opinion polls in Austria and Belgium, both set to hold parliamentary elections in 2024, reveal a remarkable surge in support for right-wing parties. Presently, projections suggest that the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) is poised to become the dominant party in Austria, securing roughly 30% of the vote, doubling their 2019 performance. Similarly, heightened support is expected for right-wing parties like the N-VA and Vlaams Belang (VN) in Belgium, which is also having its parliamentary election concurrently with the European elections. Such a cross-European electoral overview indicates a growing influence of right-wing parties and raises questions about potential repercussions for national and European policies.

Amid the ongoing surge in support for right-wing parties, the upcoming European Parliament elections scheduled for next June raise a pressing question about their potential impact on the EU’s trajectory over the next five years. This holds particular significance considering that right-wing parties usually outperform in the European elections. Current polling data suggests that the European People’s Party (EPP) is likely to emerge as the largest group, holding a slight edge over the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), while liberal Renew Europe follows with the same count as in 2019. Additionally, these polls indicate that right-leaning groups and parties are on track to secure nearly half of the seats in the European Parliament, with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) making substantial gains and nearing third place with around 86 seats, while Identity and Democracy (ID) is expected to secure around 75 seats. The dynamics are further intensified as the far-right Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni attempts to persuade the EPP to join forces with her ECR, potentially bolstering the right’s influence in the European Parliament. Such substantial presence would grant them significant sway in electing the next European Commission and the policymaking process, potentially leading to a stronger emphasis on anti-immigrant policies or potential obstacles to green initiatives. While most do not oppose EU enlargement per se, it could complicate the accession process for aspiring member and EU reform, given some of these parties’ eurosceptic positions.

In conclusion, while there were setbacks in Poland and Spain, the right-wing movement remains formidable, with potential for resurgence. As we approach the 2024 European Parliament elections, these parties are set to shape EU policies and dynamics. Furthermore, the strong support for right-wing parties in Austria and Belgium foreshadows their impact on future European politics. If the migrant and economic crises continue to pose a challenge in the EU, it should not be expected that the right-wing tide will get lower any time soon. Thus, the coming year will be crucial in determining the direction of the European Union. As widening and deepening have become mutually inseparable processes, while the expectations are growing for the EU to demonstrate the possibility of addressing its current dysfunctionalities while getting ready to expand to 30+ members, the next year’s elections could quite possibly become a factor that will negatively contribute to the ongoing efforts to reform the Union.