In the next European elections an historic breakthrough by the extremists, populists and nationalists has been forecast, with the latter not being by nature extremely in favour of Europe. Their victory has already been announced for May 2019. However, this is a somewhat hasty analysis and illustrates poor knowledge of the European election method.  

Indeed, we must be careful with the designation "extremist, populist" which masks a multi-facetted reality.

Indeed, in the European Parliament there is a far left-wing group (GUE/NGL) which is not made up just of parties from the far left like for example the Greek Communists (KKE). These divisions are not likely to disappear in 2019. Since its accession to office in Greece, the Radical Left-wing Coalition (SYRIZA), for example, has won itself several arch enemies in this group and rivalries are growing.

It is harder however to assess the "far right" which does not just sit in one group alone. With the Rassemblement National (RN, France) and the Party for Freedom (PVV, Netherlands) which co-chairs it, the ENF rallies parties, some of whom are now members of their national governments, such as for example the FPÖ in Austria and La Lega in Italy. Although Matteo Salvini and Martine Le Pen seem to have decided to renew their alliance, it will not occur in the same configuration. La Lega, might gain more seats and its political line might be deeply changed by this.

The representatives of other "extremist, populist or nationalist" parties sit in groups that reject these definitions, such as for example the Swedish Democrats and the True Finns, who sit with the ECR.

The movement Cinque Stelle (M5S) that is allied in the Italian government with La Lega sits in another group (EFDD) of which it might take the chair due to the departure of the British UKIP. As surprising as it might seem, MS5 is not planning to sit in the same group as La Lega, its partner in the Italian government after 2019! Finally, other political movements do not belong to any parliamentary group, like the Hungarian Jobbik, deemed to be disreputable.

This fragmentation highlights the difficulty these eurosceptic parties will have if they wanted to join forces under the same banner and form just one group in the European Parliament after the next elections.
Apart from their aversion to Europe, which is their only common point, they agree on very little more, including immigration. Although they all denounce it, they are divided regarding the solutions to provide. Matteo Salvini hopes that other Member States will accept the distribution of migrants, including Italy, which in his opinion is the only one to be bearing the weight of it. Viktor Orban, who sits on the EPP, is far from sharing this vision and wants to host none, just like the Slovakian socialist, the Czech liberal and the Polish conservative! Likewise, within the ENF it is not certain that all of the parties share the same position.

Therefore, it would be very simplistic to say that the "extremes, populists and nationalists" are going to win in May 2019. Undoubtedly, they will gain ground if the results that they have won recently at national level are confirmed. But it is highly likely that they will remain divided in several groups. Apart from the fact they all want to protect their own private corner (the Poles of the PiS the ECR, La Lega its group and MS5 its own one), they will hesitate before joining other "anti-system" movements with characteristics that are so different. Finally, their overall progress will remain at the end limited. Those of the parties from the big countries, like Italy will probably record the greatest gains in comparison with 2014. In most of the other Member States their wins in terms of seats will be fewer and the same national specificities will remain, thereby making rapprochement difficult. There remains the case of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) whose 7 MEPs from 2014 sit in three different groups and only one of whom still bears the AfD label!


The progression of nationalist parties will likely be limited to the European Parliament-level for several reasons, however. Firstly, only the most populated countries will send large numbers of MEPs: Germany (96), France (79 in 2019), Italy (76 in 2019) and Spain (59 in 2019). Secondly, the departure of British MEPs from the conservative and UKIP parties will weaken the nationalist camp, even if this departure will be amply offset by the arrival of a large number of Lega Nord MPs from Italy , as well as Alternative for Germany (AfD) MPs from Germany .

Right-of-traditional-right parties are currently divided into three political groups :

  1. ECR (the third biggest Parliamentary group, which includes the soon-to-disappear British conservatives and the Polish Law and Justice (PIS) party),
  2. EFDD (which includes the British UKIP party and the Five Star Movement), and
  3. ENF (which includes Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party and Matteo Salvini’s Lega party making it the smallest group in the EP.

According to current and available estimates, ENF could progress from 35 to 59 members, EFDD from 45 to 53, and ECR could slip from 71 to 48, for a total of 160 members across the three groups, up from 151.

In total, then, the rise would be limited in relation to the critical mass embodied by the furthest right-wing parties since 2014, given that some other populist parties belong to other groups (Orbán’s party in the EPP or France Insoumise in the GUE). Also, it is not likely that these political parties will work together or form a coherent unit. All signs point to these parties having more differences than similarities. They could, however, form an ‘against’ bloc, which has sometimes obliged other groups to form a coalition since 2014. Even within the ECR, a group which currently includes 19 nationalities and is expected to survive despite the departure of British members, a more liberal right composed of Belgian and Dutch members co-exists with a more authoritarian right composed of the Polish PIS, which would become the biggest delegation. No one in this group is anti-Union, but all favour a ‘confederalist’ right over a federal approach. Divisions do exist within the group on important topics such as the European budget (an East/West split). Concerning the EFDD, the Sweden Democrats party has left the group to join the ECR. The position of the very diverse Five Star Movement is uncertain, as is that of the AfD. Not able to find similar partners and unwelcome in other more left-wing groups, the Five Star Movement may join the ENF, one of its MPs has suggested. The AfD, originally an anti-Euro party and then an anti-immigrant one, has adopted more extreme ideological positions. Most of the national parties in the EFDD only have one member, making the group very fragile. Some predict it may even disappear, particularly if the Five Star Movement and AfD joined other groups. At present, the ENF is primarily pro-Russian due to the large number of western European members, much unlike the two previous groups. As such, the western right prefers to find pro-Putin allies while the eastern right is generally anti Russia. Beyond the fault line between the ECR and EFDD on one hand, and the ENF regarding Russia on the other, more generally, the division between eastern and western rights is less clear: Orbán is generally pro-Putin, while the Slovaks (influenced by SNS, a member of the government coalition), the Czechs (the president Milos Zeman), the Bulgarians and Romanians are ambiguous to say the least. Another example, of course, are the orthodox candidate countries of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Only the Polish and the Balts continue to employ a categorically anti-Russian political discourse (despite the very recent victory in Latvia’s legislative elections of Harmony, a pro-Russian party). All these countries have conflicting interests as a result. The Austrian chancellor announced a Vienna-Rome axis, but both countries disagree on how to manage the migratory situation: Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic derive 4% of their GDP from EU transfers and benefit from the free movement of workers. None wish to leave the European Union or NATO. In total, at this stage, and though their number could increase significantly, populists will most likely hold between 20–25% of seats in Parliament (they hold 20% now). Their relative influence could grow, however, in a Parliament made smaller by Brexit and in which the two largest groups are weakened. It will be difficult for them to form a coherent group, except possibly a ‘negatively cohesive’ one. Reshuffles are possible too, either within all three groups, or among them.

In truth, the presence of populists is, and will be, more tangible on the Council than the Parliament, particularly due to voting rules. In a number of areas outside the scope of the Council/Parliament co-decision procedure, only the Council decides – often unanimously – with the participation of heads of government and even sectoral ministers having close ties to populist or extremist movements that block decisions. The European Council, which defines overall political guidelines, adopts them by consensus. In its areas of competence, the Parliament can produce progress and/or compromise depending on applicable voting rules which sidestep or even exclude populist and extremist elements within it.



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