EU elections 2019: Rise of nationalist trends and populism in Europe challenges the EU edifice

Press conference by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EC, ahead of the Informal EU27 Leaders’ meeting in Sibiu, Romania Date: 07/05/2019. Location: Brussels – EC/Berlaymont. © European Union, 2019. Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

The European elections are going to be held in just two weeks’ time and far-right propaganda is gaining momentum creating concerns to everyone regarding the future of the EU, which is at stake. Populism and nationalism have dramatically risen in the EU during the last years menacing democratic institutions within a number of European member states.

The President of the European Commission prompted the European citizens yesterday to think carefully before voting in the EU elections. The EC president’s concerns originate from the fact that populist and nationalist parties gain ground, as per recent polls.

Furthermore, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated last Monday that he will not support EPP’s leader, Manfred Weber, as the European Commission president, following the decision of EPP to freeze the Hungarian ruling party “Fidesz” last March.

EU elections polls

Populism and far-right propaganda are growing in the EU; especially in France and Germany. More specifically, Marine Le Pen’s far-right party will gain 22% of the vote overtaking Emmanuel Macron’s party according to an Ipsos poll which was released last Sunday. However, it is not the first time that such an outcome occurs showing that populists will clearly benefit from the upcoming EU elections.

According to political science, these elections have been historically used as second-order elections which reflect on the electorate’s dissatisfaction against the incumbent government and EU integration as a whole.

Germany is another country which is demonstrating similar signs of surging populism according to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. A recent study which was published by this foundation reveals that populism in the country has increased and particularly one out of three citizens expresses anti-democratic views.

What is more, Bertelsmann Foundation conducted a research among 23.725 voters in twelve European countries. The result of the analysis was that 10% of the interviewees will vote for the right-wing populists and right-wing extremists while the majority will vote against the parties that mostly reject.

Orban against Weber’s candidacy

The Hungarian Prime Minister is no longer supporting Manfred Weber for the EC presidency after the latter’s refusal to accept votes from the far-right Fidesz party in order to be elected as the next EC president. More in detail, Viktor Orbán said two days ago: “If someone insults a country like this, then the prime minister of that country can’t support such a person’s candidacy. We are looking for the appropriate candidate.”

Currently, the Hungarian PM is oriented to bring together the center right and far right as it is the case in Austria where FPÖ governs as part of a coalition with the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). However, a model like this is not likely to take place in the EPP party as its lead candidate Weber has rejected the idea of such an alliance.

EU concerns

The entire political system of Europe is under tremendous pressure and people composing the democratic institutions are greatly worrying. Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his concerns regarding the EU elections and urged EU voters to figure out how the EU would be if extremists were to become the leading force.

EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly attempted last week to underline the importance of everyone’s participation and vote in the EU elections. Her exact words were: “How do we encourage administrations to engage with their citizens when it comes to decision making at national or European level? What can we do to make sure that people feel they have a real say in how their lives are governed and that their votes and voices matter?…Much of my work has been about the breaking of barriers between the EU institutions and EU citizens. It ranges from gentle reminders to respond to a single communication to attempting to open the decision-making processes to greater public view and participation. Knowing that our work has a high purpose is the key to action, innovation, and to a drive for positive and concrete outcomes.”

All in all, the European elections are crucial not only for the EU but also for the world’s democratic powers. The fact that a large part of the EU citizens have fully lost their faith in politicians and vote not based on the person they want to elect but on dissatisfaction nad protest is challenging. It irrevocably contributes to the rise of right-wing extremists and populists.

Naturally, it will be always up to the democratic political parties to truly prove to the European citizens that they do have a noble vision and political strategy for the common good and that they don’t care only about the tax free hefty salaries of an MEP or Commissioner, together with their often unqualified cabinets and friends, who know someone who knew someone else, wearing Prada and working from sunbeds.

Only when the latter takes place the democratic forces of Europe will possibly regain the trust of the EU voters and save the EU project from an abrupt collapse which is bound to endanger peoples’ lives and peace in the Old Continent.

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