The European Parliament’s elections

The growing clout of populists in Europe’s parliament could carry consequences on the legislative level while also on the overall political climate.
Sunday 19/05/2019
Joerg Meuthen, member of European Parliament and member of German party Alternative for Germany (AfD) addresses a major rally of European nationalist and far-right parties ahead of EU parliamentary elections in Milan, Italy. (Reuters)
Joerg Meuthen, member of European Parliament and member of German party Alternative for Germany (AfD) addresses a major rally of European nationalist and far-right parties ahead of EU parliamentary elections in Milan, Italy. (Reuters)

European Parliament elections are expected to reshape the assembly’s political map when citizens of the 28 EU members go to the polls May 23-26.

The elections are expected to change the size of the political blocs represented in the 751-seat parliament. The centre-right European People’s Party is projected to remain the largest bloc with some 180 seats, 37 less than it had in 2014. The Socialists and Democrats are also expected to lose about 37 seats. Those likely to gain seats are essentially the liberals (a gain of eight) and, more important, the far right and nationalists, whose representation is expected to rise from 37 to 62 seats.

The growing clout of populists in Europe’s parliament could carry consequences on the legislative level while also on the overall political climate.

Many far-right parties, such as Germany’s Alternative for Germany, France’s National Rally, Italy’s League, Spain’s Vox and the Freedom Party of Austria, have spared no effort in trying to turn the elections into a referendum about the supposed dangers of immigration.

The large far-right parties are helped by fringe initiatives that promote messages of fear and xenophobia. These include, among others, the French Clear Line list, led by writer and conspiracy theorist Renaud Camus, who said Europeans should mobilise against the “great transfer” of populations that could supposedly see Europeans being replaced by non-Europeans across the continent.

His Clear Line list shows that proponents of this conspiracy theory are trying to enter the political mainstream after influencing violent right-wing extremists online.

Fear of migrants is purposefully exaggerated by the far right, studies show. A survey of 14 European countries by Yougov and the European Council on Foreign Relations indicated that public attitudes in Europe towards migration have considerably shifted in recent years, with issues such as the economy, climate change and security of much more prominent concern. “The study findings show that the world of 2019 is radically different from that of 2015,” said the authors of the study.

“The EU election will show that, unlike in the United States, the migration debate in Europe is no longer at the centre of politics,” they added.

However, the poll indicated unwavering concerns about the dangers of Islamic extremism. The survey results stated that perception of Islamic radicalism as a threat goes from 21% among sympathisers of “pro-European parties” to 26% among sympathisers of “anti-European parties.”

Politicians from the centre and centre-right parties are making sure their electoral planks highlight that concern. Their initiatives in the next EU parliament are expected to reflect that.

The Arab world has a stake in the forthcoming vote, not just because of its potential impact on communities of Arab descent or Muslim faith but because of its likely repercussions on Euro-Arab relations. The budding dialogue between Europe and the Arab world will be affected by who is in control of the agenda in Strasbourg and Brussels by the end of May.

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