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Is a far-right takeover of the EU possible? – Democracy and society

For a long time, a far-right European Union seemed inconceivable: the idea seemed almost a contradiction in terms. After all, the far right was nationalist, and the EU represented the opposite of nationalism and was created to overcome it. Far-right parties could disrupt the EU, but they could not shape it constructively, because they did not believe in European integration in the first place. Today, however, things look quite different.

There are now a number of far-right governments in EU member states, not just in Central and Eastern European countries such as Poland, which, in the context of the Ukraine war, is widely seen as more influential in the EU than ever but also in founding member states such as Italy, where Giorgia Meloni was prime minister last October. Even in Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is now on par with the Social Democrats in the polls.

Why a far-right EU is possible

One of the reasons why it has been so difficult for many people to even imagine a far-right EU has to do with the way we think about the EU itself and the far-right’s relationship to it.

We tend to idealize the EU as an inherently progressive or even cosmopolitan project, making it seemingly incompatible with far-right thinking. In my next book Euroblancura, I argue that the “pro-European” tendency to think of the EU as an expression of cosmopolitanism has created a kind of blind spot around the possibility of what might be called ethnoregionalism, that is, an ethnic/cultural version of European identity analogous to ethno-nationalism, which is closely linked to the idea of ​​whiteness. In other words, a far-right EU is possible, at least theoretically.

Far-right parties appear to be cooperating with each other quite effectively, and some may even be willing to accept greater integration.

At the same time that we idealize the EU, we also simplify the attitude of far-right movements towards it, as if they were nationalists directly opposed to the idea of ​​Europe. In reality, there is a tension within far-right thought between nationalism and civilization. The extreme right in Europe does not only speak for the nation against Europe, but also on behalf of Europe, that is, on behalf of “a different kind of imagined community, located at a different level of cultural and political space” than the nation, as the sociologist. Rogers Brubaker put it. In particular, their rhetoric focuses on the idea of ​​a threatened “European civilization”.

Another, more practical reason why many could never imagine a far-right EU was the assumption that far-right parties could never cooperate across borders. It was thought that, unlike centrist “pro-Europeans” who believe in cooperation, far-right parties would end up fighting each other, and to the extent that a far-right EU was possible, it would be one that would return power. to the member states. Contrary to this belief, however, far-right parties seem to be cooperating with each other quite effectively, and some may even be willing to accept greater integration, for example in migration policy, as long as it is in their terms.

Convergence between extreme and center right

What is making the idea of ​​a far-right EU clearer, even more than the electoral success of the far-right in individual member states, is the convergence between the “pro-European” center-right and the Eurosceptic extreme right.

In the last decade, and especially since the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015, the centre-right has moved to the right on issues related to identity, immigration and Islam. At the same time, much of the extreme right is moderating its Euroscepticism, or at least reformulating its strategy. Many far-right parties no longer seek to leave the EU but want to work with it and transform it; in Albert Hirschman’s terms, they opt for voice over output. Meloni, for example, has had, so far, a much more harmonious relationship with the EU than Viktor Orbán. Partly a post-Brexit effect, this is seen by some as a triumph for the EU. But in many ways, the voice is much more of a problem than the output.

Meanwhile, the center-right has moved to the right on cultural issues. The lesson he learned from the rise of populism is that, although he opposed the extreme right – and in order to defeat it – he had to take on elements of their agenda. Together, these two trends have provided the basis for a compromise between the center-right and the far-right: the center-right would move further to the right on matters of identity, immigration and Islam, and the far-right would become less eurosceptic (In this sense, the AfD is atypical.)

The compromise between the center-right and the far-right is producing a kind of “pro-European” version of far-right ideas and troops, centered on the idea of ​​a threatened European civilization.

So when Meloni became Italy’s prime minister last year, “pro-Europeans” seemed to be mainly concerned about whether she would “behave responsibly on key European issues like Ukraine and the eurozone,” as Timothy Garton Ash . to put this As long as it did not seek to undermine the EU’s position on either, the centre-right could work with it to find “European solutions” to the problems. The politicians of the EPP were equal reported for being looking to “bring her into a right-wing alliance that would have enough influence in Parliament and the European Council to weigh in on the nomination of top EU jobs”.

Traditionally, a de facto grand coalition led the EU against opposition from the Eurosceptic far-right and the far-left. But that is now changing. In 2019, Ursula von der Leyen was elected President of the European Commission with the help of votes from Fidesz, which remained in the EPP despite its transformation into a radical right-wing party. And after next year’s European Parliament elections, an alliance between the centre-right and far-right could produce the most right-wing European Commission yet.

The compromise between the center-right and the far-right is producing a kind of “pro-European” version of far-right ideas and tropes, centered on the idea of ​​a threatened European civilization, what I have called the civilizational turn in the European project. . How far this far-right takeover of the EU will go will depend on whether “pro-Europeans” who reject civilizing thought are prepared to oppose it or simply go with the flow to maintain European unity.

In particular, it will largely depend on how centre-left “pro-European” parties such as Germany’s SPD respond. Often in the history of European integration, they have accepted right-wing policies in the name of Europe, or, to put it another way, when faced with a choice between left-wing principles and the EU, they have chosen the EU. The question is whether they will do the same again in response to the rise of the far right in Europe.

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