“There will be a shift to the right” in this week’s European Union elections. But how big?

It seemed like a throwaway line from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, but it sums up what is at stake for many in this week’s European Union parliamentary elections: What to do about the hard right? And should he be trusted?

The EU’s top leader had basically said that far-right Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, whose party is steeped in post-fascism, could be ready for prime time as a potential coalition partner once the Italian elections are over. four days in the 27 countries of the EU. Sunday.

During an election debate, von der Leyen declared that Meloni checked all the necessary boxes, the last of which was “pro-rule of law.” However, he immediately added: “if this continues.”

The tentative question of whether to extend basic trust to extremist and populist parties is on the minds of many, as the EU appears set to shift to the right as it has never done in its history, which has its seeds in the defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Germany in World War II. Italy.

Since the last European elections five years ago, populist, far-right and far-right parties already lead three governments, are part of governing coalitions in several others and are gaining ground in polls across the bloc like never before.

As a result, the entire political pendulum of the giant bloc is likely to swing to the right after the elections, a large number of polls indicate and political observers agree.

“There will be a turn to the right. So the question is, how tall is it?” said Maria Demertzis of the Brussels-based independent think tank Bruegel. “The numbers will matter because it could well be that one of the possible outcomes is that the far right becomes the second (largest) party. If that is the case, then it is interesting to see how and who will govern.”

In the second largest exercise of democracy behind India’s recent elections, nearly 400 million voters will elect 720 members of the European Parliament from beyond the Arctic Circle to the edges of Africa and Asia, affecting everything from policies global climate and defense to migration issues and geopolitical relations with China and the United States.

For a long time, elections to the European Parliament were of little importance, with senior members France and Germany setting much of policy for the growing group and the legislature looking like a retirement home for aging national politicians and an incubator. of young talents.

But as the legislature’s powers on issues such as banking rules, agriculture and the EU budget grew, so did voter interest and the quality of lawmakers. While surpassing the 50% voter turnout threshold was seen as a big step forward in 2019, an EU Parliament poll says 71% could vote in the next election, another big step forward.

Von der Leyen’s European People’s Party, a largely Christian Democrat group, is the largest in the legislature and will surely be the one to make the change in the coalition after the election. For anyone to the right of the EPP, the main issue at stake should be breaking up their coalition with the Socialists, the pro-business Liberals and the Greens.

Although bold, brash and boisterous at best, the outer edges of the right can be bellicose, bitter and vitriolic at worst, attacking friends to boot.

So even if the calculations result in a brilliant victory for the right on Sunday, the total will most likely be less than the sum of its parts.

For all the unity of the far right in wanting to keep immigrants out, ridicule climate measures as fiction, and defend conservative family values, there are also fundamental divergences. When it comes to the war in Ukraine, for example, someone like Meloni supports the West, unlike Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Others remain in a gray area.

It doesn’t help that populist and far-right parties are now divided into two groups in Parliament: the Identity and Democracy group, to which Marine Le Pen’s French National Rally belongs, and the European Conservatives and Reformists, to which Meloni belongs. .

Some court the center, others court controversy. The R&D group last month expelled its Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party after a growing list of scandals was capped when its top candidate said that not all members of the Nazis’ elite SS unit, which was involved in major atrocities during World War II, they were war criminals.

“The AfD has become the plague that no one wants to touch,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political analyst at LUISS University in Rome.

It is still unclear how populist and far-right parties will form new groups after the elections.

Today, some want above all to be “salonfähig”, that quality of being accepted in the most select circles despite having an extremist background. Le Pen is vying to become president of France in 2027, and of course Meloni has already reached that stage as Italian prime minister.

In almost two years as Italy’s leader, she has overcome initial concerns and proven reliable at EU summits and willing to work toward hard-fought compromises, to the point of even keeping the combustible Orbán at bay during key debates. . Leaders, including von der Leyen, have overlooked national complaints about their treatment of groups that do not meet their conservative family values ​​or accusations of imposing limits on press freedom.

And with the pro-business Liberals and Greens set to suffer losses, the EPP’s von der Leyen wants to keep her coalition-building options open, including Meloni, despite loud objections from her outgoing allies.

Even if coalitions in Parliament are fragile, with lawmakers sometimes beholden to national, not EU, agendas, von der Leyen is still eager to find a coalition that will give her the 361 votes out of 720 needed to win a second five-year term. President of the EU Commission, perhaps the most powerful position in the EU.

And this is where Meloni also comes into play as a pivotal player who could hold both von der Leyen’s fate and that of a massive geopolitical bloc on the verge of tilting ever further to the right in his hands.

“She’s one of those people, not quite far-right, but to the right of the right, so to speak,” said Demertzis of the Bruegel think tank. “She has been speaking with the EPP, but also with more far-right groups, Mrs Le Pen and others. And of course, depending on how the votes turn out, she may have a big card up her sleeve.”

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