With May’s vote just weeks away, experts say anti-EU parties have a chance to impact the future of the European Union if they join forces to work together. Far-right leaders share the broad ideological goals of curbing the EU’s perceived liberal course and returning power to the member states’ capitals. But they differ in other areas. Investors expect heightened political uncertainty after the May 26 election, in which 705 members of the European Parliament MEPs will be elected, or 751 if Britain fails to leave the EU as planned.
General dissatisfaction over slow economic growth, security threats posed by Islamist militants and a backlash against migration across open EU borders have boosted support for eurosceptic nationalists in many member states.
Susi Dennison, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said: “There is a growing confidence of voters to go against the norm.
“The ‘anti- forces’ are much more motivated right now than the pro-Europeans.”
Their gains and Brexit will mean a shake-up of the pan-national groups created by parties in the EU parliament, whose main role is checking and amending EU laws drawn up by the executive European Commission.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini will launch his election campaign tomorrow in Milan, with a call to other eurosceptic parties across the continent to join forces with his League to form a new alliance within Brussels.
Buoyed by his own success and voter fatigue with mainstream parties, Salvini is trying to build bridges with the likes of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Austrian far-right politician Heinz-Christian Strache the May 26 vote.
With the two biggest political blocs expected to lose their combined majority, he and other far-right leaders hope to form an opposition, eurosceptic alliance with enough seats in the assembly to block or hold up legislation.
Salvini’s foreign affairs advisor Marco Zanni said: “Our idea is to come together … into a new party that better reflects the eurosceptical views that unite us.
“Now is our chance to unite forces once and for all.”
Salvini’s anti-immigrant League is forecast to more than quadruple its representation in the EU assembly with 27 seats.
Along with the projected rise for Le Pen’s National Rally and Strache’s Freedom Party of Austria, which is in a coalition government with Strache as vice-chancellor, the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group to which they belong could be boosted to 61 seats from 37.
Salvini, whose party co-rules Italy, wants to embrace other leaders whose parties are in rival groups.
Even if parties do not come together, their presence in the European Parliament could create cracks in the EU.
Mr Zanni of Salvini’s League said there will be greater cooperation to try to influence or thwart EU policy.
Ms Dennison added: “The risk is longer-term paralysis, that over time will erode the idea of EU as an effective actor.”
Duncan McDonnell, Professor of Politics in the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University said the far-right increasingly saw itself as “part of a new wave”.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) could win many more seats in the next European Parliament, opinion polls show, and might throw its hat in with Salvini’s ENF group. The polls show the Forum for Democracy (FvD) in the Netherlands, led by Thierry Baudet, could win four new seats in the EU assembly and it has said it will join Poland’s PiS in the ECR.
Spanish newcomer Vox has become the darling of eurosceptic groups following its success in a regional election last December in Spain, which until then had been resistant to the populist currents sweeping Europe.
Vox is now being courted by both by Poland’s PiS and Salvini’s League. But looking ahead to the next European Parliament – where polls suggest Vox will win about five seats, up from none today – Vox leader Santiago Abascal told Reuters: “It may be that we’ll be alone.”
Vox has capitalised on domestic tensions over Catalan separatism – it regards Catalonia as an integral part of Spain – but some other far-right parties do not share its view.
“Their support of the (separatists’) coup d’etat by Catalonia is an enormous barrier (to cooperation),” he said.
But European Parliament strategists say younger right-wing political groups have shown far weaker party discipline.
“The eurosceptics are a wing of many feathers, and I’m not sure it will beat effectively,” said one senior official in the European People’s Party, the main centre-right group.