The rise of far-right and foreign interference in EU politics urges vast government coalitions

An FPÖ poster supports the idea that the system's motto is: "EVERYONE against Kickl!"

The rise of the far-right parties across the EU member states increases concerns about the future of European values and, as several of the mare aligned with Russian interests, the security of the Union. However, despite worrying, the growth of the number of far-right members of the European Parliament (MEPs) is not as dangerous for our home as the rise of the far-right and Russophile parties in the national elections. National governments will indicate the future Commissioners. In addition, their leaders in the Council of Europe will design the EU policy.

Already, anti-EU and pro-Russian governments exist in Hungary and Slovakia, putting at risk the EU cohesion and security. But, the European elections also coincide this year with significant parliamentary, state and regional elections in six EU member states. More specifically, on June 9, Belgium will hold federal, regional and local elections, while Bulgaria will face its sixth general election in 3 years. Three German states – Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg – will vote for state parliaments, the first two on September 1 and the third on 22. The results of these elections will also impact the political climate in Austria’s parliamentary elections in autumn. On December 8, Romanians will vote for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Only Lithuania, where elections are scheduled for October 13, does not have any strong far-right party, but it remains a target of the Russian disinformation machine.

Far-right and Russian interference

However, only some of these electoral confrontations will have the same impact on national and EU politics. Austria, Germany, and Romania are the more concerning, while the results in Belgium and Bulgaria could aggravate political instability in both countries.   

The rise of the far right is not new for our Democracies. In some EU member states, far-right parties have participated in or are participating in governments, such as Italy, Austria, Estonia, and Finland. They influence political decisions, such as in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, and strive to enter national or regional coalition governments in others, like Spain or Portugal.

This time, however, the EU and, by extension, our continent are treated severely by foreign countries. Russia and China represent an existential threat to our Union and its member states. They attempt to go against our democratic institutions by spreading disinformation, exploiting weaknesses (e.g. farmer protests, separatism) and creating “fictional” enemies (e.g. Islamophobia, LGBTI “ideology”, ecophobia). This time, most of the far-right parties are aligned with Russia and act as its agents on the national level.  

Two events in previous months show that European politicians can overcome political differences to save democratic rules. Political parties in the Netherlands and Portugal rejected cooperation with the far right and searched for solutions outside this option.

These two political acts show the leading political families in the EU the way: Seeking coalition governments, even vast coalitions, if necessary, to block the far-right and Russophiles from entering national governments.    

The battle for democracy in Germany

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party emerged in 2013 as an anti-Euro and pro-Exit conservative political force. However, it rapidly moved towards far-right and extremist positions, directly threatening the German republic’s institutions and the safety of its citizens. AfD’s recent scandal, the infamous “Remigration” case, questioned the citizenship of thousands of Germans of foreign origin. 

AfD is a racist party aligned with Russia and promoting Germany’s exit from the EU. In 2021, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) put the party under surveillance, characterising it as an extremist party. AfD is particularly strong in the areas of the former German People’s Republic (DDR), where the most extremist elements exist. Thus, the state elections in Saxonia, Thuringia, and Brandenburg are critical for Germany.

The AfD comes first in the polls in all three states, making its exclusion from a coalition government difficult. In addition, a new party, the Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW), emerges as a potential ally of the AfD. BSW is a split of the Die Linke (the Left) but has many far-right positions, mainly on migration issues. As the polls indicate, BSW Sahra Wagenknecht‘ split had a devastating effect on Die Linke. 

State elections of 2019 in Saxonia led to a coalition government between the Christian Democrats (CDU), the Greens and the Social Democrats (SPD). AfD arrived at second place with 27.5% and played the role of the leading opposition. Although the far-right party is still second according to recent polls with 30%, the partners of CDU (now estimated to be 31%) will have half of their deputies – 6 from 12 for the Greens and six from 10 for the SPD – making very difficult a coalition without the AfD.

In Thuringia, where the leader of the AfD is Björn Höcke, known for his ties with neo-Nazi circles, the coalition government is led by Die Linke, which was first in the 2029 elections with 31%. After the split, support for Die Linke dropped to 16-18% while AfD (second with 23.4%) passed first with 30%. However, in Thuringia, a chance to isolate the far-right still exists if the other parties decide to form a vast coalition. 

Finally, the elections in Brandenburg are also critical. The parties of the government coalition—SPD, CDU, and the Greens—are losing support, while AfD comes first in the polls with 26%. A vast coalition, including Die Linke, is also needed to keep AfD isolated.

Save Austria!

The Ibiza scandal that put Austria’s safety at risk in May 2019 led to the collapse of the coalition government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz between the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). FPÖ is a member of the Identity and Democracy (ID) group at the European Parliament. The scandal erupted when Heinz-Christian Strache, then-leader of the FPÖ, was caught on video offering assistance to increase the party’s political power in exchange for help with public tenders and buying influential media from an alleged representative of the Russian leadership. FPÖ’s relations with Russia became a serious concern during the coalition government. Herbert Kickl, the interior minister then and now the party’s leader, attempted to control Austria’s intelligence service (BVT). As a result, essential documents were declared lost, raising fears that they may have ended up in Russian hands. In addition, a new scandal of Russian espionage emerged at the beginning of April. 

However, FPÖ now leads the polls. It attracts between 27 and 31% of preferences, while in 2019, it scored just 16.2%. Its former partner, ÖVP, declined to 20% (from 37,5% in 2019). The Socialists SPÖ have 23%, the Greens 9%, and the Liberals of NEOS 10%.

Thus, the risk is to have a coalition between the far-right and a mainstream political party led by the FPÖ. An FPÖ Chancellor in Austria! 

It is not difficult to understand what such a perspective means for Austrian democratic institutions and the security of the EU. Chancellor Herbert Kickl, one of the party’s most radicals, will be together with Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Robert Fico of Slovakia—an “Axes” against the EU and in the service of Vladimir Putin.

A government coalition between ÖVP and the Greens will not be enough to keep FPÖ out of government. A larger coalition is needed, comprising the parties of the actual alliance, the Socialists and the liberals. The parties of the democratic families in Austria have a critical responsibility for their country’s and our Union’s future.

Rising neo-fascism in Romania

A new far-right party is rising in Romania, threatening to change the political environment. The country is experiencing a rare coalition practice based on rotating coalition party leaders.

The Ciolacu Cabinet, the current government of Romania since June 15, 2023, is led by Marcel Ciolacu, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD). It relies on the protocol of the governing National Coalition for Romania (Coaliția Națională pentru România, CNR), of which the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the National Liberal Party (PNL) are members.

However, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), which entered the parliament in 2020 with 9% and 20 MPs, is expected to perform spectacularly in the next European elections. The polls indicate the party will reach 20.7% and come second.

If so, AUR will have a good base for the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for December 8.

AUR is a pro-Russian party, anti-vaccination and anti-semitic. It allows internal factions referring to the fascist Iron Guard founded in 1927 by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu and responsible for ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts during WW2. AUR also embraces irredentism, supporting incorporating all lands where Romanians live, including Moldova. 

Recently, the party tried to exploit the crisis between Ukrainian food products and Romanian farmers to turn public opinion against Ukraine. AUR leader George Simion‘s statements included the kind of “Stop the trucks from Ukraine! If you don’t do it, Romanians will.”

The rise of the far-right party could make difficult a new coalition based on the CNR agreement requiring a further alliance.   

Threats to political stability in Belgium and Bulgaria

Belgium and Bulgaria face significant challenges because of the rise of the far-right parties. 

The rise of the two far-right parties, Vlaams Belang (VB, an ID group member) and New Flemish Alliance (N-VA, an ECR member), affects primarily the Flemish areas and, at a second level, the federal government. The two parties are leading the polls in Flanders, VB with 27.8% and N-VA with 20.4% 

However, it is pretty impossible to form a coalition with VB on the federal level due to the party’s hate speech against Wallon politicians.  

What is significant is the situation in Flanders. There, all political parties apply a “cordon sanitaire” around VB. VB is a separatist Flemish party seeking polarisation in the Flanders. Nevertheless, the N-VA has never formally declared it accepts the “cordon sanitaire” practice. An eventual coalition between the two parties would further undermine political stability in the area and increase polarisation with the Wallon partners. Bulgaria has experienced a permanent political crisis that has led to parliamentary elections six times in the last three years. However, the polls indicate little change between the main parties, with Boyko Borisov‘s centre-right GERB—SDS at 27.1%, the centrist PP–DB alliance at 20.9%, and the liberal DPS at 13%. 

What is concerning is the rise of two far-right parties, the Revival (VAZ) and the populist There is Such a People (ITN).

Revival integrates into its rhetoric the entire “arsenal” of the far-right, including anti-EU and anti-NATO positions and Russophilia. The party is against vaccination and spreads anti-LGBTI and anti-Roma hate. It also declares to have an affiliation with the ID group. ITN is more moderate as it aligns with the ECR.

What does Revival’s rise mean for Bulgarian politics? As the party is fully aligned with Russian interests, it will continue to boost Kremlin-produced disinformation on all fronts, including the Ukrainian War and EU security matters. However, it is doubtful that this could significantly affect Bulgarian national policy. Nevertheless, the political parties should stop holding general elections often and agree on a stable government coalition targeting widespread corruption.

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