European Elections and the Far Right: France at a Crossroad

The 2024 European Union parliamentary elections concluded with a notable surge in support for far-right parties across several member states, including France. Held from 6th to 9th June, these elections saw 751 seats contested, with voters from the 27 EU member states casting their ballots for new representatives. The results are set to profoundly influence the EU’s future policies, especially regarding security and decision-making. The growing influence of far-right parties, known for their populist and nationalist agendas, threatens to create a more fragmented and less cooperative EU, potentially hindering the bloc’s ability to address security challenges effectively.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement to dissolve parliament on June 9th has intensified the political landscape. This historic decision follows RN’s impressive victory in the European elections, where they secured 31.5% of the vote, overshadowing Macron’s Renaissance party. The snap elections scheduled for June 30 and July 7 represent a high-stakes gamble for Macron, potentially weakening his party and paving the way for a far-right government. This could impact France’s support for Ukraine and alter its significant international stance.

Foreign policy analyst Janine di Giovanni, in an interview with Al Jazeera, attributed this shift to globalisation’s disparate impacts. She emphasised that those benefiting from Europe’s open borders are starkly contrasted with those feeling economically and culturally threatened by these changes. This dichotomy has led to a realignment in voting patterns, drawing support for far-right parties from voters disillusioned with traditional political allegiances.

European Union law expert Professor Alberto Alemanno highlighted the strategic rebranding of far-right parties as a crucial factor in their success. For example, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) in France has softened its image without abandoning its core anti-immigration stance. This strategic moderation has broadened their appeal, enabling them to attract a more diverse electorate while retaining their fundamental ideology. Katy Brown, a postdoctoral fellow at Maynooth University, also pointed to the role of social media in amplifying far-right messages, allowing these parties to bypass traditional media and connect directly with their supporters.

The French parliamentary elections have seen a significant surge in support for the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party, led by Marine Le Pen. The party’s charismatic leader, Jordan Bardella, has been instrumental in expanding the party’s appeal among historically wary voter segments, including retirees, white-collar workers, and women. The RN’s message of economic and social change, using social media such as TikTok and its ability to capitalise on public fears of immigration and crime, has resonated with many French voters. The party’s support has increased by double digits in the European elections, with some polls suggesting it could gain enough seats to make a claim to the prime minister’s office. This development has significant implications for France’s relationship with the EU and its closest partner, Germany.

The election results have revealed a significant shift to the right, with nationalist parties gaining ground in foundational EU countries such as France, Italy, and Belgium. In France, the RN emerged as the largest party, while Italy’s Fratelli d’Italia and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang also saw substantial gains. These parties have effectively capitalised on public fears surrounding immigration, economic instability, and cultural change, employing nationalist rhetoric to garner support. This surge in far-right popularity within EU founding countries raises concerns about the potential erosion of the EU’s core principles of unity and cooperation.

Addressing the rise of the far-right is imperative. The economic crises and social changes fuelling this trend must be tackled by offering meaningful alternatives that address public dissatisfaction without resorting to divisive rhetoric. The far-right’s simplistic solutions and exclusionary policies undermine democratic values and inclusivity. Establishment parties must adapt and present compelling alternatives by promoting democratic resilience through education, journalism, academia, and arts to counter the populist agenda effectively.

The roots of this far-right surge can be traced back to the post-Cold War era, which saw the emergence of nationalist parties across Europe. Over the decades, parties like France’s National Front and Austria’s Freedom Party gained traction by exploiting fears related to immigration and economic instability. The 2010s witnessed further growth in populist and nationalist movements, fuelled by events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. These developments have created fertile ground for far-right ideologies, with many Europeans seeking alternatives to traditional politics.

As the EU navigates this new political landscape, the crucial question is whether its institutions and member states can effectively address the underlying causes of public dissatisfaction. The future of the EU depends on its ability to offer cohesive and inclusive solutions, countering the far-right’s divisive agenda and reinforcing the values of democracy and cooperation that underpin the European project.