Will European politics shift further to the right in 2024?

Credit: AP

The latest polls suggest right-wing parties could make big wins in European elections in 2024, which could have big ramifications for issues such as climate change, immigration, and EU membership

Words by ITV News Producer Hannah Ward-Glenton

More than 50 countries are going to the polls this year, and mainland Europe has some big elections on the cards.

The European Parliament elections are happening in June, while there are general and regional elections happening in individual countries across the continent.

In 2023, the Netherlands voted in the far-right Geert Wilders, the far-right AfD party made significant gains in some of Germany's regional elections, and Slovakia elected pro-Russia populist Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Poland and Spain meanwhile resisted advances of the right in their respective national elections.

Former EU President Donald Tusk took the Polish premiership from the right-wing Law and Justice party, while Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez defeated far-right forces to take up a third term in office.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk signs an oath at the presidential palace in Warsaw, Poland, on December 13. Credit: AP

So will populism continue to be popular in large parts of Europe, or has the far-right fallen out of fashion? And which issues are shaping the ballots?

A more divided European parliament

The European Elections - which happen every five years and will be taking place in early June - can be a good barometer for political opinions across the continent.

Polls widely suggest there will be a shift to the right.

The European Parliament is made up of different political factions. Right now, the centre-right European People's Party is the largest group, followed by the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and then a centrist group, the liberal Renew Group.

Between these three groups, middle-of-the-road politics has a comfortable majority.

Projections show that these groups will continue to make up the bulk of European Parliament seats after the 2024 election.

An election poster of right wing party AfD lies on the street in Frankfurt, Germany, it reads: "Realists vote AfD" Credit: AP

But right-wing groups are hot on these parties' heels, and the populist Identity and Democracy group, which includes the AfD, Italy's Lega party and Marine Le Pen's National Rally party, is now projected to have the most seats it has ever had, according to Europe Elects polling data.

These parties made their goals very clear in a meeting in Florence, Italy on December 3.

"Our objective is for (us) to become at least the third-largest (group in the EU parliament), after the centre-right and the socialists, and to be decisive," Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who hosted the meeting, said, speaking on behalf of around 12 right-wing parties in attendance.

While these groups still make up a small proportion of the 705 seats, they will be able to have a greater say on European issues.

Migration will drive votes

Immigration and the war in Ukraine are the main concerns for the EU, according to the Eurobarometer, while the cost of living was considered the priority for 20% of people living in mainland Europe.

Immigration has always been a strong base for right-leaning, nationalist parties and the issue has already prompted voters to go to the polls in regional and national elections.

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The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party strengthened its footing in the states of Bavaria and Hesse in regional elections in October largely on the basis of voters' migration concerns, and the latest Yougov polls show that if there were an election in the next week, the party would come in second place, with 24% of the votes.

That's higher than the three left-leaning and centre-left parties that currently make up Germany's coalition government, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Meanwhile the Netherlands' Geert Wilders is best known for his anti-Islam and anti-immigration beliefs, including the comment: "I don't hate Muslims. I hate Islam," which he said during a conference speech at The Hague in 2008.

Although he did soften his stance slightly on January 8 when he announced he was withdrawing legislation he previously called for that would see mosques and the Quran banned, as he attempted to win over coalition partners.

Geert Wilders celebrates his victory. Credit: AP

Sweden and Finland have seen the growth of their respective anti-immigrant parties in recent years.

The Sweden Democrats pegged crime rates to foreign people moving to the country to build momentum behind the party and garnered more than 20% of the vote in the 2022 election.

The Finns party similarly took a record 20% of the vote in Finland's general election in April.

Will climate goals fall down the agenda?

"The Greens will score worse than last time, and they will lose seats and the Conservatives will gain more," Sébastien Maillard, special advisor to the Jacques Delors Institute think tank, told ITV News.

And that could mean that Europe-wide climate goals may be harder to reach if there are more voices voting against green ambitions.

Right-wing parties are likely to be "less open to a green deal" and could cause for EU-wide legislation to be "less progressive" on those issues, Mr Maillard said.

But the most recent Eurobarometer survey showed that 83% of people in the EU believe the EU should invest massively in renewable energies, and reduce its dependency on Russian energy sources.

Activists protest against fossil fuels at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit in Dubai. Credit: AP

The percentages varied from country to country, with 96% of Portuguese people strongly agreeing versus 67% in Bulgaria, but across the board it is a priority for the majority of people living in mainland Europe.

Nexit, Frexit and Italexit not on the cards

Several politicians have floated the idea of following the UK in leaving the European Union with Geert Wilders proposing "Nexit"' Marine Le Pen having campaigned for "Frexit" and Salvini considering "Italexit," but all have proved wildly unpopular, prompting the politicians to back down.

Watching how Brexit has unfolded has made people reluctant to follow suit, according to Catherine Gegout, associate professor in international relations at University of Nottingham.

Britain's former Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing his supporters by his General Election campaign trail bus in 2019. Credit: AP

"Brexit shows, well, actually people like Europe in general," Ms Gegout said, adding that crises, such as Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, tend to prompt EU nations to pull together.

And more countries are keen to join. In December the European Union agreed to open membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova, while Georgia was given candidate status, which is the step behind opening discussions.

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