In Brief

Brexit Party and Poland dash hopes of Eurosceptic bloc in EU

Differing priorities make collaboration among populist groups difficult

The far-right’s hopes of forming a powerful Eurosceptic bloc in the European Parliament have been dealt a near-fatal blow after both Poland’s ruling nationalists and the UK’s Brexit Party ruled out joining such a group.

Following the success of far-right parties - including Italy’s League, the National Rally in France, Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Nigel Farage’s new outfit - at last month’s European elections it had been thought they might join forces to form a ten-party European Alliance for People and Nations, being pushed by Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini.

Analysis shared with The Guardian reveals that populists, spanning the far-right to the radical left, won 29% of seats in the European elections, their best ever score, “but not the populist wave some had predicted would upend the EU”, says the paper.

Nevertheless, a far-right alliance would still represent a significant number of MEPs and could form a formidable voting bloc in the newly fragmented European Parliament. This could see the group act as kingmakers or, more likely, disruptors, blocking legislation while pursuing more nationalist policies.

Yet “despite sharing a similar nativist agenda, populist movements are split into different parliamentary groupings and have different priorities which will make collaboration difficult”, says The Daily Telegraph.

The far-right’s attempt to create more formal international partnerships “has usually not played out as they wanted it to”, says Patrik Hermansson in The Independent.

“Differences over their perceptions of national interests, as well as ideology, often makes international collaboration superficial,” he writes. “This theory also applies in the European Parliament. The parties’ differences in regards to Russia, migrant redistribution and budget issues are often brought up as reasons why Salvini’s new alliance will ultimately fail.”

Reuters reports that Salvini “had hoped Europe’s eurosceptic parties’ shared desire to shape the bloc’s future by returning more powers to member states and imposing further curbs on immigration would trump any concerns about Russian interference”.

But Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s conservative ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), ruled out joining on account of the pro-Russian stance of his would-be partners, as Le Pen’s party, Germany’s AfD and Salvini’s League all have good relations with Moscow.

“There could also be clashes over the leadership role within the faction,” reports German news site EurACTIV. “There is a broad consensus on the need to strengthen nation-states, the need to reform the EU and to limit its competences as much as possible, but views differ widely on public debt, environmental protection, economic and social policy.”

For example, Italy is pushing for the distribution of asylum seekers among all member states, to which the governments of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are strictly opposed.

Farage’s new Brexit Party, which will send the largest single bloc of 29 MEPs to Brussels once the new parliament meets in July, is also refusing to join Salvini’s new group, meaning much now rests on Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The authoritarian leader has praised his Italian counterpart as a hero and is by no means a fan of the EU. But he has been surprisingly reluctant to walk away from the centre-right European People Party (EPP), despite being suspended earlier this year. His efforts to repair strained ties with the EU’s mainstream centre-right group indicate he will not be jumping ship just yet.

This means populist MEPs will likely remain divided between different groups in the European parliament, “which will blunt their ability to secure senior posts and set an agenda”, says the Guardian.

The inability to formalise their alliance should not, however, mask the conviction of their common objectives.

“The core message of the populist radical right, in relation to the EU, is that the union itself is a threat to national sovereignty and identity, and therefore the EU’s influence must be limited,” says Hermansson. “Fragmentation and disagreement on specific issues matter less when the primary goal is to stop the influence of the EU – rather than to extend or steer it in a specific direction.”

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