by Doru Frantescu
Ahead of the EU elections in 2014, in an article published by the Economist, we predicted that it was unlikely that a new far-right group could be formed (or last for long) in the European Parliament. The basis for the prediction was that there are deep divisions between the parties that were supposed to make it up, combined with the small number of Members and nationalities that it can maneuver with. This was confirmed after the elections.
The same considerations apply now, when Front National seems to have gathered the Members to finally form an EP group (to be called Europe of Nations and Freedom). Even if Marine Le Pen finds the right numbers, the group will remain very fragile and is likely to implode rather sooner than later.
The main partner of Front National in this endeavor is its Dutch counterpart, the PVV. However, despite the shared dislike of EU institutions and immigration, there are big differences between the two, chief among these being that PVV is generally a free-market oriented party, while the FN is highly protectionist. The analysis of the EP voting records of the two parties is revealing: FN and PVV have had a common line on only 57% of the votes in the current EP term (comparatively, the regular matching score between national delegations in the mainstream / centrist groups is around 90%).
Beyond the political views, there are the personalities of their leaders. The political capital of the far-right parties is usually highly dependent on the charisma of their leaders. For this reason, the leaders are used to always get their way, which usually works inside his/her own national party, but much less so when you have to make a stable political grouping with other leaders of the same personality type. Recent EP history is a case in point: a similar group, called Identity, Tradition, Suveranity (ITS) was formed at the beginning of 2007, but was unable to celebrate even its one-year birthday, imploding as a result of severe disagreements and even insults. On the other hand, the financial incentives are high (17.5 million euros for this group from the EU funding, throughout the remaining 4 years of the EP term), which may act as a strong incentive to ‘stay in line’.
Whether as a group or not, the far-right forces and the other moderate or radical euro-skeptic groupings will continue to play a role in the overall politics of the European Parliament, particularly when the big mainstream groups are unable to reach consensus. Due to the fragmentation of power after the 2014 EU elections (i.e. bigger groups becoming smaller, while the smaller groups were reinforced) the process of majority building is more difficult and the results of votes are harder to predict. This was already observable in 3 key instances, when the EP as a whole was unable to adopt a position: the Commission’s working plan for 2015, the Energy security strategy and the postponement of the vote on TTIP in June 2015.