Shift to the Right in the EU and its Impact on Austria and Europe

PeopleOther ♦ Published: June 10, 2024; 15:21 ♦ (Vindobona)

The recent EU parliamentary elections have shown a clear shift to the right across Europe, particularly in Austria, where the FPÖ celebrated historic successes. These results put the political stability and future direction of the EU to the test.

Far-right parties in European Union parliamentary elections defeated Scholz, Macron, and Nehammer, showcasing the resilience of anti-establishment sentiment in the continent. / Picture: © Flickr / Dimitar Nikolov / [CC BY-SA 2.0(]

The European Union is facing a political upheaval following the recent parliamentary elections, as right-wing populist and Eurosceptic parties have made significant gains. The parties of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer have suffered humiliating defeats.

Although mainstream parties held on to control of 705 members of the European Parliament, the 27-member bloc swung to the right in a testament to anti-establishment sentiment's endurance on the European continent. The results of the elections have not only shaken existing political landscapes but have also put the stability and future direction of the EU to the test.

France, Germany, and Italy are on the rise on the right

In addition to Austria, right-wing parties also achieved considerable success in France, Germany, and Italy, as reported by as reported by Aljazeera. In France, President Emmanuel Macron suffered a heavy defeat when Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN) won around 33% of the vote, far ahead of his Renaissance party, which only achieved 15%. As a result, Macron was forced to call new elections, which could further destabilize the political climate. Le Pen said after her victory: “We are ready to change the country, to defend the interests of the French, and to put an end to mass immigration”.

In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) achieved its best-ever result in an EU election, winning 16% of the vote. This poses a challenge to the ruling parties, especially Chancellor Olaf Scholz's SPD, which only received 14% of the vote. The strong rise of the AfD shows a growing dissatisfaction with established politics and a shift to the right in German voter behavior.

In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy (FdI) has strengthened her position with her party gaining 29% of the vote. However, Meloni has left open her support for a second term of Ursula von der Leyen as EU Commission President, emphasizing that it is still too early to decide.

Despite the successes of the far right, the pro-European centrist parties were able to maintain their majority in the European Parliament. The European People's Party (EPP), the Social Democrats (S&D), and Renew Europe together achieved around 56 percent of the seats. Ursula von der Leyen, the EPP's lead candidate, spoke of a stable center that keeps Europe strong and stable and emphasized the responsibility that comes with this majority.

FPÖ celebrates historic victory in Austria

A key result of the EU elections was the historic victory of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). With 27 percent of the vote, the FPÖ came first in a nationwide election for the first time, representing a significant political shift. According to a forecast carried out by national broadcasters, the FPÖ received 27 percent of the vote, followed by the conservative Austrian Peoples Party (ÖVP) with 23.5 percent and the Social Democrats (SPÖ) with 23 percent. The FPÖ, which pursues a clear course against immigration, the Green Deal, and the EU, was thus able to maintain its position as the strongest force, as Polticio reported.

The FPÖ, originally founded by a former Nazi officer, has a history of extreme political positions. Under the leadership of Jörg Haider, it gained notoriety for its xenophobic and anti-Islamic views. Despite its links to Russia and a scandal in 2019 involving its former leader in a corruption scandal, the party made significant gains in this year's elections,

The FPÖ's lead candidate, Harald Vilimsky, emphasized after the election victory, as reported by Reuters: “This election success is based on positive reform and we want to bring this reform into the parliamentary election”. This suggests that the FPÖ is planning to extend its success in the EU elections to the upcoming national parliamentary elections in the fall, in which it already has a clear lead in the polls, as reported by "DerStandard".

Future Challenges for Europe

The shift to the right and the success of Eurosceptic parties could have a significant impact on the political landscape in Europe. Ursula von der Leyen's re-election as EU Commission President could become more difficult due to the new balance of power and the upcoming elections in France and Germany, as reported by Euronews. Following the EPP's victory in the European elections, EU Parliament Vice-President Othmar Karas and EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn expect von der Leyen to be nominated quickly for a second term of office. However, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni leaves her possible support for von der Leyen open and emphasizes that it is still too early to make a decision. Now, it's primarily France's turn to take action on this matter.

With more right-wing parties in the EU Parliament, several areas could be significantly altered or challenged. Migration and asylum policies could see considerable tightening, with right-wing parties pushing for stronger border security and more restrictive asylum laws. This shift would directly impact the EU's approach to handling migration issues and refugee protection.

In the realm of climate policy, right-wing parties might attempt to block or weaken essential climate protection measures and the Green Deal, potentially hindering the EU's efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change. This resistance could slow down or reverse progress on environmental initiatives across the continent.

EU integration might face substantial hurdles as there could be efforts to transfer competencies back from the EU to individual nation-states. This decentralization would weaken the EU's ability to act cohesively in global affairs, making unified responses to international challenges more difficult. A more protectionist stance in trade policy is also likely, with right-wing parties questioning free trade agreements and general trade liberalization. This shift could negatively impact the EU's global competitiveness, making it harder for European businesses to compete on the world stage.

The rule of law and democratic standards within the EU could be at risk. Right-wing parties might undermine these principles, weakening EU-wide efforts to promote and safeguard democracy and the rule of law. This internal erosion could affect the EU's moral authority and effectiveness in promoting these values globally.

There could be increasing demands for cuts in the EU budget, challenging the principles of solidarity that underpin policies like cohesion funding and joint project financing. Such budgetary constraints would particularly affect poorer member states that rely heavily on EU funds for development and growth. Social policy measures at the EU level could come under significant pressure. Right-wing parties might advocate for cuts in social security systems and push for the liberalization of labor market regulations, potentially increasing social inequality across the EU.

The EU's foreign and security policy might take on a more nationalistic direction, weakening the common security framework. This shift could impact the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as right-wing parties might prefer less cooperation and more national control. Their approach towards Russia and China could also change, with a less confrontational stance towards Russia potentially leading to the relaxation or lifting of sanctions, thereby undermining EU unity. Regarding China, right-wing parties might adopt a more pragmatic and less critical stance, resulting in a fragmented EU policy towards Beijing.

These election results mark a significant moment in the history of the European Union as they reflect the growing divide between the centrist pro-European forces and the rising right-wing populist movements. The next few months will be crucial to see how these dynamics develop and what impact they will have on the future of the EU.

Significance for the National Election in Austria

The 2024 EU election in Austria served as an important yardstick for the upcoming national elections in the fall and revealed significant trends and challenges for the political parties. For the FPÖ, its success in the EU election serves as a motivational boost for the upcoming national elections, in which it is already leading in the polls. As reported by “DerStandard”, the 2024 EU election in Austria showed that substantive positions were more important than leading candidates. The majority of FPÖ voters are in favor of an Öxit (47%), while Harald Vilimsky was only decisive for three percent of FPÖ voters. Voters' main issues were immigration, security, the environment, and the economy. Young voters preferred Neos and Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ), while older voters tended to support ÖVP and SPÖ. Men voted FPÖ more often than women, and FPÖ dominated among workers and people with apprenticeship qualifications. Many voters see the EU as a negative development and view the election as a decision on the direction of the Union's future.

The ÖVP achieved 24.7% of the vote in the 2024 EU election under Chancellor Karl Nehammer, finishing just behind the FPÖ and ahead of the SPÖ, which represents a step backward compared to 2019. This represents a step backward compared to the 2019 EU elections, when the ÖVP competed under better conditions, including the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache following the Ibiza scandal, which brought the ÖVP additional votes at the time. The ÖVP's election campaign was characterized by internal challenges and a difficult search for candidates after the party's long-time “Mr. Europe”, Othmar Karas, announced his retirement. Reinhold Lopatka, who finally entered the race as the lead candidate, was unable to prevent the losses despite his international expertise and solid campaign, as reported by "DerStandard".

The Greens achieved 10.9% with Lena Schilling and secured two seats, despite personal and media challenges. Despite these difficulties, the Greens managed to secure two seats. However, the party faces the challenge of maintaining its support in the national elections after the polls recently showed a decline, as reported by "DerStandard".

The SPÖ under Andreas Schieder achieved 23.3% and maintained its long-standing level. SPÖ party leader Andreas Babler nevertheless set himself ambitious goals for the National Council elections to lead the party out of its current stagnation. The Neos achieved their goal of doubling their seats with 10.1 percent. NEOS lead candidate Helmut Brandstätter is now moving into the European Parliament, which will give the Neos additional influence. The KPÖ and the DNA list missed out on a place in the European Parliament, although the KPÖ was able to increase its share of the vote to 2.9%. This represents a setback for the otherwise successful small party, which had performed significantly better in local and regional elections.

The results of the 2024 EU elections in Austria show a political landscape in transition, characterized by the successes of the FPÖ and challenges for the established parties. The upcoming National Council elections in the autumn will show how these trends will develop and what impact they will have on Austria's political future.