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European elections: The shift to the right continues

Martin Suchanek

Fortress Europe, militarisation and nationalism emerge stronger from the elections on 6-9 June.

According to the preliminary results, the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) won 189 seats in the 720-member EU Parliament. The social democratic S&D Group (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament) won 135 (- 4) seats, followed by the liberal Renew Europe Group (79) and the two right-wing groups ECR (Group of European Conservatives and Reformists) (73 seats) and ID (Identity and Democracy Group) (58). The Greens/European Free Alliance lost 18 seats and now only has 53 seats. The Group of the European Left Party remained relatively stable with 36 (previously 37) seats. The remaining seats went to new parties that had not previously belonged to a parliamentary group or to non-attached members. Now for an assessment of the result:

1. the European elections have two winners. The EPP not only re-entered Parliament as the strongest group, it also increased its share of the vote slightly and gained 13 seats. It now has 189 (previously 176) seats in Strasbourg. In the next Parliament and in the European Commission, no one will be able to bypass it in determining EU policy.

2) The European right-wing parties have won the most votes and mandates. The mandate gains of the two groups (+4 for the ECR, +9 for the ID) do not adequately reflect overall right wing increases. AfD or Fidesz, for example, do not belong to either of these groups, but are certainly to be counted among the right-wing and far-right parties. If all these parties were united in parliament, they would come close to the EPP’s result, representing around 25 % of all MEPs.

3) The shift to the right is concentrated in Central Europe and the large imperialist states. The big winners of the elections are FdI, RN, AfD, the Dutch PVV and the FPÖ. In addition, Fidesz, PiS and other right-wing parties remained strong, but did not increase their share of the vote. In some countries, such as Spain and Sweden, the far right even emerged weakened from the elections. Overall, however, this does not change the very real shift to the right, which is primarily centred on the imperialist core countries of France, Germany, Italy and Central Europe. In addition, a further populist, „left-conservative“ parliamentary group consisting of the BSW, 5-Star Movement and Smer could possibly form after the election, which could make pacts with the right on issues such as migration as well as enabling a stronger nationalist orientation.

4) The parliamentary groups of the social democrats and the left-wing parties were able to maintain their European average. However, this actually obscures the enormous differences between the national results. For example, the SPD in Germany lost significantly, while the PS in France achieved a rather surprising recovery – albeit from a historic low – and became the country’s strongest „left-wing party“. However, the result and the stagnation fundamentally highlight the weakness of the labour movement on the European political stage. In addition, the social democratic parliamentary group is by no means only made up of reformist, bourgeois labour parties, but also of left-wing bourgeois forces such as the DP in Italy. How closely these parties are linked to capital in their countries and the EU became clear not least when they immediately declared themselves in favour of continued support for von der Leyen’s Commission presidency and a continuation of her policies.

5. The European Left Party held steady on average. But here the shifts are significantly greater. DIE LINKE experienced a debacle with 2.7 %, and the Spanish Sumar also emerged weakened from the elections. On the other hand, some of the Nordic left-wing parties recorded enormous gains. For example, the Finnish Vasemmistoliitto/Vänsterförbundet received 17.3 % and the Swedish Vänsterpartiet 11 %. These results make it clear that temporary gains by left-wing reformist parties are possible. But overall, the stagnation of these parties at European level and national election debacles such as in Germany show that they are unable to offer a fundamental response to the EU crisis. Their policies themselves remain within the framework of reforming a bourgeois society that leaves less and less room for manoeuvre. Instead of offering an alternative to what already exists, their reformist strategy is aimed at participating in supposed reform governments in which they discredit themselves.

6 The biggest losers of the election, however, are the parties of the middle class centre, the Liberals and the Greens, who each lost more than a quarter of their seats. (Renew: – 23, Greens – 18). The crisis of bourgeois society is tearing these parties apart, even if they occasionally soar, like Macron’s renaissance a few years ago or the German Greens in 2019. The reason for these losses is that, with a few exceptions (VVD in the Netherlands), these bourgeois parties are not the main parties of the bourgeoisie and therefore do not have the same long-standing roots as the conservatives of the EPP, but only represent a minority of the ruling class. This is essentially also true of the more established green parties such as the German one.

7. The conservative parties and the reformist parties – the latter as bourgeois workers’ parties – have deeper roots in the main social classes going back decades, if not well over a hundred years, which makes their electorate somewhat more stable. However, the fact that they did not suffer similar losses to the Greens and Liberals should not lead to the false conclusion that these parties will not themselves be subject to further deep processes of disintegration and crisis.

The result and the future of the EU

The result directly strengthens the EPP. It can now play off its current and probably future allies – the Social Democrats, Liberals and possibly also the Greens – against potential right-wing allies. It will also try to involve parties such as the Italian FdI, whose leader and head of government,Giorgia Meloni has proven to be a reliable ally of the European Commission since coming to power.

The re-election of von der Leyen as Commission President can also be considered a certainty. As the winner of the election, the EPP will not stab its lead candidate in the back, while the social democratic and liberal groups have already announced their support. Basically, it is all about the political price for these votes, especially as the Greens and some right-wing parties want to join in the haggling, which means that they will also lose some posts and influence.

The EPP can now push through its policies more easily in the European Parliament and the Commission. The central programme points of the next Commission will clearly be: rearmament and militarisation, stronger transatlantic ties and the racist isolation of the EU. Its policy of social cuts at the expense of the working class can probably rely on a broad majority, as can the de facto dismantling of the ecological promises of the Green Deal. This may not be officially dropped, but it will be trimmed down to what it has always been at its core – a programme to subsidise the recomposition of European capital with a „green“ veneer, the necessity of which arises from international competition itself.

The EPP’s joy at its election victory, however, could get stuck in its throat. And not because of the clear shift to the right in the European elections in general, but because this is primarily taking place in the imperialist core countries. The electoral defeats of the German and French governments also highlight the instability and weakness of the two main imperialist powers, Germany and France. The former engines of European capitalist integration have long since ceased to run in synchronisation and have also begun to stutter.

In Germany, the parties of the traffic light coalition have suffered another electoral disaster. The Greens slumped from 20.5% in 2019 to 11.9% (-8.4%). At 13.9%, the SPD recorded its worst result in nationwide polls since the Second World War (even undercutting the already disastrous 15.8% in 2019). The FPD remained relatively stable at 5.2% and only lost 0.2%, making the Liberals almost look like „election winners“. In any case, this result further weakens the German government both internally and externally. Even early elections are possible, although not very likely, as all parties would suffer massive losses. Conversely, it is now a fact that the next German government will be led by the CDU/CSU. The rise and consolidation of the AfD is also dramatic here, but unlike in Italy or France, the far right will probably not be able to enter government in the 2025 federal elections because no major faction of big business currently accepts its anti-EU course.

France undoubtedly experienced the greatest political upheaval and the most concentrated shift to the right. The electoral triumph of the Rassemblement National (RN), which won 31.37% of the vote, triggered a rout of the incumbent President Macron. He dissolved parliament on the evening of the election and announced new elections for 30 June. His „Coalition Besoin d’Europe“ (Coalition We Need Europe) suffered a debacle with just 14.6 %. Even though a victory for the RN in the June elections is by no means certain, the chances are better than ever before, as the RN will not only be able to rely on other parties and supporters of the extreme right in the second round of voting at the latest, but also on parts of the bourgeois, Gaullist right.

With this debacle, Macron, who presented himself as the saviour of Europe before the elections, is turning out to be a political sun king without a country. A victory for his Renaissance party and its allies will only be possible if he makes concessions to the emerging „Popular Front“ alliance of Parti Socialiste, La France Insoumise, KPF and the Greens. Even then, his party could become a smaller „partner“ in order to cobble together a „republican majority“ against the RN in the second round of voting. In any case, French imperialism will be significantly weakened for the next period because the president will either have to act in coalition with an RN-led government or with an anti-RN alliance that will itself have no clear common direction (except to prevent Le Pen).

The two most important imperialist powers – and therefore the EU – are thus in danger of falling further behind in global competition. And that is precisely what will drive capital. The EPP’s victory may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory, the strengthening of the far right will not be seen primarily in the European Parliament, but above all through its increased and consolidated influence in Italy and France, but also in Germany, even if the AfD has little chance of participating in a national government in the near future.

And the working class?

For the working class – and that means first and foremost its most politically active and advanced strata – the result must once again set alarm bells ringing. In the European Parliament, the right-wing and far-right parties form one of the strongest groups, even if they are by no means a bloc, because they hold very different, if not opposing, positions on important questions of geostrategic orientation (NATO vs. Russia), economic policy (neoliberalism or right-wing social demagogy) and the attitude towards the EU majority (co-operation or total opposition).

Overall, this will exacerbate the EU crisis. However, the rise of the right is not its cause, but rather an effect – namely of the internal contradictions that a capitalist, imperialist union encounters due to global competition and the interests of the European powers and capitals.

Even if the European institutions have gained more competences in recent decades and also have considerable budgets at their disposal, political power still does not ultimately lie with the supranational institutions, because the EU is not a state but a confederation of states. The real power lies with the political executives of the nation states, more precisely with the traditional large imperialist states of Europe – Germany, France and Italy.

Even if they are by no means able to impose their will „omnipotently“ and can occasionally be blocked by the „little ones“, nothing works without them and, above all, these states represent the goal of shaping the EU into an imperialist bloc that could become a world power, under their dominance. The difficulties on this path ultimately reflect the fact that the dominant nations and the dominant national capitals are not just „partners“, but also competitors, who are all in favour of „unity“ and a „free market“, but only as long as it is not at their expense.

European politics repeatedly comes up against this limit, a real internal contradiction that cannot be resolved within capitalism, which makes it clear that the nation state and imperialist special interests are themselves an obstacle to the development of the productive forces, to the solution of all major European problems.

This is also why European politics oscillates between pan-European capitalist ambitions and the will of sectors of capitalist politics to unite Europe under German, French and sometimes Italian domination on the one hand, and national interests on the other. In bourgeois politics, this contradiction is expressed as a struggle between pro-European and anti-European, sovereigntist forces. This false front position appears to have no alternative, because the reformist parties and the trade unions themselves do not present an independent class policy or their own programme for the unification of Europe. Instead, they seek their salvation in an alliance with one or other bourgeois faction. This false alternative position is also reflected in the split in the Left Party and the founding of the BSW.

The subordination of the leaderships of the working class to various bourgeois factions and programmes in turn contributes to the disorientation and lack of political perspective of the working class. The only real alternative is the struggle for a socialist Europe, for a united socialist state and for workers‘ governments in the countries of the continent. This may seem „unrealistic“ in view of the setbacks and defeats and the insufficient level of the class struggle of wage earners. However, renunciation of the propagation of a fundamental, socialist alternative means that it cannot even penetrate consciousness and be linked to an action programme of unifying demands against exploitation, racism, militarism, war and ecological destruction. Presenting such a policy and building a force that can carry it into the class is the central task of all anti-capitalist, revolutionary, class-struggle leftists today.

In our joint declaration „Balance sheet and perspectives of an imperialist union. For a socialist Europe as the only real alternative“ we, the League for the Fifth International and the International Trotskyist Opposition, set out the basic lines of such a programme before the elections.

A vanguard united by a programme, a common understanding of the general course of world events and a common historical memory of its own class interests at national and international level, can make a real difference in overcoming the acute crisis of leadership of the European proletariat. Building this vanguard against the tide of current developments is an urgent political necessity – a global necessity, a necessity in Europe.

The old reformist left, which promised solutions and failed to deliver, is exhausted across the continent. The reconstruction of a revolutionary, anti-capitalist, internationalist left in every country and at the European level is the central task of revolutionary Marxists in Europe today.

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