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Commentary | 14 June 2024

The Women Leaders Podcast: Normalised nationalism in Europe

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Between the 6th and 9th of June, 27 member states held elections for the European Union’s parliament. With over 300 million eligible voters, the European Union’s electorate is second only to India in terms of size. However, of these hundreds of millions of potential voters, only 51% voted, an unsurprising figure as democratic participation declines across the West.

Equally unsurprising were the results of the vote, which, as always, resulted in the two major centrist blocs, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), maintaining their majority—with some support from the Green and Liberal groups.

However, far-right and nationalist parties performed very well, with the two major groupings (ECR, ID) gaining 134 seats out of a total of 720, representing nearly 20% of all MEPs. This outcome was predicted in the pre-election polls and hasn’t shocked many pundits, but the reality of an increased normalisation of nationalist politics in the European Parliament may be sobering for some.

For 20 years now, nationalist and far/extreme right parties have slowly but surely gained electoral and political legitimacy. In recent years, such parties have won elections in the Netherlands, Italy, and Slovakia, and they sit in government in Finland, Sweden, and a few other countries as well. In all member states, nationalist parties sit in parliament, and their rhetoric has entered mainstream political discourses.

In France, this outcome has had especially profound repercussions, as President Macron has now called for snap elections in response to the major losses experienced by his Renaissance party (which sits in the liberal Renew Europe group) to Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella’s National Rally party (in the Europe of Nations and Freedom or EFN bloc).

How did Europe — and indeed many other countries in the democratic world — come to this? Are mainstream politicians getting it wrong, or are they just of poor quality? Is there a better way forward? To answer these and many other such questions, Ilana Bet-El is joined by Catherine Fieschi, an expert on populism and European politics, in a lively and deeply probing conversation.

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This episode was recorded on June 13 2024.

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The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or all of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image credit: Florence Ferrando