The Rise of the Far Right, Euroscepticism, and the Future of EU Foreign Policy

The charm of far-right politics seems to be truly overwhelming; they have managed to lure back European society with their populist and reactionary rhetoric.

Far right is a word that is still considered taboo for some people in Europe. This is due to the trauma and paranoia of a troubled history. Mussolini’s power grab in his march to Rome and Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany were the beginning of the rise of the far right in Europe. The unjust policies taken by the government of this faction still leave a bad memory and horror in the minds of the people of Europe and even the whole world. The defeat of Germany in WWII signalled the defeat of this ideology. Nevertheless, the far right still exists in Europe, albeit secretly and underground. The fire of the far right has never been extinguished, and today we have witnessed the rebirth of far-right politics in Europe. The charm of far-right politics seems to be truly overwhelming; they have managed to lure back European society with their populist and reactionary rhetoric. Currently, far-right parties are the main supporters of the Euroscepticism movement.

Apart from countries that were previously ruled by right-wing governments, such as Poland, Hungary, and Italy, right-wing parties are gaining popularity in other countries. Recently, in Portugal, the far-right Chega party made a historic breakthrough in the March 2024 elections, winning more than 18% of the vote, making it the third major political party in Portugal. And in November 2023 in the Netherlands, the far-right party Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) won 37 seats out of 150 seats in Parliament. The PVV party is an anti-immigration and Eurosceptic party led by Geert Wilders, one of the main actors of the Euroscepticism movement in Europe. France is no exception; the popularity of the far-right continues to rise in France, especially from the Rassemblement National (RN). Marine Le Pen obtained 23.2% of the vote in the first round of the 2022 presidential election. In the traditionally left-liberal north, the Sverigedemokraterna Party, a far-right anti-immigration party, has become the second largest in terms of votes obtained in the 2022 legislative elections.

The migrant crisis, economic crisis, and other problems within the European Union (EU) have contributed to the rise of the far right. Far-right parties often use this card to gain supporters. It is very common for populist groups to blame other individuals or groups for the current state of affairs. The various far-right parties and movements in Europe generally share common rhetoric and understandings such as conservatism, nationalism, opposition to immigration, and support for weakening or even dissolving the EU, which they see as undermining state sovereignty. Despite their shared ideology, Europe’s far-right groups differ in several areas.

Scholars divide this phenomenon into two categories: hard and soft Euroscepticism. As the name suggests, this distinction implies opposition to the EU of varying intensity. The hard category is characterized by opposition to the EU, European integration, and even a desire to dissolve the EU. An indicator that a party is hard Eurosceptic is that their campaigns are characterized by overly capitalist, socialist, neoliberal, or bureaucratic EU rhetoric. On the other hand, soft Eurosceptic groups do not have a fundamental opposition to the idea of European integration or EU membership. Rather, it is concerned that integration in some policy areas will conflict with countries’ national interests. An indicator of soft Euroscepticism is when a party uses rhetoric that questions further European integration. In other words, these parties support the EU as it currently exists but oppose further integration. For example, some groups may agree with European integration in monetary areas but disagree with integration in immigration-related areas.

On January 31, 2020, the UK officially left the EU, becoming the only and first country to do so. This event, known as Brexit (British Exit), was a long process that resulted from the campaigning of the Eurosceptic movement, particularly the one led by Nigel Farage and his party, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). In the history of EU development, the UK has often been reluctant to embrace the concept of European integration. Even before the formation of the EU, the UK had opposed the idea of European integration. The famous British prime minister known as “the Iron Lady” once made a speech in the British Parliament; she mentioned that “the President of the Commission, Mr. Delors, said at a press conference the other day that he wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic body of the Community, he wanted the Commission to be the Executive, and he wanted the Council of Ministers to be the Senate. No. No. No.”

The UK’s decision to leave the EU is seen as a loss for the EU. Considering previous crises, there were fears that more member states would follow in the UK’s footsteps. However, it turned out that Brexit had only a very limited effect on Eurosceptic sentiment in Europe. Its main effect seems to be to reinforce and legitimize the increasingly popular Eurosceptic narrative in Europe. In the study of Euroscepticism in relation to Brexit, it is important to distinguish the short- and long-term effects of the circumstances. If the UK proves successful in standing outside the EU coalition, it is likely that other Eurosceptic parties in Europe will adopt a hard Eurosceptic stance. On the contrary, if Brexit turns out to be a failure, this may serve as a deterrent for soft Eurosceptic parties to adopt a harder stance and thus strengthen support for the EU.

The long-term impact of Brexit is difficult to articulate due to its recent timescale. What is clear at the moment is that Brexit has not greatly affected support for the EU in Europe. Surveys conducted by Eurobarometer show that trust in the EU remains high; 58% of respondents tend to trust EU authorities. The majority of Europeans continue to show optimism; 55% of Europeans are optimistic about the EU. The survey also shows that the majority of Europeans (47%) continue to have a positive image of the EU, while 21% have a negative image and 30% have a neutral image.

As for what the future holds for European foreign policy, this remains uncertain. It is possible that far-right populist and nationalist movements will continue to gain influence in the EU, and this will lead to more isolationist and protectionist policies. This also depends on whether or not the Brexit outcome is successful. The future of EU foreign policy will depend on a number of factors, including the economic situation, immigration flows, and the political landscape of individual member states. However, it is clear that the rise of the far right has created new challenges for the EU and that these challenges will require careful analysis and a strong response.

Mohammad Absya Ripasada
Mohammad Absya Ripasada
Mohammad Absya Ripasada is an International Relations student at Andalas University who is interested in issues related to international politics and history. While he loves history, he argues that "it is a mistake to unlearn the past, but it is an even bigger mistake to live in the past."