The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank says the elections represent a “make or break” moment for the bloc with far-right, anti-establishment parties such as Lega Nord in Italy and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz likely to take a third of the seats up for grabs. ECFR warns many parties are planning to “destroy the European project from within”, and could also vote down any future UK-EU trade deal after Brexit. The report, written by Susi Dennison and Pawel Zerka, warned: “Unfortunately for beleaguered internationalist Europeans, the election really does matter.
“The vote could see a group of nationalist anti-European political parties that advocate a return to a ‘Europe of the nations’ win a controlling share of seats in the EP.
“Among them number many figures who are strongly sceptical of free trade, in favour of pulling the drawbridge up against migration, and supportive of Moscow’s arguments about the need to flout international law in the Russian national interest in Ukraine.
“They are not currently a unified alliance but, in an EP in which their voices entered the mainstream, and in an EU in which transactional decision-making was commonplace, they could let all these ideas shape European policy in the medium term.”
The report suggested if populist parties did manage to “cross the one-third threshold”, it would signify a “a qualitative change” in the EU.
It added: “ECFR’s calculations in this paper assume that the UK will not participate in the May 2019 election.
“However, as an extension to Article 50 negotiations seems a distinct possibility with the lack of clarity on the UK’s position, the participation of British MEPs in May 2019 could throw another spanner in the works.”
Europe’s right and far right could even formally establish a new political group, which would be the second-largest political family in the EP, it said.
It was also unclear whether Fidesz will continue to be a part of the conservative European People’s Party after the elections.
The report said: “As it stands, neither Orban nor the EPP have an interest in announcing a divorce before May 2019.
“But, after the election, there is a high likelihood that the nationalist camp will become more unified.”
Mark Leonard, director of the think-tank, said the report should “concentrate the minds of pro-Europeans”.
He said: “They must not become trapped into becoming defenders of the status quo in Europe or allowing the election to become a referendum on the issue of migration – which is exactly the battleground that the anti-Europeans want.
“Instead, pro-Europeans need to unmute the silent majority by fighting different elections that Europe’s different publics will vote on – such as the climate change election, the ‘Facebook’ election for those concerned for their data and privacy, the election for those worried about Russian aggression, the prosperity election for those worried about stalled living standards, the rule of law election for those worried about democratic backsliding, and the ‘saving Europe’ election for the EU’s most ardent defenders.”
A recent poll of polls suggests Lega and Five Star Movement in Italy, Germany’s far-right AfD and Fidesz were all likely to be substantial beneficiaries.
Jude Kirton-Darling, Labour MEP for the North East, told Huffington Post the report “clearly and systematically addresses how the far right, in particular, is hoping to wreak havoc in the EU”.
She added: “It would be deeply ironic if the forces encouraged and nurtured by hard Brexiteers, both Tory and UKIP, in the European Parliament wrought that havoc on a future EU-UK trade deal crushing forever their Brexit promises.”