Authors: Dr Nicolai von Ondarza is Head of the EU/Europe Division at SWP, Felix Schenuit is Research Assistant of the EU/Europe Division at SWP.

It remains open whether, and in which constellation, the parties of the EU-sceptical spectrum will cooperate in the next Parliament. So far, they have been divided into three smaller groups and a number of non-attached MEPs, who by themselves have less influence than a larger group. For substantive reasons, there is little likelihood that cooperation will continue to be enforceable in the future. The votes in the course of the last parliamentary term reveal that only the ECR has achieved the status of a group being capable of acting with group discipline. There are also substantial differences between the EU-sceptical parties. This applies, above all, to three of their core political issues.

  1. First, the parties have quite different stances towards the EU. The spectrum still ranges from moderate EU sceptics, who reject the depth of integration but want to retain the Union as such, to fundamental EU opponents, whose declared goal is to abolish the Union, or at least lead their country out of it.
  2. Secondly, the issue of migration is a matter of disagreement. Northern and Central European populists, for example, reject the distribution of refugees, whereas Southern Europeans demand solidarity from their EU partners.
  3. Thirdly and finally, a “national international” suffers from the fact that the emphasis on national identity and sovereignty contradicts European cooperation.

Yet, for reasons of power politics, there is a significant incentive for right-wing populists and EU-critical parties to symbolically underpin their strength after the European elections with a joint parliamentary group that is as large as possible. At the same time, this would give them even more opportunities to demand speaking rights in – and resources from – the EP.

Three possible scenarios for the future development of the right-wing populist and EU-sceptical spectrum after the 2019 elections can be formulated from this mixed situation.

Scenario A – a continuation of the status quo with the three fragmented factions – can almost be ruled out. The EFDD, in particular, has been nothing more than an alliance of convenience since it was founded and, during the course of the legislative period, it has lost what few ties it had that bound it together. Without UKIP as the main pillar, the remaining parties will tend to turn to other political groups. The Five Star Movement from Italy will play a key role. As the second pillar alongside UKIP, it has already distanced itself in the current legislative period from the EFDD and partly from earlier anti-EU/euro rhetoric. In 2019 it could again increase the number of its MEPs and become one of the largest national parties in the EP.

Scenario B- the EU-sceptical camp would concentrate on two factions along the axis of EU scepticism. Accordingly, the EFDD would disappear, the ECR would take on the rather moderate EU-sceptical, economically liberal parties, and the ENF would assemble the fundamentally EU sceptical, globalisation-critical parties within its ranks.

Scenario C- the parties involved would – according to Salvini’s declared goal – be able to form an EU-critical collective group uniting all parties of the EU-sceptical spectrum. According to Salvini’s vision, this should not only include the parties of the ECR, the EFDD, and the ENF, but also win the support of the right wing of the EPP, above all that of Viktor Orbán. In numerical terms, such a collective movement would certainly have the potential to become the largest, or second largest, group in the EP. For this to happen, however, the serious political differences between these parties would have to be bridged. A taboo break would also be necessary with regard to cooperation between the previous right wing of the EPP, the ECR, and the tough opponents of the EU. Although this scenario cannot be completely ruled out, it is more likely that the ENF will become stronger and gradually try to poach parties from the ECR or EPP. It will also be interesting to see whether parties considered to be clearly right-wing extremists will be invited to become members of a collective faction.

In scenarios B and C, we have also included the projection that Macron’s LREM will cooperate with the ALDE, and Mélenchon’s LFI with the European Left (GUE/NGL). According to current forecasts, some 46 EFDD seats would have to be reallocated. This would affect the AfD and the Five Star Movement, in particular. Currently, it seems most plausible that the AfD will join the ENF. The Five Star Movement, on the other hand, has recently weakened its EU-sceptical position and announced the founding of a new group after the 2019 elections. However, it is still completely unclear whether – and with which partners – this can succeed. If this does not succeed, the Five Star Movement would probably opt for no faction rather than forming a faction with Salvini in the ENF or strongly value-conservative parties such as the Polish PiS in the ECR.

In scenarios B and C, it is therefore still assigned to the independents. The ENF should fulfil the necessary condition of having 25 MEPs from at least seven member states. With parties such as the AfD, the French Rassemblement National, the FPÖ, and the PVV now firmly anchored in the national political system, the ENF would have a much more stable composition than before. However, a balance of power and common political goals would have to be found in such a group that is composed of strong parties from Italy, Austria, France, and Germany. This could be a great challenge for the parties, as some of them are dominated by individuals (Italy and France), or shaped by discussions about the political orientation, such as the AfD in Germany. Without the Conservatives from the UK, the ECR would have to reconstitute itself and would, in the future, be more strongly influenced by Central and Eastern European national conservatives. But the group could continue to play its hybrid role, cooperating with the EPP and ALDE on economic issues, but adopting a more oppositional stance on issues of European policy and conservative values. For both groups, there would also be the potential for enlargement in the group of non-attached MEPs and new or as-of-yet unattached parties. Beyond the announcement of the results, it therefore remains interesting to observe which camp could form the larger group in this scenario, the ECR or the ENF. In view of the current forecasts and the diversity of right-wing parties, scenario B seems to be the most plausible one at the moment.


The scenarios illustrate what is at stake in the 2019 European elections. If the EU-sceptical camp remains as fragmented as before, Parliament’s work will remain largely unchanged. A collective movement, on the other hand, would even have the chance to form the largest parliamentary group in the EP – though still be far from a parliamentary majority. However, because the political orientations of the EU-sceptical parties diverge greatly, it seems more realistic at the moment that two factions will be formed along the axis of EU scepticism and divide the parties assembled in the EFDD amongst the ECR and the ENF. The decisive factor will be the negotiations on future party affiliations after the elections – not only between the parties already represented in Parliament, but also with the new ones. The election results alone will therefore hardly provide enough information about the majority situation in the next parliamentary term. Rather, it can be assumed that the parliamentary groups will change again and again in the course of the next election period and will try to add further members to their ranks. If we can trust current predictions, the two camps will compete throughout the parliamentary term about which one will become the largest EU-sceptical group: the softer eurosceptic – but rather constructive – ECR, or the right-wing populist faction around actors such as Salvini and Le Pen. The extent of fragmentation in the EU sceptical camp will not only determine how much influence its supporters can exert on the replacement of the Commission President and the European Council President. It will also be crucial to what extent EU sceptical parties and MEPs can shape policy areas such as migration policy. How united or disunited the EU sceptics are will also have fundamental consequences for the future interactions between European institutions. If the eurosceptic and rightwing populist forces in the EP strengthen, doubts will grow as to whether Parliament can continue to be regarded as a reliable engine of the European integration process. Majorities for federal reform processes will be even more difficult to find in the next parliamentary term than before. Regarding the overall integration process, it appears that the forthcoming European elections could be a step towards a fundamental reorientation of the European integration project. After years of crisis, the election campaigns will focus primarily on the EU’s self-perception. With the defeat of Marine Le Pen in the French presidential elections of 2017, many parties – including those that are fundamentally sceptical about the EU – have decided to no longer question the EU itself or the membership of their respective country. Instead, they are now calling for fundamental changes to the EU’s value base. Among the many political challenges, the question of whether European integration will continue to follow a cosmopolitan ideal or whether it will turn towards a course of isolation is therefore becoming more and more pressing.

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