“Nobody will get past us in the new European Parliament,” leaders of the German far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) boldly claimed at their party congress in Magdeburg last year.
The AfD is expected to become the biggest party in elections to be held in the eastern states of Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg later this year, while a December 2023 poll predicted the party would receive an unprecedented 22 per cent of the vote at the next federal elections in late 2025.
The AfD’s rise has mirrored the success of right-wing radical and populist parties in other EU Member States, notably that of Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands and Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, as well as advances made by the far-right in France, Sweden and Finland in recent years.
The success of the AfD is no foregone conclusion. Centrist parties still have time to woo voters away from the far-right, while the arrival of a new Eurosceptic, populist force in Germany, Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht, could also throw a spanner in the works.
What is already clear, however, is that the AfD’s extraordinary rise could have deep consequences for the EU by further tipping the scales in favour of the far-right during the European Parliament elections this June.
With 96 seats, Germany has the largest parliamentary delegation of any Member State by far. It’s why a strong AfD performance at the ballot would translate into much more voting power for the far-right than similar successes in smaller countries like the Netherlands. With 22 per cent of the German vote, the AfD would double its seats to 21 in the new European Parliament, making it a leading force of the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, which also includes Italy’s Lega and France’s Rassemblement National (RN).
The AfD vehemently opposes policies to fight climate change, maintains a strict anti-immigration platform and is in favour of dismantling the EU. Correctiv, a German non-profit investigative news outlet, last month reported on a closed-door meeting in late 2023, during which AfD politicians discussed a plan for the mass deportation of millions of foreign-born people living in Germany – news that galvanized protests across the country. Such positions could make the ID, already the most radical right-wing group in the European Parliament, even more extreme.
The AfD vehemently opposes policies to fight climate change, maintains a strict anti-immigration platform and is in favour of dismantling the EU.
Still, even if the ID and the right-wing populist European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) group manage to collectively nab 170 seats, as polls currently project, the far right would not have enough seats to block legislation in the new Parliament. But the majority held by the informal coalition that has backed the European Commission during the current term – the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe – is expected to substantially shrink.
Moreover, some MEPs might defect on more controversial votes, which would make it even harder for the Commission to obtain the backing it needs to push its proposals through Parliament. The increased speaking time and greater presence of the AfD and other far-right parties in committees could also shift the discourse in the Parliament further to the right.
All this will likely make it harder for the Commission to pass the remainder of its Green Deal proposals. Agreeing on any legislation that would strengthen the EU’s role in industrial policy or its weight as a geopolitical player would similarly become trickier, at a time when multiple crises are unfolding that call for a stronger, more decisive Europe.