An Unexpected Shake-Up in the European Far Right

May 24, 2024
3 min read
Photo Credit: De Visu / Shutterstock
The ousting of AfD representatives from the European Parliament’s Identity and Democracy group reflects support for Marine Le Pen’s moderation strategy and may hold new prospects for cooperation among far-right parties.

On May 23, two weeks before the European parliamentary elections, and following a public break-up between Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), the European Parliament’s far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group expelled the representatives of AfD. The reasons have to do with the recent scandals surrounding AfD leading candidate Maximillian Krah, who was reported to have accepted money from China and Russia and also to have said that he would not automatically consider members of Hitler’s SS to be criminals. The latter was the last straw for partners.

Le Pen’s decision to sever ties with AfD signals that she will safeguard the “de-diabolization” strategy that has propelled RN into the lead in the polls. She long ago abandoned the extremist rhetoric that characterized her father’s National Front and has built a more moderate image to appeal to a wider electorate. AfD’s swift expulsion, with the support of the majority of ID group members, suggests that they also consider association with the radicalizing party a reputational risk.

The ousting of AfD comes at a cost but may yet pay dividends. ID, currently the sixth-largest EP group with 58 MEPs, was expected to rise to third place with over 80 MEPs, thanks in part to the growing support behind AfD. That may now be impossible. Although some now extra-parliamentary parties—such as the Dutch Party for Freedom and the Portuguese Chega—are expected to join the ID group this June, their entrance will not offset the loss in sheer numbers. Still, they can keep ID a viable political group if no more major changes occur.

The shake-up could, however, lead to more cooperation between ID and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a predominantly far-right EP group led by Poland’s Law and Justice and Brothers of Italy that is often considered more moderate than ID. Such cooperation would support the impression that ID is becoming more moderate. The intent is apparent in some quarters: Last week Le Pen, André Ventura (Chega), and ECR-member Giorgia Meloni together attended the campaign launch of the Spanish ECR-member Vox in Madrid. But substantial divides among parties—for example on Russia—have not dissipated. A full merger thus remains unlikely, even if some migration between the groups is possible.

At the same time, the possibility cannot yet be excluded that AfD could be re-admitted into the ID group after the elections, should it manage to redeem itself or should ID need the numbers after all. Interestingly, to this point only the parliamentary group, not the ID Party itself, has announced the expulsion. Does this offer AfD a way back in, or will the ID Party soon follow suit?