How Covid, Russian misinformation and inflation fuelled the march of Europe’s populist Right – and what the EU elections mean for global security, writes expert DR GABRIELA BORZ

The rise of populist right-wing parties is raising major questions for global stability amid potential impacts on policies from migration to security and climate.

Now, an expert on European politics and identity has analysed the situation across the continent for MailOnline to look at the key geopolitical issues moving forward.

DR GABRIELA BORZ said the pandemic and economic climate had helped create a ‘consolidation’ of the populist vote at last week’s European Parliament elections .

She also cited false narratives circulating via TikTok and Facebook in Italy, Spain and Germany for trying to induce fear and mistrust, with the Russians blamed.

EU officials have been attempting to battle disinformation in the run-up to the elections, and there are concerns about how the changing political landscape could impact support for Ukraine against the invasion by Vladimir Putin ‘s forces.

But the senior lecturer at the University of Strathclyde insisted there were more signs of ‘future stability than instability’ in the context of the ongoing conflict.

It comes after Emmanuel Macron ordered a surprise snap election in France after his party was trounced by Marine Le Pen ‘s right-wing National Rally party.

Germany’s AfD also made major gains – with observers noting how such populist groups, tending to be anti-immigration, have been given a boost by young voters.

Since the last European Union election in 2019, populist or hard-right parties now lead governments in three nations – Hungary, Slovakia and Italy .

They are part of ruling coalitions in Sweden , Finland and, soon, the Netherlands . Polls also give populists an advantage in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy.

Here, read Dr Borz’s analysis in her exclusive commentary piece for MailOnline:

DR GABRIELA BORZ, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Strathclyde

DR GABRIELA BORZ, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Strathclyde

In the context of the war in Ukraine, there are more signs which point towards future stability than instability in Europe following the European Parliament elections last week.

Overall, the narratives about an extreme-right surge do not hold.

We are seeing evidence of consolidation of the extreme-right populist vote by a few percentage points rather than a dramatic sudden increase all over Europe.

This is to be expected given the Covid pandemic, the current economic situation and the labour market instability.

In the 2024 European Parliament, the National Conservatives and Radical right are likely to hold 20.1 per cent of seats – compared to 18 per cent won by the same parties in the same elections in 2019.

Demonstration against populist right-wing parties at Place de la Republique in Paris yesterday

Demonstration against populist right-wing parties at Place de la Republique in Paris yesterday

In fact, in 2019, far-right parties – Identity and Democracy Group – won more seats than in 2024 – 9.7 per cent compared to 8.9 per cent in 2024.

Moreover, the 361 seats (out of 720) majority needed is likely to be obtained by the EPP (Group of the European People’s Party) and S&D (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament) following negotiations towards the centre. 

Final official results are yet to be released.

Drivers of instability at the EU level 

The fragmentation and reshuffles in the European Parliament is currently augmented by the large number of unaffiliated MEPs (about 10.7 per cent of seats) who are still to join a party group.

They are likely to increase the size of extreme-right in the European Parliament but will not affect majority coalitions greatly.

Alice Weidel (centre), Tino Chrupalla (right) and Beatrix von Storch (left) from the Alternative for Germany party cheer after first exit polls following the elections in Berlin on Sunday

Alice Weidel (centre), Tino Chrupalla (right) and Beatrix von Storch (left) from the Alternative for Germany party cheer after first exit polls following the elections in Berlin on Sunday 

Before the European Parliament elections, disinformation narratives circulated at the national level and are likely to continue in the future, before national elections will take place.

These narratives were this time largely uncovered with the help of fact checkers and made public by the EDMO Task Force on 2024 European Elections reports.

For example, according to the EDMO Disinfo bulletin 40 and 42, out of the total disinformation detected in May 2024, 15 per cent was about EU policies and EU institutions.

In Italy, false narratives circulated via TikTok and Facebook suggesting that EU laws mandate a referendum for exit in the case of low voter turnout in EU elections.

Similar false narratives encouraging voter abstention circulated in Germany and Spain.

Police officers move past burning rubbish during an 'anti-fascist rally' in Toulouse on Monday

Police officers move past burning rubbish during an ‘anti-fascist rally’ in Toulouse on Monday

The work of 34 fact-checking organisations across EU has also revealed the Russian Pravda Disinformation network, with various new websites in multiple languages which promoted the claims of minor pro-Russia politicians with the ultimate aim of influencing EU public opinion.

Misleading statements aimed at inducing fear and mistrust in the electoral process where revealed by Euractiv Slovakia in relation to the Migration and Asylum Pact.

Additionally, EFE Verifica, a Spanish fact-checker, has revealed a pro-Russian operation Matrioska, which had the aim of distorting the attention of fact-checkers globally and preventing them from detecting disinformation.

Such prevention campaigns are a necessity in future national elections across EU member states.

Whilst we already know that parties resort to digital campaigning, extreme-right parties show that they can digitally connect with younger audiences.

German protesters demonstrate against populist right-wing parties in Berlin on Saturday

German protesters demonstrate against populist right-wing parties in Berlin on Saturday

They either readily adopt new digital technologies for attracting new supporters or have leaders who behave like social media influencers.

For example, the AUR Party in Romania has created a mobile phone application which disseminates news, gives the option to vote in intra-party decisions, advertises party events, allows users to sign petitions or to enrol a new individuals, create a team and offers a system of points and rewards.

However, not all young voters who previously supported Green parties are likely to turn to the extreme-right.

For example, a poll by InfratestDimap shows that the 16-24 age group also show strong support for the centrist CDU in Germany.

Meanwhile the French snap elections are a gamble for Macron as in less than 20 days he will have to show strong leadership and build a ‘cordon sanitaire’ coalition against LePen.

Drivers of stability

Turnout: Overall a large part of the European electorate turned out to vote and in larger numbers since 2004 which provides more legitimacy to the European Parliament.

France's President Emmanuel Macron exits a polling booth in Le Touquet last Sunday

France’s President Emmanuel Macron exits a polling booth in Le Touquet last Sunday

At the aggregate EU level, the turnout figure in 2024 is about the same (51.1 per cent) compared to the 2019 elections (50.6 per cent).

Only eight countries show a turnout below 40 per cent (Portugal, Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Croatia).

Germany: Ursula von der Leyen is most likely to win a new mandate as head of the Commission. She will have to win the vote of the European Parliament.

Hungary: Fidesz suffered its largest defeat in years. Compared to the 2022 national elections, the party is down 11 per cent. 

The Tisza centrist party, which has an anti-corruption discourse, is likely to become a clear opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s anti-Brussels agenda and a clear contender for the next national elections expected in two years. 

Hungary will take over the presidency of the Council of the EU next month.

A protester holds a placard reading 'The youth screws the FN/RN' (meaning the 'Front National' which became the 'Rassemblement National' in 2018) as people protest in Rennes yesterday

A protester holds a placard reading ‘The youth screws the FN/RN’ (meaning the ‘Front National’ which became the ‘Rassemblement National’ in 2018) as people protest in Rennes yesterday

Estonia: Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has high chances and would probably consider the top EU diplomat position of EU defence commissioner.

Ireland: MEP Clare Daly, who was previously associated with pro-Russian policy preferences, has lost her seat.

Croatia: The country had the lowest turnout in a European Parliament election (21.3 per cent) compared to other member states, but participation in EU elections was never significantly higher since the country joined EU in 2013.

Croatia can increase its identification with Europe once the benefits of EU membership will become evident to the public.

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain's right-wing party Vox, votes Madrid on Sunday

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s right-wing party Vox, votes Madrid on Sunday

Romania: The country has seen a surge of the extreme-right party (AUR and SOS Romania) compared to the last European Parliament elections. 

But the AUR leader is being investigated for electoral fraud and the extreme-right gains are largely insignificant because the current government still holds a comfortable majority in the national parliament until late 2024. 

It is down to the Romanian right-wing parties now to form coalitions and to prevent the same surge in the future national elections.

Bulgaria: A fragmented party system, but it is less likely to bloc EU decisions as the pro-Russian party came fourth in the national elections – held at the same time with the European Parliament election – with 13.4 percent of the vote. 

Activists and demonstrators take part in an 'anti-fascist rally' in Toulouse on Monday

Activists and demonstrators take part in an ‘anti-fascist rally’ in Toulouse on Monday

Bulgarian low turnout is down to electoral fatigue given the country’s multiple elections over the past three years.

Overall: The position of national governments for high EU level Council decisions is very important for European stability, for a united front against Russia and for future financial and political support granted to Ukraine.

It is less likely that extreme-right in national governments will get so powerful in order to block aid packages or membership negotiation processes with Ukraine and Moldova in the future.

Should this happen, a last resort solution is the adoption of bilateral agreements between single EU member states and Ukraine.

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