background image

A tale of two trends: Europe shifts right but Nordics veer left

author image

By Anders Pettersson

· 6 min read

The EU elections this past weekend painted a striking picture of political divergence across the continent. While much of Europe witnessed a significant shift to the right, the Nordic countries bucked the trend by embracing left-leaning parties. This divergence reveals not only the unique political landscapes of these regions but also the varied concerns and priorities of their electorates.

Europe's drifting rightward

Across much of Europe, right-wing parties made substantial gains. In Italy, the far-right Brothers of Italy party led by Giorgia Meloni saw a significant increase in support, solidifying its position as a major political force. Similarly, in France, Marine Le Pen's National Rally performed strongly, reflecting growing discontent with the centrist policies of President Emmanuel Macron, who felt he had no choice but to dissolve parliament and call for snap elections. In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) made notable strides, capitalizing on voter concerns about immigration and national sovereignty.

This shift can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, concerns over immigration continue to dominate political discourse, with many right-wing parties capitalizing on fears about cultural integration and economic strain. This trend has been substantial, as statistics on autocratization have indicated for several years now.

Secondly, economic insecurity, heightened by inflation and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has led voters to seek alternatives to the established political order, often turning to right-wing populist movements that promise swift and decisive action.

The outcomes of these elections, characterized by a shift to the right in many parts of Europe and a left-leaning trend in the Nordic countries, have significant implications for the composition and dynamics of party groups within the European Parliament (EP). For the right-wing parties, their increased representation will likely strengthen the position of conservative and nationalist party groups, such as the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy Group (ID).

These groups typically advocate for national sovereignty, stricter immigration controls, and economic liberalism. With more MEPs from right-wing parties, these groups may have greater influence in shaping EU policies, particularly those related to immigration, security, and trade.

Measurable autocratization in EU countries

Examining the trend of autocratization further, the V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute measures levels of democracy across the world and has identified trends of autocratization in EU countries. In recent years, certain EU countries have experienced a decline in democratic governance, characterized by the erosion of institutional checks and balances, restrictions on civil liberties, and increased centralization of power.

These developments pose significant challenges to the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law within the European Union. Among the key indicators of autocratization observed in some EU countries are:

Weakening of democratic institutions: There has been a notable weakening of democratic institutions, including the judiciary, media freedom, and electoral systems. The politicization of key institutions and efforts to undermine their independence have raised alarms about the erosion of democratic norms and principles.

Erosion of civil and political Rights: Restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association have become more prevalent in certain EU countries. The targeting of journalists, activists, and opposition figures undermines the foundations of democracy and threatens the fundamental rights of citizens.

Centralization of power: There is a growing trend towards the centralization of power in the hands of executive authorities, often at the expense of legislative and judicial oversight. Concentration of power in the hands of a few undermines the principles of separation of powers and democratic accountability.

Threats to electoral integrity: Concerns have been raised about the integrity of electoral processes in some EU countries, including allegations of electoral fraud, voter suppression, and manipulation of electoral rules to favor incumbent parties. Such practices undermine the legitimacy of democratic elections and erode public trust in democratic institutions.

The notable increased representation of right-wing parties will likely affect a string of policies and legislative proposals coming out of the many EU parliamentary committees. Of particular interest in this regard are the AFET, DROI, LIBE, and AFCO committees.

Nordic Left's impact on a divided EU Parliament

While right-oriented parties are advancing, the left-leaning trend in the Nordic countries conversely could bolster the representation of social democratic and progressive parties within the EP. Parties affiliated with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) group may see an increase in their numbers.

These groups advocate for policies promoting social justice, environmental sustainability, and human rights. The strengthened presence of these parties could lead to greater emphasis on issues such as climate change mitigation, social welfare, and equality within the European Parliament.

Overall, the shifting political landscape in Europe may lead to a more fragmented and even polarized European Parliament, with a wider range of voices and perspectives represented. This could make decision-making processes within the EP more complex and necessitate greater efforts to build consensus among different party groups.

Additionally, it may also influence the formation of alliances and coalitions on specific policy issues, as MEPs seek to advance their respective agendas while navigating the complexities of EU politics.

The Nordic exception

In stark contrast, the Nordic countries — comprising Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland — have seen a resurgence of left-leaning parties. This trend is rooted in the strong social democratic traditions of these nations, where there is a deep-seated commitment to welfare policies, social equality, and environmental sustainability.

Several key issues and polarized national debates have driven the Nordic electorate towards the left. Climate change remains a paramount concern, and left-leaning parties have been more proactive in proposing ambitious green policies.

Additionally, the Nordic model of governance, which emphasizes social safety nets and public services, has resonated with voters who are increasingly wary of the neoliberal economic policies championed by right-wing and nationalistic parties elsewhere in Europe.

Furthermore, the Nordic countries have managed to balance immigration policies with a narrative of integration and support, countering the anti-immigrant sentiment that has fueled right-wing success in other parts of Europe. This approach has fostered a more inclusive political climate, where centrist and left-leaning parties can thrive by advocating for comprehensive social and environmental reforms.

Nordic progressivism vs. Continental populism

In summary, the contrasting outcomes of the recent EU elections underscore the diverse political landscapes across Europe. While the continent at large grapples with the rise of right-wing populism, the Nordic countries continue to uphold several progressive values. This divergence highlights the complex interplay of local issues, historical legacies, and societal priorities that shape electoral outcomes. It should be mentioned that the results of national elections to the European Union parliament, does not automatically translate or correspond with international elections or referendums.

As Europe moves forward, these differing political trajectories will undoubtedly influence the broader EU policy landscape. The challenge will be finding common ground in a union marked by such varied perspectives, ensuring that both the right-leaning and left-leaning aspirations of its member states are addressed in a cohesive and inclusive manner. The outcome of the recent EU elections, characterized by a shift to the right in many parts of Europe and a left-leaning trend in the Nordic countries, has significant implications for the composition and dynamics of party groups within the European Parliament (EP).

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Did you enjoy this illuminem voice? Support us by sharing this article!
author photo

About the author

Anders L. Pettersson is Executive Director of Civil Rights Defenders, an independent and international human rights organisation with headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden

Other illuminem Voices

Related Posts

You cannot miss it!

Weekly. Free. Your Top 10 Sustainability & Energy Posts.

You can unsubscribe at any time (read our privacy policy)