Mainstreaming and Normalization of the Far-Right:
Wind of Change Before the 2024 European Elections?
Selcen Öner 19 December 2023

In the 21st century, the EU has faced the challenges of multiple crises, including the migration crisis, the pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The mainstream parties have been struggling to find solutions to socio-economic problems, while the populist radical right parties, especially those in the opposition, are exploiting this atmosphere by claiming to be an alternative and finding new scapegoats, instead of offering new solutions.

Although the far-right parties mostly hold Eurosceptic positions, especially before the 2019 European elections, most of them changed their rhetoric and began to emphasize that they would seek more influence within the EU institutions, aiming to transform the EU into a “Europe of nations.” These parties use the European level to increase their visibility and legitimacy by being part of a political group in the European Parliament (EP). Their most prominent political figures, such as Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini, increased their visibility and popularity while serving as MEPs.

In addition to these, we have seen the normalization of far-right-center-right coalitions. Meanwhile, there has been a radicalization of the mainstream, particularly center-right parties. These political trends at the national level may also have implications at the European level, which could be reflected in the upcoming European elections in 2024.


Mainstreaming of the Far Right in European Politics

In a 2014 article, Wagner and Meyer argue that data across Western Europe suggest that mainstream parties have become more similar to the far right in terms of policy positions and issue salience. Also, mainstream accommodation does not lead to declining support for far-right parties. On the other hand, the far right has made efforts to maintain or even increase its distinctiveness from mainstream parties. In the 2000s, the far-right parties introduced more extreme policy positions than in the 1980s.[1] And the participation of the far right in coalition governments, a crucial step in the mainstreaming process , has increased over the last two decades.

The main glue that binds the far-right parties at the European level is their anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, particularly the securitization of migration, especially after the 2015 migration crisis. This has also led to a rapprochement between the center right and the far right in terms of their migration agenda and discourse. Over time, mainstream parties have also securitized migration in order to increase or maintain their votes and to cope with the growing influence of the far right.

The far-right groups in the EP are divided into the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID). The ECR was founded in 2009 and defines itself as a center-right political group “with a common cause to reform the EU based on Eurorealism, respecting the sovereignty of nations.” The ECR believes that “neither federalist fundamentalists nor anti-European abolitionists offer real solutions to the problems faced by Europe today.” After Brexit, the ECR has mostly MEPs from Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS). The ID group has mostly MEPs from Italy’s Lega, France’s National Rally, and Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD). The ID emphasizes “the Greek-Roman and Christian heritage as the pillars of European civilization.” They both emphasize the cultural aspects of European identity rather than the common universal values on which the EU was built.


Foreign Policy as the Main Dividing Line after the Russia-Ukraine War

Despite the increasing collaboration between far-right parties, as observed before the 2019 European elections, the main dividing line lies in their foreign policy approaches, particularly their perceptions of Putin, especially after the Russia-Ukraine war. Members of the ID group have close ties to Putin and are critical of NATO, while the ECR group has a mostly Atlanticist approach. They are in favor of a strong role for NATO and the US in international relations. Anna Fotyga, who is the foreign policy coordinator of the ECR group, said that the bond between Brussels and Washington was the most important partnership in the world. On the other hand, the ID group is more hardline Eurosceptic compared to the ECR, although they have moved closer together, by advocating for a “Europe of nations”, especially after Brexit.

While some far-right leaders like Salvini and Le Pen, have close ties with Putin, others like Giorgia Meloni, who has a more Atlanticist approach, are in favor of supporting Ukraine militarily. Even those who have been closer to Putin, have tried to distance themselves from him after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Le Pen, for instance, had to order the destruction of 1.2 million campaign pamphlets showing her with Putin shaking hands in the Kremlin ahead of the 2022 Presidential elections.[2] Le Pen and Salvini have also changed their approach to Ukrainian asylum seekers, moving away from their anti-immigrant stance after the migration crisis.

After the Russia-Ukraine war, the formerly neutral Finland joined NATO, and the far-right Finns Party, which had been aligned with the ID since 2019, decided to leave and join the ECR. The party’s statement said that the “radical change in Finland’s security policy,” caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine, led the party to “re-examine international cooperation networks.”


Meloni as Pioneer of Far-Right-Center-Right Collaboration

As the largest far-right coalition in Western Europe, including Fratelli d’Italia, Salvini’s Lega, and Berlusconi’s populist right Forza Italia, the current Italian government, was formed in October 2022 under the leadership of Italy’s first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. It is the first far-right-led Italian government since World War II, which is also a crucial example of the mainstreaming of the far right and the normalization of far-right-center-right coalitions.

As Hans Kundnani, a senior researcher at Chatham House, claims, especially after this far-right coalition, we have seen an increasing convergence between the center-right and the far-right. Since coming to power, Meloni has adopted a mostly pro-Western and EU-friendly stance, mainly for economic and strategic reasons, and has begun to try to increase collaboration with center-right parties across Europe. For instance, in early September 2023, she met with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis to cooperate in the fight against irregular migration to Europe.


Wind of Change Before the 2024 European Elections? 

After the Russia-Ukraine war, the “Global Europe” vision has become more dominant in the EU. However, the 2022 elections in France and Italy reflected that “Parochial Europe” is the biggest competitor to this vision.[3] The Russia-Ukraine war, the rising inflation, energy, housing, and food prices, in addition to the fears of irregular migration, are likely to influence the results of the upcoming European elections. For example, there were many demonstrations in France after the recent changes in the retirement age. If these socio-economic problems cannot be solved or at least mitigated by the mainstream parties in power, the far-right parties, especially those in opposition, may benefit more from this conjuncture.

There is a risk of a further rise of Le Pen’s party, the National Rally (NR), whose support has been increasing – the largest party in recent surveys (25 percent). Also, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the second largest party in Germany (21 percent) after the Christian Democrats (CDU-CSU) (27 percent).

The European elections are scheduled for June 6-9, 2024. The results of the national elections reflect the political landscape of the EU member states before the European elections. The results of the last snap elections in Spain this year and the recent elections in Poland on 15 October 2023 were surprising and gave hope for the future of liberal democracy in European politics. In Spain, the far-right party Vox was the third party in the last elections, it lost seats in the parliament and could not reach a majority with the center-right People’s Party (PP).  In Poland, the opposition led by Donald Tusk won enough seats in the parliament to take power from the PiS, which has been in power since 2015, although it is still the largest party in parliament.

The competition between different visions of Europe has been ongoing within the EU. There has been a stronger emphasis on European cultural identity and the protection of European civilization, especially after the migration crisis, which has increased the rapprochement between the far right and the center right in European politics. After the Russia-Ukraine war, the shift in the attitudes of even the far-right parties in favor of accepting a large number of Ukrainian asylum seekers shows that there is a selective “othering” of migrants and refugees.

As a result, the extent to which the challenges, which have increased especially after the migration crisis and the Russia-Ukraine war, will be overcome, the position of the far-right parties in the member states, especially in France and Germany, which are perceived as engines of European integration, and their strength in the EP will influence which vision of Europe will prevail. We will see if the increasing influence of the far right after the 2019 European elections will continue in the next European elections as well.

The last national elections in the Netherlands this November also reflected this trend of increasing influence and mainstreaming of the far right. The far-right PVV led by Geert Wilders, which is part of the ID group, became the largest party after the elections. For the first time since World War II, the largest party in the Netherlands is not from one of the mainstream parties.

These trends in recent European elections reflect that, in addition to the rise and normalization of the far right, there has also been a decline and fragmentation of the mainstream. As Marie Le Pen said, “People prefer the original over the copy”.[4]



[1] Markus Wagner and Thomas M. Meyer, “The Radical Right as Niche Parties? The Ideological Landscape of Party Systems in Western Europe, 1980-2014”, Political Studies Association, Vol.65, 2017, pp.93-98.

[2] Independent, March 2, 2022.

[3] For further detail, see Selcen Öner, “Europe of Populist Radical Right and the Case of Lega of Salvini: Pioneer of a Parochial Europe?”, European Politics and Society, Vol 23, Issue 1, 2022.

[4] Cas Mudde, “The Netherlands Underestimated the Far-Right-and Geert Wilders’ Victory is the Result”, The Guardian, 23 November 2023.

Cover photo: from the left, Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), Gerolf Annemans, current President of European ID-party and Belgian Flemish Vlaams Belang party member, Italian Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini, President of the French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party Marine Le Pen, Veselin Mareshki, founder of Bulgarian Volya (Will) party, Jaak Madison, deputy chairman of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), and leader of the Czech Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) Tomio Okamura. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.)

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn to see and interact with our latest contents.

If you like our stories, events, publications and dossiers, sign up for our newsletter (twice a month).  




Please consider giving a tax-free donation to Reset this year

Any amount will help show your support for our activities

In Europe and elsewhere
(Reset DOC)

In the US
(Reset Dialogues)