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Europe Votes For A New Parliament With Right Wing Parties Likely To Gain

Voting began for the four-day European parliamentary elections on Thursday, where an estimated 373 million people will exercise their franchise to elect 720 members of the European Parliament. The elections, which are the largest in the world outside India, come in the shadow of the Russia-Ukraine war and the rise of the far-right parties in the 27-member bloc.

Should the far-right increase its influence, as recent exit polls are suggesting, it could mean that the bloc’s stance on the war on Ukraine and other issues such as climate change and migration, could be affected. Observers also suggest that a successful performance by far right parties can impact forthcoming regional and national elections of individual member nations.

Europe needs to fight the Russian threat, say analysts

The over-riding issue confronting Europeans would be the Ukraine war and how Europe could best shore up its defences against the Russian threat, said Klaus Welle, former secretary general of the European Parliament and academic chairman of the Willfried Martens Centre for European Studies. The uncertain geopolitical scenario created by Russia’s war had meant the bloc needed to shore up its defences, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. This combined with the fact that Europe may see the return of an anti-alliance US president in Donald Trump ensured that the bloc had to work on ensuring its own security.

“Russia will not stop at Ukraine. It now sees Central and East Europe as its zone of influence which we have to guard against,” said Welle who added that steps had already been made in this regard. In February this year, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had proposed the role of the defence commissioner who would work towards ramping up the bloc’s military-industrial and defence capacity. Such a role was necessary, said Welle as it would help scale up an industry in a streamlined manner.

“We need to shore up institutions such as the defence committee in the European Parliament in order to increase production capacity in the defence sector. At the moment, there are 27 separate markets which ensures that scaling up centrally has been difficult. The other priority is to build up rail and maritime traffic towards the Baltic nations in the event a direct conflict breaks out with Russia.”

China and the rise of right wing parties in Europe

China is another major area of focus for Europe. China’s industrial over-capacity has concerned Brussels which has taken a harder line towards industrial imports. Professor Gulshan Sachdeva of JNU’s Centre for European Studies, states that the risky business climate with Beijing has already pushed the bloc towards a “derisking strategy” to find alternatives.

He contends this has proved difficult with the European market firmly wedded to China. On other fronts, Europe concedes that China is needed to exert influence on Russia, on the regulation of AI and the Green Deal whereby Europe hopes to be the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.

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Sachdeva believes the growth of far-right parties within Europe will play a major role in deciding to what extent such policies will be shaped. Pointing out that “six countries in Europe (Italy, Finland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and the Czech Republic) already have right-wing governments,” Sachdeva believes “right-wing and conservative parties are likely to make more of an impact in this European election.  The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) is likely to get about 170 seats, the left-leaning Socialist and Democrats 142, Renew Europe 76, while right-wing groups may make up 145-150 seats together.”  If these far-right groups come together, policies like migration, climate change and even Ukraine may be affected. Europe could emerge as a conservative right-wing continent post polls.

European Union and India   

As for India-Europe, Lorenzo Parrulli of the EU Delegation to India said convergence in the key areas of security and defence, climate change, and technology will continue as before.

“Things are going forward regardless of who will be the next prime minister here. There are different topics. Security and defence is one area. There is interest from both sides. Earlier, the European Union and India held their second consultations on security and defence in New Delhi on May 6 at the working level. Military-to-military exchanges have increased and India and the EU carried out joint naval operations last year to reinforce joint maritime security,” said Parrulli adding that much more was on the anvil.  “Discussions have also been made on defence industrial relations. In energy and climate talks are on for projects in renewable energy, green hydrogen and there is interest for both sides to develop this further into a potential green deal.”

Parulli also pointed to the establishment of an India-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) in 2023. This is Europe’s second such endeavour with any nation, the first one being with the US, and will help provide a roadmap towards convergence of digital technologies, green and clean energy and building up trade investment and resilient supply chains.

Interesting to note that a recent EU paper said the “TTC is part of a joint effort to steer the EU and India closer towards strategic autonomy by reducing the EU’s dependence on China, and India’s reliance on Russia.”

Taking the relationship forward

But there remain challenges especially with regard to the FTA now being negotiated. Pharma, agricultural tariffs, copyright issues and labour rights have proved a hindrance. India has so far signed 14 FTAs with various countries and regions and it is notable that relations have deepened significantly post this. What is also interesting is that India has signed a Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA) with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in March. None of the four European nations who are part of EFTA are part of the EU.