EU vote: what could far-right gains mean for human rights?

Spanish far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal and president of the France's National Rally party Marine Le Pen attend a rally organised by the Vox party ahead of the European elections, in Madrid, Spain, May 19, 2024. REUTERS/Ana Beltran

Spanish far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal and president of the France's National Rally party Marine Le Pen attend a rally organised by the Vox party ahead of the European elections, in Madrid, Spain, May 19, 2024. REUTERS/Ana Beltran

What’s the context?

After far-right gains in European elections, rights activists raise concerns over effect on migration, climate, rights policies

  • Far-right parties make gains in European elections
  • Fears that shift to right will affect policies
  • Concerns over migration, climate, women's rights

BRUSSELS - Four days of voting in Europe have shifted the political centre to the right, with far-right parties on track to win just under a quarter of seats in the European Parliament.

While centrist parties remain in the majority, human rights advocates fear that a right-leaning parliament could stall or even roll back progress in certain areas.

Far-right parties campaigned to toughen up asylum policy, soften climate ambitions and boost "traditional” family values, while also capitalising on public discontent with high prices because of inflation. 

Here's how the election results could affect European Union action on major human rights issues:

Green deal

The EU has sought to take a leading global role in adopting green targets meant to tackle climate change, notably with its landmark "Green Deal" package of environmental policies.

But despite the acceleration of climate change, and the deadly toll of floods and wildfires in Europe last year, these ambitious policies have triggered fierce opposition, notably from farmers angered by an earnings squeeze they blame partly on policies to help transition away from fossil fuels.

While many of the Green Deal policies are already in place, new laws curbing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions will be up for review in the next five years and pushing through any new policies might be tougher under a right-leaning parliament.

Climate campaigners also point to the massive investment needed to enable industry and households to scale up renewable energy, green tech and energy-saving renovations to achieve Europe's goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

"The money question will be a decisive debate," said Cornelia Maarfield, head of energy at CAN Europe, which is calling for a doubling of the EU budget so that the Green Deal can be implemented.

And she stressed that the money must be clearly directed to industries that are committed to a transition out of fossil fuels.    

"We need the money to go to the right companies that are really able to create new well-paid, secure jobs in the green economy."

Another policy that could come under pressure in a new parliament is the plan to ban new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, which is unpopular on the right. That policy has a 2026 review clause, on which the Parliament will get a say.

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Refugees and asylum

The EU had hoped its EU migration and asylum pact, approved in May, might knock the wind out of the sails of far-right parties campaigning on an anti-migrant ticket but now the newly elected far-right parliamentarians might want tougher restrictions. 

Far-right parties are likely to support new deals to process asylum applications in non-EU countries, and promote further strengthening of the bloc's external borders, which rights advocates say raises the risk of violent pushbacks.

"European migration politics is already more right-wing than it has ever been," said Giulia Messmer, spokesperson for search and rescue NGO Sea-Watch in an emailed statement. "The new EU Parliament will capitalise on this and have unseen opportunities to deprive people on the move of their rights."

Womens' rights

Efforts to get sexual and reproductive health, including access to abortion, included within the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, may face opposition from more conservative forces that advocate for "traditional" family values.

In April, the outgoing parliament called on the Commission to include the right to abortion in the EU's Fundamental Rights Charter, and campaigners launched a petition calling for an EU fund to help women access abortion care regardless of where they live.

French senator Melanie Vogel, who was a major driving force behind the bill to make abortion a constitutional right in France, said her experience of guiding a progressive bill through a conservative-led senate offers a valuable lesson.

"When they get organised and unite, (women) can make everything possible," Vogel told Context.

"If the French senate cannot resist this (pressure from women), then there is big hope for the European Union as well."

LGBTQ+ equality

The swing to the right has not been as strong as predicted, meaning there will be parliamentary majorities in favour of fundamental rights, Brussels-based LGBTQ+ rights group ILGA-Europe said. 

However, far-right parties allied with their national counterparts in EU governments, who also decide spending priorities, could seek to block EU funding to rights groups representing the LGBTQ+ community, and the greater prominence of socially conservative forces could also fuel anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment across the 27-nation bloc, it warned.

"The extreme hostility and polarisation we have seen throughout the campaign is alarming and confirms our data on the rise of hate and violence yet again," ILGA-Europe said in an emailed statement, adding that protection against hate speech and crimes needs to be high up on the EU agenda.

AI Revolution

The next batch of EU lawmakers will have to tackle the explosive expansion of artificial intelligence and the fallout for workers. 

More than a quarter of jobs in the OECD bloc of wealthy nations are threatened by automation, and eastern European countries are the most exposed according to OECD estimates.

The EU's new rules on AI will apply from the second half of 2025 and although the act is the world's first comprehensive regulation on AI, it does not address worker concerns about management by algorithm

Digital rights campaigners note that far-right politicians have not been vocal in defending workers' rights in this area.

"They pretend to protect people, but at the end of the day, they favour big industry," said Claire Fernandez, executive director of EDRi, a Brussels-based digital rights group. 

(Reporting by Joanna Gill; Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile)

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