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Anti-Establishment Pressure Builds as EU Elections Loom

Will 2024 see a repetition of the 2016 Brexit-Trump dual victory?


For the first time in two decades, the EU’s parliamentary elections will coincide with America’s presidential election. The West’s great democracies could, theoretically, deliver a systemic shock reminiscent of the Brexit-Trump dual victory in 2016.

This idea warrants some context. The establishment European People’s Party (EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen’s party grouping) and Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats will almost certainly retain the top two positions in the parliament. 


Euro-watchers are accustomed to seeing lopsided votes on topics that should inspire disagreement: from the treatment of dissenting Central European states, to abortion and sexual education of children, to the ever-present migration issue. (The EU lacks constitutional competencies in most or, arguably, all of these matters.) Vote tallies often reach three-quarters or more for the establishment consensus side. Don’t expect this to change fundamentally after June’s elections.

Despite this legislative dominance, establishment voices are uncomfortable with the winds of public opinion. Journalists and politicians have bemoaned the specter of the “far right,” as various right-leaning parties look set to improve on their 2019 performance and narrow the federalists’ parliamentary majority.

An AP News report proclaimed, “Far-right parties…are threatening the democratic values that underpin European unity and the EU itself.” A recent Reuters article claimed, “Many [far-right] parties are heavy users of social media, which mainstream groups warn will bombard EU voters with lies.”

These narratives suggest that the right isn’t just blameworthy for winning votes; it deserves contempt for participating in the process at all. A report in bne IntelliNews (a media outlet that contracts with the U.S. federal government) laments, “Central Europe’s populists now want to spread their model to the rest of the EU, and believe that the European Parliamentary elections in June will be a decisive step towards that goal.” Ostensibly piqued by democratic coalition-building, a writer from EUobserver (funded by, among others, the left-wing Tides Foundation and EU NGO-donor Adessium Foundation) warned, “Orbán-backed think-tank courts farmers linked to far-right ahead of elections.”

Anne Applebaum—whom another writer for The American Conservative labeled a “prominent spokeswoman of the neoliberal order”—once invited the political participation that now so offends her milieu. Writing in 2020, at a different moment in European politics, she scoffed, “At no point did the Brexiteers seek to achieve their goal without a referendum vote.” The assertion that the EU apparatus might be reformed is a dubious one. What isn’t dubious is the United Kingdom’s newfound ability to enact legislation like the Rwanda asylum plan, a measure that would have been unthinkable under the watchful eye of Brussels.


The threat of deportation is driving UK-based illegal migrants and failed asylum seekers to Ireland, which was already grappling with migrant crime and housing crises and the Irish people’s newfound willingness to dissent over such matters. Thousands marched in Dublin on May 6 to protest the country’s immigration policies; rather than acknowledge the citizenry’s frustrations, establishment voices have continued belittling them. Among the recent developments on the protesters’ minds was the court case of a young migrant who followed a woman into a Dublin bar bathroom, sexually assaulted her, and maintained consent because he said “Please.” The man claims to be from Somalia but lacks documentation and was previously denied asylum in four other EU countries. Precedent suggests his sentence will be light and deportation unlikely. The story is all too common, predictable, and indicative of a broken European system, one Brussels is unwilling to address.

By contrast, EU bureaucrats are eager to bolster friends and allies. On May 6, von der Leyen announced the European Commission would close Article 7 proceedings (which allow the EU to take punitive actions against member states) against Poland. “I congratulated PM Donald Tusk and his government on this important breakthrough,” she noted. Tusk’s government has not passed any meaningful legislation or reforms, but it has committed misdeeds that would be labeled rule-of-law breaches under any normal circumstances. This includes the seizure of the public television headquarters, arrest of political opponents, and harsh anti-protest measures. Recently, the government has refused to acknowledge President Andrzej Duda’s constitutional right to approve Poland’s European Commission nomination. Applebaum’s husband and noted warhawk Radosław Sikorski looks likely to be that body’s new Commissioner for Defense. 

Elected leaders often lack this institutional support. Five months after winning parliamentary elections, Dutch populist Geert Wilders is still trying to form a government. “Wilders [and] other extremist forces…want to destroy Europe,” asserted von der Leyen. Some Dutch political figures are advocating for longtime EU commissioner Frans Timmermans, whose Green-Labor coalition finished second, to form a government in defiance of the voters’ will. It’s a delicate game, as polls suggest Wilders would win by an even larger margin in a revote.

In Slovakia, which endured nearly a year without an elected government, voters delivered populist Robert Fico his fourth stint as prime minister, in an unequivocal rejection of establishment rule. Faced with a chance to check Fico’s power, Slovak voters instead chose the generally pro-government Peter Pellegrini over a pro-Brussels contender in last month’s presidential contest. Predictably, the EU bureaucracy has grown disenchanted with the country’s democratic process. The European Commission has threatened Bratislava with sanctions resembling those levied against Hungary and Poland.

In Brussels itself, last month’s disruption of the National Conservatism conference was a brazen assault on speech rights. (This author has attended NatCon Brussels and can confirm it is a distinctly unthreatening, wonkish affair.) Brussels police mustered resources to stifle the conference despite the city’s spiraling violent crime and ethnic gang warfare. In Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, the narrator muses, “In Brussels, more than in any other European capital, you felt on the edge of civil war.” The authorities presumably would rather harass political opponents than confront this reality.

The real-life Houellebecq opined that his native “France is an independent country, more or less, and will become so again as soon as the European construction is dissolved (the sooner the better).” In the meantime, the populist right is playing by the EU leviathan’s rules. Rest assured it won’t be afforded an even playing field—or even bare civility.