• Widespread EU “pitchfork” protests continued this week
  • The far right is surging in the polls
  • The EU is on course to become ungovernable

Although scarcely reported in the UK press, if you reside in any one of a number of continental cities, you’re well aware that a “siege” of sorts has been underway this week. Farmers, joined in some cases by lorry drivers and others, are expressing their disapproval of the latest round of subsidy cuts that they say would threaten European food affordability and security.

I’ve written prior of these “pitchfork”-style protests, which began in the Netherlands several years ago and have now spread throughout the EU. With multiple elections on the way this year, such protests are likely to continue.

But for EU citizens, there is one election that seems now of much greater importance: that for the European Parliament.

Previously relegated to second-tier political status, with engagement and participation lower than for national elections, recent polls indicate that this is now changing. European issues are taking on greater importance in voters’ minds.

As reported in the Guardian earlier this month:

According to a Eurobarometer poll of 27,000 people published in December, 57% of voters are interested in the elections, six points more than in the run-up to the previous European elections in 2019, and 68% intend to vote – up nine points.

As professional pollsters know, large changes in voter turnout can be indicative of changing voting patterns. For example, if a large group of voters who were previously not engaged, for whatever reason, are suddenly motivated by an issue, they might pull the overall vote sharply left or right of where polls would have placed it based on prior election results.

For those European politicians on the left or in the centre, this is worrying, as indications are that this new EU voter engagement is concentrated largely on the far right. As reported by Politico last week:

The populist right will surge at the EU election in June, a new poll for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) forecasted.

The poll, published Wednesday, suggests big gains for the far-right Identity & Democracy faction, which could gain 40 seats for a total of 98, becoming the European Parliament’s third-largest group. The right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group is also expected to make gains.

What started out as “pitchfork” protests are thus on course to change the composition of the European Parliament from as early as June this year.

The Politico article goes on to say that the far-right Identity and Democracy Party is unlikely to be able to form a majority coalition with other right-leaning groups, but the general rise in right-wing voting patterns is likely to hamper any new EU Commission initiatives to further expand EU powers.

And as the Guardian article above goes on to conclude, “A right-wing surge in Parliament may hinder green policies, affect foreign affairs and boost pro-Russia representation, with Kremlin-backing Bulgarian party Revival on track to win three seats and enter the Parliament, the new poll suggests.”

Indeed, it does. But then this is what the current pitchfork protests appear to be all about: pushback against the encroachment of EU powers into multiple areas where they are seen as unwelcome and outright undemocratic.

Given that farmers are currently in the driver’s seat – quite literally, as their tractors blockade major cities – any further EU “green” or other climate initiatives are likely to be dead in the political water. This could provide a boost for the traditional energy sector. Other European industries affected by such policies might also benefit from a relaxation of certain restrictions or the need to purchase carbon credits to offset their activities.

But it is also worth noting that there is an important foreign-policy angle here. As the Guardian says above, there is rising anti-war and Russia-friendly sentiment too. Hungary, in particular, has refused to agree to sending any more EU aid to Ukraine.

The Financial Times recently reported that the EU Commission has been plotting in secret to cause a Hungarian economic and financial crisis unless it relents on its current Ukraine aid veto. If EU voters needed any more reason to become more politically engaged, the idea that an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels has the power to ruin your economy if you happen to disagree on foreign policy is about as good as it gets.

Perhaps democracy isn’t dead after all. It is just taking on a more populist, grass-roots form than the technocrats in Brussels would prefer. If the trend continues, then someday a right-wing EU Parliamentary coalition may begin work to outright unwind some of the EU Commission’s assumed powers. If it comes to that, the EU will become increasingly ungovernable and national governments will reassume some of their traditional importance.

Until next time,

John Butler,
Investment Director, Fortune & Freedom