Populist parties on course to win the third of European Parliament seats could use their power to sabotage a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal, it is claimed.
The independent think-tank the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has warned May’s Euro-elections are a “make or break” event for the bloc with far-right, anti-establishment set to make huge gains.
Many parties on the rise are plotting to destroy the European project from within, ECFR says, and, if they choose to work together, could vote against a trade deal between the UK and Brussels.
With a third of the seats, a new populist grouping advocating a return to a “Europe of the nations” could appoint four EP vice-presidents and, ECFR claims, attempt to frustrate climate change policies, withdraw cash from NATO and block sanctions on Russia.
Britain, which is set to withdraw from the EU on March 29, will be powerless to stop them
A poll of polls in the report shows parties such as Italy Lega Nord and Five Star Movement, Germany’s AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) and Poland’s PiS (Law and Justice) are among the populist parties set to win new seats.
Jude Kirton-Darling, Labour MEP for the North East, said the report “clearly and systematically addresses how the far right, in particular, is hoping to wreak havoc in the EU”.
She added: “It would be deeply ironic if the forces encouraged and nurtured by hard Brexiteers, both Tory and UKIP, in the European Parliament wrought that havoc on a future EU-UK trade deal crushing forever their Brexit promises.”
It came as May was in the final throes of securing a withdrawal agreement that MPs can agree to, with last-minute negotiations with the EU underway this week.
Should the prime minister finally succeed, all thoughts will turn to the future relationship Britain will have with the EU.
But the ECFR report highlights how fraught the path to carving out a new trade deal could be, and how it may not be British eurosceptics who thwart it but populist forces on the continent.
Its policy experts have analysed populist parties’ manifestos and the “top threats” to the EU status quo.
The EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy) grouping, once dominated by Nigel Farage’s UKIP, is set to grow its share of seats despite Britain’s exit from the bloc, with AFD and Italy’s Five Star Movement projected to boost numbers.
The hard-right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) is also set to get larger, with the help of Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France.
There is a “silent majority” of pro-Europeans on the continent, the think-tank claims, and says parties who wanted to wrest debate from populists should refuse coalition deals and focus on security, defence and jobs.
Mark Leonard, director of the think-tank, said the report should “concentrate the minds of pro-Europeans”.
He said: “They must not become trapped into becoming defenders of the status quo in Europe or allowing the election to become a referendum on the issue of migration – which is exactly the battleground that the anti-Europeans want.
“Instead, pro-Europeans need to unmute the silent majority by fighting different elections that Europe’s different publics will vote on –such as the climate change election, the ‘Facebook’ election for those concerned for their data and privacy, the election for those worried about Russian aggression, the prosperity election for those worried about stalled living standards, the rule of law election for those worried about democratic backsliding, and the ‘’saving Europe’ election for the EU’s most ardent defenders.”