Rise of the Right: Impact of Italy and Germany on the EU institutional process
Text | Helena Walsh, Caterina Woudenberg
Date | 25 January 2024
Read | 5 min
Helena Walsh
Caterina Woudenberg
In this spotlight piece we look at the rise of the right in Italy and Germany, what effect this can have on European politics, and what this means for Public Affairs in Europe.
As we approach the centenary of the most calamitous decade in European history, the long shadow of nationalism and populism looms over Europe once more: far-right parties are gaining ground across the continent, particularly in Italy and Germany. Fuelled by a mix of economic, social and political factors, the election of, and continued rise of far-right parties has raised questions about European democracy. It also impacts the EU’s political landscape and ability to achieve consensus-driven reforms across Europe in times when regulation is already playing catch-up with industrial, technological and environmental developments.  In 2022, Italy elected Giorgia Meloni as prime minister, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), a party with direct historical links to Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party. In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has seen both a steady rise in popularity, polling first between 32% and 37% in every East German state except Berlin, and an increasing radicalisation, with the domestic intelligence agency placing the party under surveillance as a suspected extremist group pursuing unconstitutional goals in 2021.
Expected impact on EU policy
Slower advancement on progressive policiesfar-right parties are often opposed to measures such as environmental protection, social welfare programs, gender equality, refugee protection and minority rights – during the Von der Leyen Commission, this would have for instance led to significantly fewer Green Deal policies making it through co-decision as fast as they did.
Harder stance on immigrationa key demand of these parties across the board, the far-right will likely influence a harder stance towards EU policy on immigration, border controls and the free movement of labour.
Less ambition in scope of EU legislationthe farright will likely use its weight to ensure a minimalist scope of EU legislation without interfering with national-level legislation. This can be problematic in situations where policy harmonisation is required to address fragmented markets. For instance, a stronger far-right would have pushed for giving oversight and enforcement competences in the Digital Markets Act to national authorities rather than the European Commission, which might have sparked a regulatory race to the bottom among national authorities trying to attract business.
Slower crisis responseWhere the EU has proven its worth by acting swiftly in emerging crisis situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the increased political weight of the far-right will make it more diffcult to quickly agree on cohesive responses to emergencies.
European Commission reshuffle
Although 2024 may mark the first time the European Union has an all-female leadership team (European Commission, Council and Parliament Presidents) the impact of the far-right will still be felt in the Union’s executive, the European Commission, whose members are nominated by national governments. A rightward shift in the composition of the European Commission is to be expected due to the current influence of the far-right on many governments at national level, notably in Italy.

While Commissioners nominated by “illiberal” governments such as Hungary and Poland would not be a novelty in the halls of the Berlaymont, a Commissioner hailing from a far-right movement would greatly influence the Commission’s policy proposals. Where the far-right is part of a coalition government, such as in Italy, there is the possibility that the government may put forward a more moderate candidate for the Commissioner role – for Italy, former Commissioner, President of the European Parliament and current Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani could be such a choice. Nevertheless, as long as the Commission President remains moderate, the expectation is that Commissioners veering towards the edges of the political spectrum are likely to receive less significant portfolios.
What this means for EU
Public Affairs
Just like what is playing out across the Atlantic, stakeholders in Europe need to start reflecting on their approach to public affairs going forward. Depending on the outcome come June, companies may find themselves having to make the following decision, whether to:

engage with previously deprioritised political stakeholder groups taking into the account potential reputational risk; or

stick with their current approach risking a reduced ability to influence in the next legislature.