AfD knows eurosceptical voters don’t want ‘nice’ Right, they want real Right

In case you are in any doubt, Alice Weidel, co-leader of AfD, is pointing real Right: (Photo by Arnd Wiegmann/Getty Images)


There are currently three groups in the European Parliament on the right side of the political spectrum: the European People’s Party (EPP), a centre-right establishment group, the European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR) a more eurosceptical centre and Right group composed of both nationalists and more establishment-friendly right-populists, and the Identity & Democracy group (ID), who are nationalists and right-wing, and sometimes very right-wing.

But reports have emerged that Germany’s populist-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which Marine Le Pen forced out of ID, is planning on creating yet another right-wing European Parliament group with other anti-establishment Right parties, among them Poland’s Confederation and Slovakia’s Republic Movement.

Such a group could have about 30 members and may be called “The Sovereignists” (though its political enemies keep calling it the Hooligans, which some in marketing may suggest is a street cred name worth keeping).

The new group would be small but would be the fourth on the Right side of the spectrum, the third on the populist-right (after the ECRs and the IDs), and the second openly eurosceptic (after the IDs).

The creation of such a group will pose a problem for European Right, but it will particularly cause heartburn for the IDs. Though it will start small, the Sovereignists could seriously threaten the existence of the ID group in the long term. To ward off the threat, the IDs will need to react quickly.

There is of course a question as to whether the group can even form. To create a group in the parliament, 23 members must agree to join from seven countries. The AfD alone can deliver 14 members, so that moves things along, but until the agreement is made, the Sovereignists remain unofficial. It is likely however it will make the cut.

There are lots of small Eurosceptic-right parties with a handful of seats here and there who could join, plus some who are currently in the IDs could feasibly also join the group. There are also many non-inscrits, parties which are not part of a group, such as Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Direction – Social Democracy, though it is unclear if they would join. 

If the Sovereignists does manage to form, the problems for the Right will become immediately apparent. The wider Right, as discussed above, is already split in three. This split has been a longstanding problem, but it has been somewhat unavoidable due to the nature of the European political system.

A spectrum of right-wing views is normal. The exact same splits (establishment-friendly moderates, populist-right conservatives, and extreme sceptics) exist in the American Right, for example. But there the entire spectrum is located within the Republican Party, meaning once primaries are over, the party usually comes together to work as one.

In the European Union, with different groupings, each is ultimately forced to compete with one another in general elections and, once elected, in national and European parliaments.

This is a shame, as – though numbers are still in flux – the entire right-of-centre spectrum could feasibly have close to a majority in the European Parliament (or even a tiny majority). But being forced into political warfare has hardened differences between the Right blocs which otherwise would not need to exist.

Why these differences exist is something of a blame game. It is partially due to the EPP’s intransigence when it comes to actually conserving things which do not help big banks. Many in the EPP are also desperate to remain in the good graces of centrists and centre-leftists. After the rise of Green politics in 2019, the EPP was desperate to prove its Green bona fides as much as their centrist and centre-left friends.

But it is also partially due to the nature of different types of nationalism. Some in the ECR have taken a European or Western nationalist approach, like Italy’s Giorgia Meloni.

Many in the ID grouping, by contrast, have taken a “small” nationalist approach, focusing on their own countries — which has been extremely helpful for them, as many ID members have made large strides. Austria’s Freedom Party is set to win their parliamentary elections in September, and France’s National Rally is on cusp of securing control of that country’s parliament.

The problem for the IDs is that they are, slowly, trying to be just a bit more friendly to establishment, which is why Marine Le Pen of the National Rally was chiefly responsible for kicking the AfD out of the ID group.

Plus, as many of the ID parties are getting close to governing for the first time (no ID-affiliated party has yet run a country) they will have to moderate, even a bit. Many will have to be in coalitions to have power, and even those who can govern without coalitions – as President of France, Le Pen would have a lot of power on her own accord – will still have to moderate in order to make policy.

And this is a problem because of the nature of the hypothetical new Sovereignists grouping. None of them are remotely close to holding power, and all are hyper-focused on euroscepticism. This will squeeze the IDs, who were once the “bad boys” of the European Right. If Eurosceptical voters are presented with ultra-Eurosceptics and Eurosceptics who are sort of “nicer,” they will likely not go with the latter. 

The Tea Party movement, an early 2010s populist movement in the Republican Party, learned this the hard way in 2016. Two of their champions, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, were easily pushed aside by then-political newcomer Donald Trump.

Though Cruz and Rubio had worked for populist Tea Party movement policies for years, Trump, bursting onto the scene right before the presidential election, was far more willing to overthrow the status quo. Voters quickly moved to Trump, who moved from 3% in the polls to winning the party’s nomination and the presidency.

The IDs should make no mistake: if they allow themselves to be outmanoeuvred by a further-right grouping, the same could happen to them.

Because should a new group appear, it is clear where they would fit on the European Right of the political spectrum. The EPP are the centre/centre-right. The ECRs are the right-populists looking to build power in Brussels. The Sovereigntists would be the ones who want to tear it all down.

That leaves the ID boxed out and requires them to act quickly; once they are “out-right-ed,” it will be difficult for them to reverse the damage. Major political successes could help, but that requires actually winning elections, not just getting close. The Sovereignists could also of course fall flat on their faces. The AfD particularly has a history of doing so.

But it is never politically astute to simply hope your opponent makes a mistake. The smarter move for the IDs would be to come forward with a clear plan for what they want Europe to look like. As opposed to the Left and centre, which is happy to leave things vague, they should clearly delineate where Brussels’ power starts and where it should end. They want to be the real conservatives: voters should be made to understand exactly what it is they want to conserve.

The result could be gaining votes not based on anger over leftist failures, but on being inspired by the ID’s vision of the future.