Many perils threaten the West. In politics, however, they have only one name: the far right. In the United States, the November presidential election risks leading to the re-election of Donald Trump, a candidate whose total lack of scruples and sincerity, loathing of the law and institutions, fabrication of scapegoats, fanatic supporters, and penchant for verbal and physical violence all bring him closer to the definition of fascism with each passing day.

In Europe, this weekend’s elections – Sunday, June 9, in France – are expected to show the unprecedented pre-eminence of nationalist lists, all of which derive from this xenophobic and racist ideology. These parties, which are in power in several countries and on the cusp of coming to power in others, are displaying a front of harmony and presenting deceptive policies that provide scant illusions about the consequences of their potential takeover of the institutions: The collapse of the Union and its shared values, the weakening of each nation as they are reduced to isolation, and the conflicts that would be added to the war that has once again struck our continent.

In the great loss of direction that characterizes our times, how do we recognize the scale and imminence of a threat? By the vigor with which it is denied. Just as the current climate catastrophe continues to be doubted, this major political threat is constantly being downplayed. Even the term “far right” is now under attack, as political scientists and polemicists compete to find new names that mask these groups’ histories and persistent obsessions. Reputable television channels and newspapers work to break down the last remaining barriers that might hinder the dissemination of ideas that, until recently, were considered shameful. Public opinion, even within the ruling circles, is gradually becoming acclimatized to the feeling that it would not be so serious.

This blindness is disastrous. No matter what words are used, no matter which circumlocutions are made up, this trivialization is based on an immutable axis: The far right continues to build its position on the creation of a scapegoat, on the stigmatization of foreigners and on the rejection of entire categories of the population. Far from defending our nations, this system will only corrupt the foundations of our democracies.

Great historical deception

The nationalist parties contesting the European elections have also largely contributed to this phenomenon of minimizing the risks they represent. Firstly, by suggesting that they would be capable of forming a solidly united front within the European Union’s institutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need only recall how quickly, after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Poland distanced itself from Hungary, a country that it had previously been so close to within the Visegrad group, to realize the extent to which these conglomerates of national egotisms never stay coherent. By withdrawing behind their borders, they inevitably undermine the compromises that are essential to any common policy.

Yet the greatest deception is a historical one. It is that they have managed to make people believe that victory would be a natural outcome at the very moment when strategic decisions are collapsing. In the five years since the last election, the European Union, which is so hated and opposed by each of these parties, has never seemed so useful and necessary. This is obvious in the face of the war Vladimir Putin has unleashed in Ukraine. It is blatantly apparent in the light of China’s rise to power, and perhaps also with regard to the painful adaptations that Donald Trump’s return to the White House would impose. It is just as true when it comes to the risk of new pandemics, as was demonstrated by that of Covid-19, as it is in the face of the climate crisis, even if, on this point, the will to act is dangerously faltering.

The vast majority of Europeans, now that they are witnessing the harmful effects of Brexit – which was sparked off by a clique of politicians who are very close to the far-right candidates vying for their votes on the continent – consider, according to several studies, that their country has benefited from the Union. Despite the errors in its conception, the shortcomings in its way of operating and the current failings of its French-German engine, the EU seems infinitely more relevant today than it was at the beginning of this century.

From this point of view, the transformation of Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister, into a serious player in Brussels, after having been one of its most virulent critics, amounts to an act of surrender. Far less astute, the platform advocated in France by Jordan Bardella, the lead candidate for the Rassemblement National (RN, far-right), is full of false pretenses and contradictions, and seems more like an admission of impotence. Consequently, why would anyone vote, as massively as the opinion polls have been predicting, for parties that have always gone against the logic and the history of the European Union, and that today run counter to the renewed interest that it is generating?

Strategic failure

In France, many factors – social, economic and cultural – might explain the strong store that Bardella is expected to obtain, setting aside the circumstantial enthusiasm that has been built up around his smooth personality. Yet, if we focus solely on the political field, responsibility can be attributed across the entire political spectrum. On the right, the very long story of the strategic, intellectual and moral failure that, over the years, has led to an alignment with the far right’s themes, to the point of seemingly repeating them with only a slight delay, has yet to be written. Despite a dignified campaign, François-Xavier Bellamy can only observe the damage: The right’s position is now occupied; the credibility has changed sides.

A little more to the center, President Emmanuel Macron now has to face the failure of one of his stated objectives – reducing the RN vote and its causes – on his home turf: Europe. Indeed, his strategy over the last few years, which has constantly wavered between condemning and pursuing the far right’s themes, has never effectively compensated for people’s rejections of him as a person and of the way he has exercised power, both of which, according to a number of studies, are major factors behind the protest vote. Likewise, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s awkward over-activity has never been of any help to Valérie Hayer, the lead candidate for the presidential campaign, during this campaign.

Finally, on the left, the problem has come from La France Insoumise (LFI) and the decision taken by its leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, to make the Israel-Palestine conflict into the centerpiece of his party’s European election campaign. While the litany of deaths in Gaza, which has been under bombarded by the Israeli army since the October 7, 2023, massacres committed by Hamas, is certainly atrocious, the imposition of a near-unique theme on the campaign seems just as artificial as when the far right strives to restrict the debate to questions of immigration and security. In addition, numerous provocations and excessive statements have been expressed on this subject, which risks fuelling anti-Semitism, a phenomenon that is by no means “residual” in France, contrary to what Mélenchon has seen fit to put forward. If it persists, this sectarian and cronyist conception of political commitment, which LFI members have reinforced during the campaign by incessant attacks on their main rival, Raphaël Glucksmann, the lead candidate backed by the Socialists, will reduce the left’s chances of coming to power for the long term, all while dangerously reinforcing the chance of legitimizing the far right.

Let’s hope that all this agitation does not distract the countless people who are undecided or indifferent to this election, and that, at the last moment, they can mobilize to ward off, using their ballots, the peril of a European Union paralyzed by the far right.

Le Monde

Translation of an original article published in French on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.