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Right wing ascendance to EU mainstream could impact Canada trade, climate policy

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he's taking an optimistic approach after Europeans made a lurch to the far-right in continental elections that could impact Canada's trade and climate policies.
A lurch to the far-right in this past weekend's Europe-wide elections could have implications for Canada's trade and climate policy. The first provisional results for the European Parliament elections are projected on a large screen during an election event at the European Parliament in Brussels, Sunday, June 9, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Harry Nakos

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he's taking an optimistic approach after Europeans made a lurch to the far-right in continental elections that could impact Canada's trade and climate policies.

"It shows that the far-right is becoming more mainstream across Europe," said Achim Hurrelmann, co-director of the Centre for European Studies at Carleton University.

"They have really now become a persistent part of party systems, that we need to reckon with."

Far-right parties surged in this past weekend's vote for the European Parliament, taking share from mainstream parties across the continent through a system of proportional representation.

French President Emmanuel Macron made a surprise call for early legislative elections after his party suffered a heavy loss to the far-right National Rally party, which gained 31 per cent of votes. Some 16 per cent of German votes went to the extreme-right Alternative for Germany, despite a series of scandals and accusations of racism.

Hurrelmann said countries like Italy and Austria also saw strong growth in support for parties that were previously deemed fringe, but have recently struck a more moderate tone.

"Far-right parties do now exist as a meaningful political force, in most of the (EU) member states," he said.

Hurrelmann said this past weekend's vote comes at a time when there are challenges across the continent in addressing concerns around the cost of living and immigration.

The results are influenced by unique factors in each country, Hurrelmann said, and he argued the high support in France and Germany amount to a protest vote against those two governments.

But he said some issues percolate across the continent, such as the cost of the war in Ukraine, and the argument that letting Russia proceed with its invasion might lower high gas prices.

He noted that the European Green Deal includes carbon-reduction policies that are in line with Canadian policies, but there is a rise in parties across the continent that want to reform that project.

"The most interesting field to watch is probably climate-change policy," he said.

Last November, Canada and the EU declared they were in a "steadily deepening partnership" focused on working for global stability, fighting climate change and upholding human rights.

But Hurrelmann said growing populism could see a more insular approach from Europe, particularly if American voters return Donald Trump to the White House on promises to disregard global rules and institutions.

"We are already seeing in Europe more tendencies towards actually looking out for Europe's interests, as opposed to primarily trying to protect the rules-based international order," he said.

"That could be quite problematic for Canada, if Europe is no longer this uncompromising ally for Canadian priorities."

On Monday, Trudeau reacted to the results in France, noting that "a rise of populist right-wing forces" is occurring in most democracies.

"It is of concern to see political parties choosing to instrumental anger, fear, division anxiety," he told reporters in Quebec City.

"My approach has always been to respond to it, to understand it and to look to solve it," he said, arguing Canadians would prefer that approach "rather than just allow themselves to have their anger amplified, without any solutions offered."

The Conservatives have repeatedly argued that rising frustration in Canada is the result of Liberal policies that they say have caused economic problems.

Hurrelmann also noted that the results of the French election could put strains on Canada's free-trade deal with the European Union. In March, France's senate rejected the agreement that has been provisionally in force since 2017, while a handful of other countries have yet to fully implement the deal.

Canada's ambassador to the EU, Ailish Campbell, said last month that the provisional implementation has worked well, and she suggested signing that same deal today might not be possible due to rising protectionism in Europe in recent years.

"It was incredibly prescient that we concluded this agreement when we did," she told the Senate foreign-affairs committee on May 30.

"This is the EU's homework as to how they ratify this agreement, and they should take however much time they need to get this process right, because the agreement is really working well."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2024.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press