Policy paper N°296

The European Green Deal in the face of rising radical right-wing populism

Quote this article
Thalberg K., Defard C., Chopin T., Barbas A. & Kerneïs K. « The European Green Deal in the face of rising radical right-wing populism», Policy Paper n. 296, Paris : Jacques Delors Institute, January 2024

The continuous implementation of the European Green Deal will take place in an increasingly challenging geopolitical, social, and economic environment. Meanwhile, radical right-wing populist parties are gaining ground across the Union. Above the factors that traditionally have explained the populist moment, the success of these political forces today is part of a very specific European context characterised by a strong pessimism about the socio-economic situation as a result of the consequences of recent health, geopolitical and energy crises.

In this context, the strengthening of the radical right can partially be interpreted as an expression of mistrust in institutions and traditional political parties’ ability to respond to citizens’ fears in the face of both domestic and international insecurities. Implementing the European Green Deal will require substantial transformations of our fossil-based societies, which can create high levels of uncertainties among the population (concerning jobs, mobility, affordability, quality of life, etc.). The radical right’s increasing instrumentalization of energy, climate and environmental policy for electoral purposes can be understood against this background.

In the face of uncertainties and fears, the radical right weaves opposition towards the European Green Deal into their nationalist, anti-immigration, and identity narratives. They furthermore put a strong emphasis on negative distributional impacts that green policies could have. Lessons from Member States with a strong presence of radical right populist parties show that their rise is partly an expression of political frustration in the face of deteriorating living conditions as well as the fear of downward social mobility. In response, radical right parties turn the regard inwards towards the protection of national interests and against ‘Brussels interference’. These positions are reflected in votes on European Green Deal files in the European Parliament by the two party groups that gather the conservative and radical right, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID).

As recent elections in Member States indicate further strengthening of the radical right ahead of the European Parliament elections in June 2024, heads-of-states, and the European People’s Party have shown signs of increasing ambivalence towards the European Green Deal’s ambition and implementation. However, to prevent further instrumentalization of green policies by the radical right and ensure continued climate ambition, it is urgent to develop an alternative narrative for the European Green Deal accompanied by concrete policy responses centred on building trust. In the face of Eurosceptic discourses, the EU needs to show that it contributes, together with the Member States, to provide solutions through joint responses based on solidarity. Here, it is essential to initiate policies and governance mechanisms that are able to ensure that citizens and stakeholders can trust that individual and collective concerns are acknowledged by EU policymakers to confidently engage in the green transition.

To that end, the European Green Deal should better integrate mechanisms for support, protection, and dialogue to improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of climate and energy policies and build trust in our collective ability to realise a mutually beneficial green transition. This policy paper recommends the implementation of mechanisms to:

  1. Offer support and protection based on differentiated capacity to change, and differentiated impacts of the transition, including through an increased EU budget to fund clean infrastructure programmes, a truly European green industrial policy, and to strengthen support for vulnerable households and regions, as well as an active employment and skills policies.
  2. Develop more open, interactive, and inclusive governance to favour quality dialogue, including through enhanced access to quality energy data supporting quality policy evaluation, improved stakeholder dialogues with policymakers to provide policy input from the ground, and citizen assemblies as a way to keep exploring socially acceptable green policy designs.