The Last Debate Before the EU Elections: No Candidate from the Right

In the final debate before the upcoming EU elections, the absence of right-wing candidates highlighted the ideological divides as leading candidates tackled pressing issues like security, migration, and the rise of populism

by Sededin Dedovic
The Last Debate Before the EU Elections: No Candidate from the Right
© Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Two weeks before the European elections, the leading candidates for the European Parliament elections held their third and final TV debate. They met in the plenary hall of the European Parliament in Brussels. Citizens from the capitals of the other 26 member states participated, primarily young people interested in politics.

The main topics discussed were EU security, the rise in popularity of right-wing parties and migration. European security was a concern for young people, and one of their questions was whether money should now be spent on their own security and not on Ukraine.

Walter Bayer, the main candidate of the left from Austria, reminded everyone that NATO is already spending 1.3 trillion euros on its defense. That's more than China and Russia combined, he said. On the other hand, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, emphasized that security in Europe is also defended in Ukraine: "Ukraine defends our values, so we must first support Ukraine, but also improve our own defense." Terry Reintke, the main candidate of the Green Party, declared the rise of right-wing populists and their closeness to Russia as the biggest threat to Europe.

Europe cannot afford to have "the long arm of Putin" in the European Parliament, she said. Numerous right-wing parties advocate pro-Russian positions, and some deputies are suspected of receiving money from Moscow, she asserted.

Right-wing parties without representatives in the debate

The discussion did not mention the exclusion of the AfD from its parliamentary group in the European Parliament. There should have been seven candidates on the podium, because there are so many factions in the parliament.

However, two right-wing groups, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), did not send representatives because they reject the concept of leading candidates for EU membership. They stand for a "Europe of nations" and have only national candidates.

Their absence meant that viewers could not hear a wider range of opinions that would certainly have benefited the debate. So, apart from von der Leyen, who is considered to belong to the left wing of the CDU, there were four politicians of the left spectrum on the stage.

Ursula von der Leyen, member of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) and President of the European Commission© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Nevertheless, the participants discussed how to deal with the law.

Von der Leyen has been criticized for not ending cooperation with right-wing parties such as Italian Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni's Fratelli D'Italia. "I worked very well with Giorgio Meloni in the Council of Europe, as well as with all the other heads of state and government," said the leading candidate of the EPP group.

Meloni was clearly for Europe and against Putin, she added. "And for the rule of law - we work together," von der Leyen said. Once again, she stated the criteria by which cooperation with the right is possible: the parties must be pro-European, pro-Ukrainian and for the rule of law.

"If you look at the National Alliance or the AfD, they all have one thing in common: they are Putin's friends and they want to destroy Europe," von der Leyen said.

A huge euro logo© Ralph Orlowski / Getty Images

Emotional debate on the migration deal

The debate with around 900 guests in the studio was lively and intense, and the guests spoke out especially when it came to the role of the EU in the Gaza Strip.

The pact on migration was also emotionally discussed. Nicolas Schmit, the main candidate of the Social Democrats, opposed the thesis that the pact on migration will primarily stop smugglers and criminals: "What is happening to the refugees (in Tunisia) who were driven into the desert, beaten, some were killed.

These are not European values. This is an agreement with a dictator." Security, migration and prosperity were the topics discussed in this 100-minute debate. Prosperity and climate protection should not be mutually exclusive, and expansion to other countries is desirable, said Sandro Gozi from the liberal faction: "Of course, we want to open the EU to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine," he said.

Others agreed. However, those who would oppose it were not present at the debate, Deutsche Welle reported. The discussion reflected the ongoing concerns and priorities of European citizens facing a complex political landscape.

The absence of right-wing representatives highlighted the ideological divide within the European Parliament, highlighting a significant divide between nationalist and pro-European perspectives. This division is crucial because it affects legislative and policy-making processes in the EU, influencing decisions on security, migration and international relations.

Von der Leyen's defense of cooperation with Meloni, despite criticism, demonstrated the pragmatic approach sometimes necessary in politics, where ideological differences could be set aside for broader strategic goals. This approach, however, is controversial and raises questions about the balance between necessary alliances and ideological purity, especially when dealing with sensitive issues.