The rise in Eurosceptic and populist challenger parties has transformed domestic party systems and put more pressure on mainstream centre-right parties to keep hold of their voters. With more polarisation and a shift away from traditional left-right cleavages (Hooghe & Marks, 2018), centre-right parties in the European Union are increasingly struggling to stay in power and face difficult decisions about how to deal with radical-right challengers. While including challenger parties in coalitions might lead to securing office, it risks radicalising the policies of centre-right parties, legitimising the messages of radical right parties and, thereby, reinforcing these challengers even further in electoral contests (Arzheimer & Carter, 2006; Bale, 2003; Down & Han, 2020).

In the European Parliament (EP), the centre-right faces similar trade-offs, although the choices between office, policy and votes are different to those of national political systems. The EP has witnessed increasing polarisation and politicisation during the last legislative terms, which has led to more ideological diversity, more pressure from the extremes of the political spectrum and more difficulties to form coalitions. Particularly on issues directly connected with social values, the European People’s Party (EPP) often faces this dilemma: should it form a coalition with radical-right groups that are closer to its traditional values or should it sacrifice its ideology and vote together with other mainstream groups like the Socialist and Democrats (S&D), liberals (Renew, formerly ALDE) and Greens, which tend to hold more liberal values? This struggle is compounded by the growing divisions within the EPP group—with some of its national delegations becoming ideologically closer to radical-right challenger parties than to its mainstream Christian-democratic core (Kelemen, 2020). Therefore, it is important to understand to what extent the historical efforts to separate mainstream and radical right groups with a ‘cordon sanitaire’ are also visible in the EPP’s behaviour as well as the content of its positions.

The chapter argues that the extremist reputation of the radical-right challengers largely explains why the EPP avoids engaging with them in legislative work; at the same time, it shows that the group actively co-opts the ideas of the radical right, especially in particularly politicised policy areas like migration. With a content analysis of legislative amendments from two files negotiated during the 2014–2019 legislature—the Eurodac Regulation (2016/0132/COD) and the Qualifications Regulation (2016/0223/COD)—the chapter examines whether and under which conditions the positions of the EPP can be clearly delimited from those of radical-right challengers. These two files allow us to compare dynamics of cooperation and competition in a highly politicised policy area prone to political capture by the radical right. The second section of the chapter examines the strategies of centre-right parties towards radical-right challengers and is followed by the third section, which applies these strategies to the context of the European Parliament and the EPP in particular. The fourth section explains the data and methods used for the two case studies analysed in section five.

Inclusion and Exclusion of Radical Right Challengers: Understanding the Strategies of the Centre-Right

Party systems in European democracies have transformed significantly in the last two decades. From the catchall party systems dominated by a conservative/Christian-democrat and a social-democrat camp, it has become more complex, both in the number of issues and parties. On the one hand, the traditional left-right economic divide has been expanded to cover other ideological cleavages, notably what Hooghe and Marks (2018) call the Green-Alternative-Libertarian vs Traditional-Authoritarian-Nationalist (GAL/TAN) divide. Parties outside of the mainstream have captured this new emerging cleavage; on the TAN side, radical-right parties have revitalised the anti-immigration, anti-modernisation and, often, anti-EU message (Rooduijn & van Kessel, 2019).

As a result, centre-right parties often face a choice between excluding and including radical-right challengers. First, they can opt to exclude them—what has also been defined as disengagement—in order to portray the challenger as a pariah and, thereby, stigmatise it as too extremist in the eyes of voters (Akkerman & Rooduijn, 2015; Downs, 2001; Meguid, 2005; van Spanje, 2018). Generally, this strategy has taken the form of a ‘cordon sanitaire’, whereby mainstream parties systematically refuse to collaborate with radical-right challengers. However, Akkerman and Rooduijn (2015) show that the success of the ‘cordon sanitaire’ is mixed, since its use is often linked to historical legacies and to inherited ‘extremist reputations’: newer parties that have not yet won an extremist reputation are often welcomed as coalition partners, even if they share similar radical ideologies to older parties that fall victim to the cordon sanitaire.

The second option is to include (or engage with) radical-right challengers with the hope that accommodating their ideas and including them in government might lead to more moderate policies and behaviour (Akkerman & Rooduijn, 2015; Downs, 2001; Meguid, 2005; van Spanje, 2018). This strategy does not come without risks: Comparative research has shown that the attempt to steal the ownership of issues traditionally captured by radical-right challengers—especially anti-immigration and anti-EU discourses—often leads to a process of ‘contagion’ that helps legitimise and mainstream these positions in the political debate (Abou-Chadi & Krause, 2020; Bale, 2003; Dahlström & Sundell, 2012; Downes & Loveless, 2018; Meijers & Williams, 2020; Minkenberg, 2013). This often forces centre-right parties to become more radical, which increases the bipolarisation of the party system and often backlashes by providing an even wider electoral support to radical-right challengers (Arzheimer & Carter, 2006; de Lange, 2012).

In sum, the literature sees both radical-right challengers and centre-right mainstream parties playing a balancing act between office-, vote- and policy-seeking strategies. Their choices change the mutual opportunity structures and are mediated by informal factors like reputations and perceptions about voters’ preferences (Akkerman et al., 2016).

Strategies of the EPP in the European Parliament

The strand of research discussed in the previous section focuses on domestic party systems and is only partially applicable to the dynamics of decision-making in the European Parliament. First, given that the EP elections do not lead to the formation of a government, political groups in Parliament are not structured around a government/opposition cleavage. Instead, coalitions are generally based on policy issues and highly instable (Ripoll Servent, 2019a). Added to this, mainstream groups continue to uphold the tradition of applying a cordon sanitaire against those parties that have an extremist reputation. This means that the hard Eurosceptic/radical-right groups1 are systematically excluded from offices like vice-presidencies, committee chairpersonships, rapporteurships as well as legislative work (Ripoll Servent, 2019a; Ripoll Servent & Panning, 2019). In contrast, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group was perceived as more engaged and respectable than the ENF (McDonnell & Werner, 2018) and was regularly included in legislative work (Ripoll Servent & Panning, 2019). Therefore, it is expected that the EPP will join forces with them rather than with the ENF (office-seeking expectation).

Second, compared to national party systems, political groups in the EP cannot as easily speculate about the electoral consequences of their choices. The second-order nature of EP elections and the weaker link between members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and their voters is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a coalition between centre-right and radical-right parties might be less visible and hence less likely to be punished by those constituents who do not wish to see these pacts come into being; on the other hand, efforts to engage with the radical right might go unnoticed and not have the desired effects of warding off competition (cf. Reif & Schmitt, 1980). Despite these limitations, previous research has shown that the EPP is not immune to a ‘parroting’ strategy, in which it imitates the messages of the radical right in highly politicised issues (Ripoll Servent & Panning, 2021). Therefore, it is expected that, in areas prone to radical-right capture, the EPP will co-opt these issues but that it will do so with its own style (or flavouring) in order to make their messages more credible and avoid a backlash in subsequent European elections (cf. Treib, 2020) (vote-seeking expectation).

Third, compared to national political parties, EP political groups are much less unitary. Certainly, there are many flavours to centre-right domestic parties, which often struggle with ideological cohesion (Gidron & Ziblatt, 2019). However, these tensions are all the more noticeable in a group composed (during the 2014–2019 eighth legislative term) of 51 political parties coming from all 28 member states. The EPP has often prioritised size before ideology, which has raised tensions between its core Christian-democratic origins and other forms of conservatism imported by parties in each round of enlargement (Bardi et al., 2020). These tensions have become particularly noticeable in the eighth legislative term, especially when it comes to issues of rule of law and democratic backsliding (Kelemen, 2020). Indeed, the wide ideological range within the EPP and the presence of Eurosceptic and populist parties like Hungarian Fidesz offered both new challenges but also new opportunities for collaborating with the radical right. Therefore, it is expected that the EPP will attempt to collaborate with radical-right challengers in areas closer to the TAN side of the political spectrum (e.g. immigration, welfare state, values related to family and tradition, etc.), where they share similar ideologies (policy-seeking expectation).

Data and Methods

The chapter focuses on two legislative files within one legislative package (aiming to reform the Common European Asylum System) that vary in the scope they offer for politicising migration and collaborating with the radical-right. Since migration is a particularly salient issue for radical-right parties (cf. Bale, 2008), the two case studies (Qualifications and Eurodac Regulations) allow us to assess whether issue-ownership (migration) had an impact on the EPP’s strategies of inclusion and exclusion vis-à-vis radical-right challengers.

In order to better understand how the EPP engages with other TAN parties, the chapter uses a content analysis of the amendments submitted by the EPP, the ECR and the ENF to the Commission’s legislative proposals (see Ripoll Servent & Panning, 2021 for an analysis of engagement and disengagement beyond TAN groups). Committee members enjoy an informational advantage when submitting amendments, which means that they are more likely to influence the EP mandate; however, committees do not enjoy exclusive rights when amendments are submitted to the plenary and cannot protect those previously agreed in committee (Yordanova, 2013 see also Rule 180 and 181 in the EP’S Rules of Procedure). A content analysis of amendments allows us to examine both collaborations between the EPP and radical-right challengers (for instance in the form of co-sponsorships) as well as overlaps in the content of policy proposals (Baller, 2017). Co-sponsorships of amendments are not rare in the EP; Baller (2017) estimated that around one quarter of amendments are written by more than one MEP and that their main purpose is to signal pre-voting coalitions to plenary, the party group and/or constituents.

In order to examine the interaction between the EPP and radical-right groups, the empirical analysis offers first a descriptive quantitative overview detailing the number of amendments as well as their survival rate—both at the committee stage (i.e. integration into the EP’s report) and in inter-institutional negotiations with the Council and the Commission (trilogues). The reform of the EU’s asylum system has been deadlocked since June 2018, therefore, the assessment of survival in trilogues is based on the latest version (18 June 2018 for Qualifications and 21 June 2018; 21 January 2019 for Eurodac) of the four-column documents used to trace agreements in negotiations. To calculate the survival rate, two scales were adopted: for the intra-institutional negotiations, the amendments were counted as 1 when included in the EP report or as 0 when voted down. Given the absence of a formal vote in trilogues and the broader scope for negotiations, a scale is used to assess to what extent an EP amendment has been incorporated into the final agreement; an amendment receives 0.25 if only a small detail has been incorporated; 0.75 if almost everything has been incorporated and 1 if it has been incorporated in its entirety. It is important to note that the survival rate does not necessarily reflect the success of the EP in inter-institutional negotiations, given that the EP cannot propose amendments on any new text added during trilogue negotiations (cf. Yordanova, 2013).

The second step analyses the content of the amendments made to the recitals of the legislative proposal. Recitals are essential to understand the legal and normative justifications underpinning the Commission’s legislative proposal. The content analysis of recitals has been done inductively and analyses amendments as a whole and not as separate keywords or phrases. The aim is to identify co-sponsored amendments as well as any overlaps in the positions of the groups when amendments on the same recital have been submitted separately. In order to better contextualise the behaviour of the groups, the content analysis is complemented with elite interviews done with EP actors who participated in legislative negotiations (see the list at the end of the chapter).

Strategies in the Asylum Reform Package

The Qualifications and Eurodac Regulations are part of a broader legislative package aiming to reform the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The Commission’s initiative came as a response to the 2015 ‘refugee crisis’ and aimed to address the gaps left by the failure to introduce relocation quotas (Zaun, 2018). The package was formed of eight directives and regulations that aimed to consolidate existing legislative framework and add new provisions on the resettlement of asylum-seekers from outside the EU. Although the EP managed to formulate a negotiation mandate for all the files, the package was so politicised in the European Council, that negotiations were largely blocked after June 2018 (Ripoll Servent, 2019b). Some files had already been discussed extensively in trilogues, where a partial political agreement had been concluded; however, the EP insisted in maintaining a ‘package approach’, which meant that files should not be passed separately. By early 2019, trilogues petered out and no solution could be found by the end of the eighth legislative term (Interviews 4, 7, 8).

Qualifications Regulation (2016/0223/COD)

The Qualifications Directive aims to establish common rules on who should receive asylum or other forms of international protection. The main goal of the Commission was to transform the directive into a regulation in order to strengthen the harmonisation of decisions at the national level—which tend to diverge largely and lead to an ‘asylum lottery’ (Asylum Information Database, 2015). Since the definition provided by the text determines largely how many people might potentially qualify for international protection, the text has tended to oppose GAL groups—which aim to expand the scope—and TAN groups—which tend to limit the definition and hence the number of people allowed to stay in the EU. Therefore, the issue of qualification is open to radical-right capture, since it touches upon core notions of in- and out-group and who deserves to stay in the EU.

Tanja Fajon (Slovenia, S&D), an active member of the civil liberties (LIBE) committee2 since 2009, acted as rapporteur for the file. For the EPP, Alessandra Mussolini (Forza Italia, Italy) acted as shadow rapporteur, while the ECR was represented by Jussi Halla-aho (The Finns Party, Finland) and the EFDD by Fabio Massimo Castaldo, member of the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), which has to be considered a special case and cannot be equated with the positions held by other parties in the group (cf. Ripoll Servent & Panning, 2019). The ENF did not appoint a shadow rapporteur.

Table 6.1 shows how, despite being a controversial proposal, Fajon formed a strong coalition supported by most mainstream groups, although the EPP was heavily divided. The radical-right challengers all voted against or abstained. Therefore, the rapporteur oriented herself towards the GAL groups, with the EPP accepting this, probably due to their internal divisions (Interview 2). This bias can also be seen in the survival rate of amendments (Table 6.2) and explains why the rapporteur struggled to keep the EP’s amendments—seen as too liberal by most member states—in the final political agreement (cf. Ripoll Servent & Panning, 2021).

Table 6.1 Votes in the LIBE Committee on the Qualifications Regulation Report (15/06/2017)
Table 6.2 Survival of amendments for the qualifications regulation

Table 6.2 shows that the EPP was much less active than left-wing GAL groups like the Greens and the GUE/NGL and its amendments fared worse than ALDE, which shows over twice a rate of success in the EP report. This is probably indicative that the EPP made a conscious choice to focus its efforts elsewhere, where it could have more influence (as the second case shows), and minimise the splits within the group. Also for the ECR, there is a considerable gap between the number of amendments proposed and those accepted in the report (12.41% compared to 1.32%). What is also interesting to observe is the systematic use of a cordon sanitaire against the ENF and the EFDD members—other than the MEPs belonging to M5S, which is closer to GAL groups.

The table also shows an active collaboration between the EPP and ECR co-sponsoring amendments. This confirms the office-seeking expectation, which foresaw an alliance between the EPP and the more moderate soft Eurosceptic radical-right, although the inter-group cooperation affected only a sub-set of MEPs, namely Artis Pabriks (EPP, Partija ‘VIENOTĪBA’, Latvia), Traian Ungureanu (EPP, Partidul Naţional Liberal, Romania), Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP, Křesťanská a demokratická unie—Československá strana lidová, Czech Republic), Kinga Gál (EPP, Fidesz, Hungary), Pál Csáky (EPP, Strana mad’arskej komunity-Magyar Közösség Pártja, Slovakia) and Monica Macovei (ECR, Independent, Romania). The latter had been a member of the EPP until October 2015, when she switched parties and moved to the ECR. The content analysis shows that the co-sponsored amendments had a clear Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant tone. Most tried to water down harmonisation and any shared (financial) responsibility among member states. It also tried to undo any new elements in the new Commission proposal that would enhance the rights of migrants, such as enlarging the criteria of protection to cover specific social groups (e.g. members of the LGBTI community) (Am. 195/196). The co-sponsored amendments were even more anti-migrant than those proposed by the ECR shadow rapporteur (member of the radical-right party the Finns Party), who at least acknowledged the concept of a social group (Am. 197). This EPP–ECR coalition was also more radical than other EPP members: for instance, on the issue of internal protection, which determines that international protection can be denied if a part of the country of origin is deemed safe (as is often the case now with Afghanistan), the EPP–ECR group wanted to shift the burden of proof away from member states—so that it would fall on asylum-seekers to prove that the country is unsafe in its entirety (Am. 187). In contrast, another group of EPP members (Alessandra Mussolini, Italy, shadow rapporteur; Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi, Greece; Frank Engel, Luxembourg; Barbara Matera, Italy; Salvatore Domenico Pogliese, Italy and Carlos Coelho, Portugal) accepted that the burden falls on member states but added: ‘However, the applicant should collaborate with the determining authority in order to establish whether the conditions for internal protection are satisfied in a part of his/her country of origin’ (Am. 186), which is a much lighter requirement on asylum-seekers and was supplemented by a requirement to take the best interest of children into account (Am. 189). As a comparison, ECR’s Halla-aho proposed as amendment that ‘[t]he burden of demonstrating the unavailability of internal protection should fall on the applicant’ (Am. 188).

The content analysis of the recitals also shows that TAN groups put more emphasis on the issue of ‘secondary movements’ (going from one member state to another) and grounds for exclusion linked to terrorism and national security. Indeed, these three excerpts show a significant overlap between the amendments produced by the EPP, ECR and ENF:

[…] Such a policy [asylum] should be governed by the principle of affordability, taking into account the absorption capacities of the receiving societies as well as maximal self-reliance of the beneficiaries of international protection. (Amendment 109, Jussi Halla-aho, ECR, shadow rapporteur, emphasis added)

For a well-functioning CEAS, including of the Dublin system, substantial progress should be made towards a radical change of the entire immigration policy; to that end, return policies should be strengthened to ensure that protection is only granted to those who are entitled to it. (Amendment 122, Lorenzo Fontana, ENF, emphasis added)

Clarifying the criteria for identifying persons genuinely in need of international protection should also enable persons who are not entitled to such protection to be deported more efficiently and systematically. (Amendment 132, Nadine Morano, EPP, emphasis added)

In all three cases, there is a clear reference to restricting the right to seek international protection to ‘deserving’ applicants, which is a typical nativist position linked to radical-right parties.

The GAL-TAN divide was also very visible on the issue of terrorism as a ground for withholding international protection (Interviews 1, 5). As an illustration, amendments to recital 31 (Table 6.3) were submitted by both the EPP and EFDD.

Table 6.3 Comparison of Amendments to Recital 31 (Qualifications Regulation)

The last amendment (207) referred to rather controversial case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (Kosińska, 2017), which helped the EPP substantiate its calls for an inclusion of terrorism as a ground for exclusion. Therefore, although none of the amendments proposed by right-wing groups were included directly into the EP report, the issue of terrorism was intensively debated and, in the end, a mention of terrorism and being part of a terrorist organisation as grounds for exclusion was maintained in the EP report (Am. 26, 27, 41 in A8-0245/2017). The EPP group saw this as a major victory (Interview 5), which indicates their conscious effort to ‘parrot’ and capture a security-oriented position usually promoted by radical-right challengers.

In sum, the content analysis of amendments shows a large overlap among TAN groups, a clear sign of polarisation on the GAL/TAN cleavage. This confirms the policy-seeking expectation: the intense collaboration between the more radical wings of the EPP (made up mostly of parties from Central and Eastern Europe) and the more moderate members of the ECR (Macovei) sought to push a common TAN agenda. However, in line with the vote-seeking expectation, although the goals and rhetoric were very similar, the EPP often tried to add its own ‘flavour’ by appealing to some fundamental rights provisions (notably on the protection and best interests of children) and using case law to justify their choices.

Eurodac Regulation (2016/0132/COD)

Eurodac is a technical support to help member states in implementing the Dublin system, which determines the member state responsible for an application for international protection. Eurodac stores the fingerprints of applicants in a database and allows member states to check whether someone has already requested protection in another country. The main issue in the new proposal was the extension of Eurodac to cover other forms of biometric data as well as other purposes other than international protection, notably irregular immigration and return procedures. Therefore, the measure was particularly liked by member states and more attractive for TAN groups, since it resonated with their security-led positions and raised few concerns on the pro-anti-EU dimension.

The Eurodac Regulation was led by Monica Macovei (Romania, Independent, ECR), also a member of the LIBE committee since 2009, who shifted from the EPP to the ECR in October 2015. Jeroen Lenaers (Christen Democratisch Appèl, The Netherlands) was shadow rapporteur for the EPP and, as in the previous case, Fabio Massimo Castaldo (M5S) was shadow for the EFDD—and hence not representative of the radical-right wing of the group. In this case, the ENF did not appoint a shadow rapporteur either.

As Table 6.4 shows, the report also gathered wide support, mostly coming from TAN groups, this time splitting the S&D almost in half. Therefore, while Qualifications had a clear GAL bias, Eurodac showed the opposite trend.

Table 6.4 Votes in the LIBE Committee on the Eurodac Regulation Report (30/05/2017)

Indeed, as Table 6.5 shows, the EP report reflected mostly the positions of the EPP and the ECR. ALDE had the highest survival rate when it came to the EP report, but it should be noted that the majority were changes aiming to incorporate provisions on resettlement and, therefore, proposed exactly the same modifications in several articles. In comparison, the Greens, which had proposed the most amendments (over 25%) were largely disregarded in the report (8.6% survival rate). As in the previous case, the very few ENF amendments were systematically disregarded and the non-M5S members of the EFDD did not even submit amendments.

Table 6.5 Amendment Survival for the Eurodac Regulation

The TAN coalition is translated into easier inter-institutional negotiations—since the report largely reflected the positions of member states. It is, indeed, interesting to compare the mandates of the EP and the Council, since the texts largely overlap. This means that rapporteur and Council had already been in contact before political trilogues started and that, either the rapporteur incorporated amendments proposed by the Council or the Council incorporated the amendments of the rapporteur into their mandate for negotiations (for a very clear example, see Amendment 58 introducing a new article on the Operational Management of DubliNet). In some cases, amendments that had not been accepted in the LIBE committee reappeared in the final inter-institutional agreement (e.g. Am. 33, 54)—which shows how close the rapporteur was to the Council. It is also interesting to see that over 56% of the amendments proposed by the EP were integrated into the final text (which is an unusually high rate) and that most of those coming from GAL groups were disregarded.

When it comes to the content of the amendments made to the recitals, there is a clear GAL/TAN divide. Left-wing GAL groups stressed the need to integrate the jurisprudence of the European courts and tried to tone down the anti-immigration tone of some recitals that mentioned secondary movements and returns. The support of ALDE shifted depending on the MEP and the topic: while the more GAL-leaning parties within the group aligned themselves with the left-wing groups on issues of data protection and fundamental rights, the more TAN-leaning ones supported the positions of the ECR and the EPP on improving the interoperability of databases. Other radical-right groups (ENF and the right-wing of the EFDD) did not submit any amendments to the recitals.

The ECR rapporteur was in charge of writing the draft report, which meant that there was no possibility to co-sponsor amendments (since the latter come as a reaction to the rapporteur’s position). However, the EPP amendments generally parroted—often word by word—the content proposed by the rapporteur. For instance, the rapporteur insisted on the interoperability of different databases to fight crime and the necessity to give access to Europol (Am. 7 and 9)—a position shared and even more strongly emphasised by the EPP (Am. 89, 92, 93, 102). In some amendments, we see how close the wording was:

It is acknowledged that law enforcement authorities and Europol do not always have the biometric data of the perpetrator or victim whose case they are investigating, which may hamper their ability to check biometric matching databases such as Eurodac. In order to contribute further to investigations of those authorities and Europol, search based on alphanumeric data should be allowed in Eurodac in such cases, in particular where those authorities and Europol may possess evidence of the criminal suspect or victim’s personal details or identity documents. (Am. 9. Monica Macovei, ECR, rapporteur)

Although comparisons based on fingerprint and facial image data result in search results of greater accuracy, it is acknowledged that law enforcement authorities and Europol do not always possess the fingerprint and facial image data of suspects or victims whose case they are investigating, which could hamper their ability to match fingerprints and facial images in databases such as Eurodac. In order to contribute further to the investigations of those authorities and Europol, searches based on alphanumeric data should be allowed in Eurodac in such cases, in particular where those authorities and Europol possess evidence of the criminal suspect or victim’s personal details or identity documents. (Am.102, Jeroen Lenaers, EPP, shadow rapporteur, emphasis added)

In addition, both ECR and EPP replaced fingerprints with biometric and alphanumeric data throughout the recitals and included stateless persons, which clearly broadened the scope of the Regulation. The EPP went even further than the ECR and introduced amendments that would allow member states to use Eurodac data for the prosecution of serious crimes like terrorism (Amendments 98 and 101). They expanded the Commission’s definition by adding that ‘[t]he information contained in Eurodac is necessary for the purposes of the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of terrorist offences as referred to in Directive (EU) 2017/… of the European Parliament and of the Council [combating terrorism and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA and amending Council Decision 2005/671/JHA]’ (Am. 98, Monika Hohlmeier, Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern, Germany; Heinz K. Becker, Österreichische Volkspartei, Austria; Jeroen Lenaers, Christen Democratisch Appèl, The Netherlands; Rachida Dati, Les Républicains, France; Brice Hortefeux, Les Républicains, France; Mariya Gabriel, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria; Artis Pabriks, Partija ‘VIENOTĪBA’, Latvia; all EPP). Their justification was that this provision had already been integrated into the new directive on combating terrorism, which was accepted by the rapporteur and included in the final EP report (Am. 16 and 50 in A8-0212/2017)—but not in the compromise reached in trilogues.

While the ECR rapporteur often kept to more technical details, EPP MEPs introduced amendments with clear ideological lines (Table 6.6). These amendments show the effort of the EPP to broaden the remit of Eurodac by lengthening the right to keep personal data up to ten years on the justification that it would be necessary to fight irregular immigration. These efforts to enlarge the scope went even too far for the rapporteur and the EP report settled on the Commission’s proposal of five years as a limit to store data.

Table 6.6 Comparison of amendments to Recital 32 and 33 (Eurodac Regulation)

This case study shows that, as expected by the office-seeking logic, when the person representing the soft-Eurosceptics is seen as more moderate, she has good chances to engage and collaborate with mainstream groups. The fact that Macovei was formerly an EPP member (and that she often co-sponsored amendments with EPP MEPs in files like the Qualifications Regulation) stressed the commonalities between the two groups and made it easier for the EPP to engage in a coalition. In addition, following a policy-seeking logic, the clear GAL/TAN cleavage pushed the EPP closer to the ECR and led it to parrot many of the security-led ideas of radical-right parties. Many of the justifications went beyond purely legal grounds (e.g. incorporating new directives, as in the case of terrorism) and were also based on ideological arguments (fight irregular migration).

If we compare the two cases, we see that, on issues of migration, the EPP was dominated by a more radical (TAN) wing than on other less politicised issues, with many MEPs coming from political parties with strong radical-right challengers back home or where migration is highly politicised (like Viségrad 4 members). This is an impression shared by insiders, who noted how a key dynamic in the CEAS reform package was the position and engagement of the EPP in negotiations (Interview 3). With a highly divided group, some national delegations (especially the Hungarian and Czech) defected from the party line (Interview 6), which made the internal opposition to reforming the CEAS (or to having a common asylum system at all) publicly visible (Interview 3). While in the S&D, which was also divided on some issues, the political leadership overrode some of the defectors and imposed a group line, the radicals within the EPP were bolstered by the divisions within the European Council and used it to shift the position of the group towards more anti-migrant, pro-security positions (Interview 3). Indeed, some staff from the EPP was quite defensive when discussing their position:

The left had on many issues […] a position, which seemed to us unrealistic at times or not easy to implement. On the other hand, we think we are a little bit more of a realist or pragmatist in this story, but you might hear that the others can see us as the ones that have certain obsessions with regards to security and terrorism. Which we do. But I don’t call them obsessions, but I call them the reality of the situation. (Interview 5)

The GAL groups tended to cluster radical-right and EPP together and accused them of ‘fear[ing] some type of uncontrollable pull-factor’ (Interview 1).

The engagement between EPP and ECR was also a matter of discussion among other groups. Some acknowledged that the ECR was sometimes strategically extreme—knowing that their amendments would not be successful but would manage to make a political statement (Interview 2). Others pointed out that the ECR was purely dominated by national positions (especially Polish and British) but they remarked that some shadow rapporteurs (such as the Finns Party’s Halla-aho) used these critical remarks and extreme positions to motivate the EPP to go along with them (Interview 3), which shows that the EPP was open to more radical positions. Indeed, a member of the EPP group noted that in some positions they felt more comfortable aligning themselves with the ECR group or seeking their support (Interview 5). Despite these affinities, the EPP maintained the cordon sanitaire and refused to build coalitions with the EFDD and ENF, which confirms the office-seeking expectation.


These two case studies show how, in an area prone to capture by the radical right, there was an intense practical and/or ideological engagement with radical-right challengers by the EPP. Actual alliances like co-sponsored amendments occurred more frequently when MEPs were ideologically close, namely between the less radical wing of the ECR and the more radical wing of the EPP. In comparison, the EPP continued to apply the cordon sanitaire and did not collaborate with those considered too radical and too Eurosceptic (cf. Ripoll Servent & Panning, 2019). Therefore, as posed by the office-seeking expectation, it seems that the reputation (or respectability) of the political groups—and even the national party delegation within a group—matters when it comes to active collaborations (cf. McDonnell & Werner, 2018). However, when it came to engaging ideologically with the ideas of the radical-right, the use of a cordon sanitaire was meaningless, since the EPP used the same anti-immigrant and pro-security language than the radical-right groups.

Indeed, as proposed by the policy-seeking expectation, polarisation on migration policies within the EP made working across the aisle more difficult. This ideological cleavage justified either the disengagement of the EPP and the radical-right challengers—when they knew that GAL groups had a majority as in the Qualifications Regulation—or an active search from the side of the EPP for a right-wing coalition that could push for more TAN policies—especially in issues like Eurodac, where their positions were close to those of member states and offered them higher chances of success. Finally, the vote-seeking expectation considered the possibility that the EPP would add its own flavour to the amendments so as not to further legitimise the issues owned by the radical right. This expectation has proved more difficult to identify. While in some instances, we see how some EPP members tried to package some of its messages with a fundamental rights’ flavour, others used a TAN ideology more openly than ECR MEPs. Indeed, many EPP amendments aimed to regain the security and law enforcement issue from the radical right, especially those proposed by MEPs coming from domestic parties where the issue of migration is highly politicised (e.g. Viségrad 4) or where they face strong radical-right challengers.

These findings are particularly relevant to understand dynamics of engagement and disengagement of radical-right parties within the European Union, whose political system is becoming increasingly polarised and politicised. It also opens a new research agenda in investigating cooperation and competition within the European Parliament, where research has tended to examine mainstream and non-mainstream political groups as two separate categories. These cases show us the limitations of the cordon sanitaire and the difficulties in keeping radical-right ideologies out of the mainstream. It is, therefore, a starting point for studying coalition dynamics in the ninth European Parliament (2019–2024), where the mainstream groups are more squeezed by the fringes and radical-right groups have become even more extreme. Of particular attention is the ECR group, which with Brexit and new developments in national party systems, has left most of its more moderate members behind and become a more radical-right group. This might force the EPP to face a more difficult trade-off between engagement and disengagement with ‘respectable’ radicals.


  1. 1.

    In the 2014–2019 legislature, two groups were considered as hard Eurosceptic/radical-right: the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), since 2019 transformed into the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, and the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), with the exclusion of its Italian component, the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S). Therefore, the EFDD is treated as two separate entities in the analysis (cf. Ripoll Servent & Panning, 2019).

  2. 2.

    For more information about the specific character of the LIBE committee, see Ripoll Servent (2015).