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Who are the Alliance Defending Freedom and why are they lobbying Brussels?

The European Parliament may be about to change radically after the 9 June elections. Some projections predict a new majority of the right and far right: the conservative European People’s Party group, the ultraconservatives in the European Conservatives & Reformists, and the far-right in the Identity & Democracy Group. 

This article was written by Kenneth Haar (CEO) and originally appeared in EU Observer.

And with them come their friends – corporate lobbyists of all kinds, including the chemicals lobby and agribusiness groups hellbent on doing away with climate policies and nature protection. 

But they also have another well-funded ally behind the scenes. For years rightwing groups in the European Parliament have collaborated with the Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF International, an ultraconservative US legal advocacy organisation that fights abortion and LGBTQIA+ rights on both sides of the Atlantic.   

Three reasons

There are three main reasons why the ADF’s presence on the Brussels lobbying scene, and its links to the EPP and the ECR, should ring alarm bells. 

The first is its success at fighting against gender rights, as well as its pursuit of an agenda that led the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center to call it an anti-LGBTQIA+ hate group. To anyone who cares about rights such as gender equality, access to abortion, same-sex marriage, and a wide range of LGBTQIA+ issues, the presence of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in the corridors of power in the EU institutions should be deeply worrying.

Its tactic of using the courts to fight back on these rights is now bearing fruit in the EU too  

The ADF were instrumental in the overturning of Roe vs Wade and thus the right to abortion in the US; they helped file cases against US states to overturn the 2020 election results; they routinely defend the right to discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community.

And they have brought their game plan to Europe. Via successful legal cases, they have helped roll back abortion rights and support harassment of the LGBTQIA+ community in member states such as Poland, Germany, Ireland, and Finland.  

The second reason is money. The ADF has increased its European spending by a small fortune in recent years, doubling from $2.6m in 2018 to $5.2m [€2.4m] in its most recent tax filing (mid 2021- mid 2022). Judging by the general upward trend in US conservative foundations' grant-making, more money is on the way.

Corporate Europe Observatory combed the tax filings of 80 such foundations; on average, they spent 30 percent more in 2022 than in 2020, with plenty having their eyes on Europe. 

The third reason for concern is the links to the Trump movement. The ADF supports the infamous Project 2025, a plan for the first 100 days of a new Trump presidency, which involves the deportation of millions of immigrants, sacking thousands of civil servants to replace them with loyalists to Trump, closing down agencies that protect civil rights, locking in corporate tax cuts indefinitely, and more.  

What they want in Europe

The Trump camp’s ambitions for Europe are to unite the conservatives and the far-right; a plethora of recent conferences have aimed to do so, including three in Hungary (Conservative Political Action Conferences), and one in Brussels in April 2024. The ADF was an active participant at the latter event, set up to help “political conservatism” present an “alternative vision for Europe”. 

This is about promoting archaic, discriminatory, and dangerous policies, a highly regressive and discriminatory political agenda of evangelical Christian nationalism. And they have a kind of foreign policy of an essentially US organisation as a motive for operating in Europe. As one of ADF’s legal counsels in Europe put it, they want influence here, “so that bad European precedents don’t spread further in Europe, then across the sea to America”.

That fits all too well with a more general attempt by the Trump movement to strengthen its ability to impact European policies through supporting the unity of the right – from conservatives to far right. 

The ADF in the corridors

It’s very worrying how prolific the ADF is in the European Parliament. Kathleen Van Brempt, a Belgian MEP from the S&D group, is regularly bombarded with emails from the ADF, “especially when one of their strategic files are on the agenda”.

And according to the EU’s Transparency Register the ADF’s main partners in the European Parliament are the EPP and the ECR, judging from many conferences they have organised together. 

While it’s difficult to assess the full impact of these alliances, (for instance the ECR is not currently a centre of power in parliament) that could change rapidly after the June elections. EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has already opened the door to cooperation with the ECR, meaning agreements that can be forged on the right become dominant in EU politics. 

Call them out

We should ask ourselves, and we should ask European rightwing parties: is the tilt to the right that we may see on 9 June a tilt towards Trump-style politics as well? At election debates, they should be asked if they will be working with organisations such as the ADF that fight abortion rights, oppose LGBTQIA+ rights, support deportation of millions of immigrants in the US, and help shape extremely anti-democratic measures should Trump take office again. 

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