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05 March 2020

UK in a Changing Europe: Populist radical right parties across Europe not eager to leave the EU

Even the most passionately eurosceptic politicians are typically reluctant to campaign for their countries’ exit from the EU, research suggests.

[...]Now that the UK has finally left, few countries seem to have been inspired by the British example. If anything, the apparent general trend across member states has been an increase in public support for EU membership.

The findings in the authors' recently published article suggest that early predictions of an imminent domino effect were always questionable. They focused on parties of the populist radical right (PRR), considered to be the most likely instigators of such an effect.

Yet, as their analysis showed, even the most passionately eurosceptic politicians were typically reluctant to campaign for their countries’ exit from the EU.

Parties of the PRR, which are characterised by anti-immigration positions, opposition to cultural change and populist anti-establishment discourse, criticise the EU for a variety of reasons.

They lament the loss of national sovereignty which they associate with deeper European integration, and dislike the opening of borders, as well as the EU’s supposed undemocratic and elite-centred nature. [...]

In researcher's analysis, they explain the muted responses of PRR parties to Brexit partly in terms of the relatively small appetite among European citizens for leaving the EU, but also the comparatively low salience of the issue of European integration.

As long as PRR parties are successful by focusing on more tangible issues that are considered more important by their voters – not least those related to immigration and cultural change – their leaderships have little reason to take a risk and focus on themes that potentially divide their electorates or parties.

This is even the case in countries, like France and Italy, where euroscepticism has reached considerable levels. At the same time, as Duncan McDonnell and Anika Werner have argued, PRR parties ‘enjoy flexibility on European integration and can shift positions’ precisely because of the issue’s limited salience among supporters and the public at large.

The uncertainty of the outcome of the protracted Brexit negotiation process, as a well as the political instability in the United Kingdom, are likely to have further induced a cautious ‘wait-and-see’ approach among PRR parties.

In the longer run, when there is more clarity about the UK’s fate, there may well be renewed calls for leaving the EU. Yet this probably requires an increase in salience of EU-related issues and a concomitant rise in ‘exit scepticism’ among European citizens. 

Full article on UK in a Changing Europe blog

© UK in a Changing Europe

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