The support for Populist Radical Right
(PRR) parties have been on a slow growth in Europe since the 1970s. However,
since the Great Recession (2007-2012), the popularity of PRR parties in many
European countries have significantly increased. This popularity can be
attributed to increasing opposition to Immigration and rising Euroscepticism.
Many traditional European political
parties are seen by the public as been unable or unwilling to solve the issues
of immigration and European integration their countries face. This lack of
political decision making has shifted the support of the populace to PRR
parties who are not only addressing these issues and pushing for solutions, but
also making them their central point of focus. A growing number of Europeans see
PRR parties as better representative of their problems and concerns.
Recent events such as the European
Migrant Crisis in 2015, the UK’s vote to leave the EU in June 2016, and Donald
Trump’s anti-establishment win in the USA, have emboldened PRR movements across
all of Europe and they are already making “their mark on the European political
landscape in a series of closely-watched elections across the continent.” (CNN,
According to an article by Quartz, “one
in five Europeans (a total of 55.8 million people) voted for a PRR party in
2016 and 2017, according to a ‘Populism Index’ study by the European
Policy Information Centre.” (Mohdin, 2017). The article states that “most of the
success of PRR parties have been quite recent. The average vote share of
populist parties in Europe increased by only 1 percentage point from 1980 to
2000, but then jumped by 7 percentage points from 2000 to 2017.” (Mohdin, 2017).
The main question is; what explains these recent upsurges in PRR support in
PRR parties are mainly known for
their anti-immigration and Eurosceptic stance. The European migrant crisis
which began 2015 saw a huge growth in the numbers of migrants arriving mainly
in the EU. This substantial increase in immigration and already existing feelings
of weakening national sovereignty among EU countries over the last few decades
saw many EU citizens turn to PRR parties. Many EU citizens are increasingly viewing
these parties in a positive light because of their strong anti-elitist and
anti-establishment sentiments which opposes immigration and supports
therefore be argued that the two most relevant theories for the rise in voter
support for PRR parties in Europe are Immigration and Eurosceptism.
Studies have shown that attitudes
towards immigration constitute the main motivation for voter support of PRR
parties. (Ivarsflaten 2008; Van der Brug et al. 2000). Since after the second
world war, the opening of borders in many European countries, especially
western Europe, has allowed for a high growth in immigration. Over the last few
decades, several studies have shown that anti-immigration sentiment in Europe
is on the rise significantly.
According to a YouGov Poll “Nearly
40% of Britons say they no longer feel at home because of immigration.” (Osborne,
2016). In 2016, YouGov carried out research on authoritarian populism in 12
European countries in which they asked people if they agreed with the
statement: “There are so many foreigners living round here, it doesn’t feel
like home any more”. (Smith, 2016). In
Italy alone, 52% of people agree with the statement. Alongside Italy is France
and Germany in which 47% and 44% of the people asked, respectively, agreed with
the statement. (Smith, 2016). These people fear that immigrants are threatening
their culture, traditions, economy, employment, and livelihoods. Moreover,
their fears are compounded because a large percentage of the immigrants pouring
into Europe are poor Muslims from the Middle East and Africa who are unable to
assimilate well with the European population. (Fetzer, 2000). These researches
show the true feelings of many European citizens and why they see PRR parties
as their only hope in reducing the constant inflow of immigration.
The issue of immigration recently
flared up due to the European migrant crisis in 2015 when large numbers of
migrants from African and Middle Eastern countries began making perilous journeys
to Europe with several people dying along the way. Due to the unprecedented high
levels of migrants, many PRR parties in Europe who are opposed to immigration
greatly improved their political positions in elections and polls when people started
agreeing with their anti-immigration stance. Countries such as Germany, the United
Kingdom, France, Austria, and the Netherlands to name a few have seen a significant
rise in voters supporting their PRR parties. This migrant crisis has led to PRR parties to place even more emphasis
on the issue and encourage further anti-immigration sentiment across the
continent. According to The Wall Street Journal, Eurosceptic politicians
have seen an increase in their popularity since the migrant crisis.
Euroscepticism is a major topic in
Europe. While several Europeans oppose certain policies implemented by the EU,
they still ultimately support the union (Soft Eurosceptism). However, others are
completely opposed to European integration and the EU as an institution (Hard
Eurosceptic citizens view European
integration as enfeebling the autonomy and identity of their nation state.
Moreover, they believe that there is a democratic deficit within the EU institutions.
The EU is increasingly viewed as an overbearing and inefficient bureaucracy.
Many Eurosceptics believe
co-operation between European countries is necessary. However, they opines that
the EU is now dominated by big businesses and major countries. They see the
EU’s current policies as only benefitting the elite, ignoring the working class
and the poor. Furthermore, these Eurosceptics are worried that the EU may become
a ‘superstate’ with absolute authority over individual countries.
Due to these views, voter turnout
for the European Parliament elections have steadily declined since the first
election in 1979 because Europeans lack confidence in the EU, and voter turnout
for the 2014 election was at an all-time low at 42.54% of all European voters. (Ec.europa.eu,
2014). According to an article by the
Telegraph in 2014, support for European Union membership was at its peak in
1991 with 71% of Europeans saying they supported their country’s membership.
However, in 2014, trust in the EU was at a record low “with less than one in
three EU citizens expressing trust in the EU “. (Stylianou, 2014).
Despite this, according to Bruegel,
European trust and satisfaction in the EU is recovering, especially in Southern
European countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. (Batsaikhan and
Darvas, 2017). This slight recovery is mainly due to Europe’s economic
improvement since the financial crisis of 2007/08 and the following European
debt crisis which began at the end of 2009. However, at the same time, recent
events such as European Migrant Crisis (2015) and Brexit (June 2016) are decreasing
confidence in the EU’s governance and many Europeans are pessimistic about the
future of the union.
Euroscepticism can also be linked
to immigration. Eurosceptics argues that EU policies encourages high levels of
immigration. The Schengen Agreement, which was signed on the 14th of
June 1985 and became effective less than 10 years later, largely abolished
internal border checks, allowing passport-free movement within most EU states
and some non-EU states. This agreement also allows non-EU nationals with a
Schengen visa easy access to most of Europe. Eurosceptics criticise the
agreement because they believe Europe is opening its door to even more migrants
and potential criminals. The Paris attacks, which occurred on the 13th
of November 2015 and killed 130 people, further supported Eurosceptic belief which
urged the EU to not only rethink the Schengen agreement but also the EU’s
policy on immigration. (BBC News, 2016). There were major concerns that the
perpetrators of the attack easily entered Paris from Belgium, and some entered
the EU with crowds of migrants through Greece. (BBC News, 2016).
Euroscepticism is actively linked
to voter support for PPR parties. The ever growing lack of trust in the
EU have seen support for PRR parties rise. Many EU citizens feel disillusioned
with the EU and their governments who they believe offer only little to
moderate messages about their positions on matters like European integration.
Therefore, these citizens who already harbour very Eurosceptic views will see PRR
parties in their countries as the only way to push for withdrawal from the EU
or at least force the EU to enact major changes in their policies.
The EU referendum also known as
Brexit which took place in June 2016 saw the UK vote to leave the EU. This marked
a major point in the Eurosceptic movement and created intense worldwide media
speculation about the growing influence of PRR parties mainly due to UKIP, a Eurosceptic
PRR party, playing a major role in the leave campaign. Many see Brexit as
Euroscepticism recording its greatest political victory to date. As a result of
Brexit, major PRR parties in other EU countries, such as National Front
(France), Party for Freedom (Netherlands), and Lega Nord (Italy), are more
actively advocating for withdrawal from the EU.
Since the Great Recession, the
support for populist radical right parties has been on a growth in Europe mainly
due to rising Immigration and discontent with the policies of the EU. Moreover, significant events such as the recent
European Migrant Crisis and Brexit have boosted the popularity of PRR parties
in several European countries.
The two main reasons for voters
supporting PRR parties; Immigration and Euroscepticism are closely linked
together. The ever growing rate in which migrants are pouring into Europe,
especially EU countries, and people’s dissatisfaction with the EU’s economic
and immigration policies have made many groups of people feel disenchanted with
their own governments and the EU’s governance. These people feel threatened by
immigration who they fear will cause social and economic decline in their
nations. Moreover, these people despise the authority the EU possesses over how
their country is run. This rising attitude of Euroscepticism have pushed many voters
towards PRR parties who base their political ideology on opposition to
Immigration and the EU.
Overall, the two arguments of
Immigration and Eurosceptism combined provides an explanation on why voters are
disillusioned with current European governments and why they view PRR parties
as a new way forward in regaining their national identity and autonomy.