IntroductionThe 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 manyEuropean countries have significantly increased. This popularity can beattributed to increasing opposition to Immigration and rising Euroscepticism. Many traditional European politicalparties are seen by the public as been unable or unwilling to solve the issuesof immigration and European integration their countries face. This lack ofpolitical decision making has shifted the support of the populace to PRRparties who are not only addressing these issues and pushing for solutions, butalso making them their central point of focus. A growing number of Europeans seePRR parties as better representative of their problems and concerns.
Recent events such as the EuropeanMigrant Crisis in 2015, the UK’s vote to leave the EU in June 2016, and DonaldTrump’s anti-establishment win in the USA, have emboldened PRR movements acrossall of Europe and they are already making “their mark on the European politicallandscape in a series of closely-watched elections across the continent.” (CNN,2017). BodyAccording to an article by Quartz, “onein five Europeans (a total of 55.8 million people) voted for a PRR party in2016 and 2017, according to a ‘Populism Index’ study by the EuropeanPolicy Information Centre.” (Mohdin, 2017). The article states that “most of thesuccess of PRR parties have been quite recent.
The average vote share ofpopulist parties in Europe increased by only 1 percentage point from 1980 to2000, 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 inEurope? PRR parties are mainly known fortheir anti-immigration and Eurosceptic stance. The European migrant crisiswhich began 2015 saw a huge growth in the numbers of migrants arriving mainlyin the EU. This substantial increase in immigration and already existing feelingsof weakening national sovereignty among EU countries over the last few decadessaw many EU citizens turn to PRR parties. Many EU citizens are increasingly viewingthese parties in a positive light because of their strong anti-elitist andanti-establishment sentiments which opposes immigration and supportsEurosceptism. It cantherefore be argued that the two most relevant theories for the rise in votersupport for PRR parties in Europe are Immigration and Eurosceptism.
ImmigrationStudies have shown that attitudestowards immigration constitute the main motivation for voter support of PRRparties. (Ivarsflaten 2008; Van der Brug et al. 2000). Since after the secondworld war, the opening of borders in many European countries, especiallywestern Europe, has allowed for a high growth in immigration.
Over the last fewdecades, several studies have shown that anti-immigration sentiment in Europeis on the rise significantly. According to a YouGov Poll “Nearly40% of Britons say they no longer feel at home because of immigration.” (Osborne,2016). In 2016, YouGov carried out research on authoritarian populism in 12European countries in which they asked people if they agreed with thestatement: “There are so many foreigners living round here, it doesn’t feellike home any more”. (Smith, 2016).
InItaly alone, 52% of people agree with the statement. Alongside Italy is Franceand Germany in which 47% and 44% of the people asked, respectively, agreed withthe statement. (Smith, 2016). These people fear that immigrants are threateningtheir culture, traditions, economy, employment, and livelihoods.
Moreover,their fears are compounded because a large percentage of the immigrants pouringinto Europe are poor Muslims from the Middle East and Africa who are unable toassimilate well with the European population. (Fetzer, 2000). These researchesshow the true feelings of many European citizens and why they see PRR partiesas their only hope in reducing the constant inflow of immigration.The issue of immigration recentlyflared up due to the European migrant crisis in 2015 when large numbers ofmigrants from African and Middle Eastern countries began making perilous journeysto Europe with several people dying along the way. Due to the unprecedented highlevels of migrants, many PRR parties in Europe who are opposed to immigrationgreatly improved their political positions in elections and polls when people startedagreeing with their anti-immigration stance. Countries such as Germany, the UnitedKingdom, France, Austria, and the Netherlands to name a few have seen a significantrise in voters supporting their PRR parties. This migrant crisis has led to PRR parties to place even more emphasison the issue and encourage further anti-immigration sentiment across thecontinent. According to The Wall Street Journal, Eurosceptic politicianshave seen an increase in their popularity since the migrant crisis.
(Troianovski, 2015). EuroscepticismEuroscepticism is a major topic inEurope. While several Europeans oppose certain policies implemented by the EU,they still ultimately support the union (Soft Eurosceptism). However, others arecompletely opposed to European integration and the EU as an institution (HardEurosceptism). Eurosceptic citizens view Europeanintegration 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 believeco-operation between European countries is necessary. However, they opines thatthe EU is now dominated by big businesses and major countries. They see theEU’s current policies as only benefitting the elite, ignoring the working classand the poor. Furthermore, these Eurosceptics are worried that the EU may becomea ‘superstate’ with absolute authority over individual countries. Due to these views, voter turnoutfor the European Parliament elections have steadily declined since the firstelection in 1979 because Europeans lack confidence in the EU, and voter turnoutfor 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 theTelegraph in 2014, support for European Union membership was at its peak in1991 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 inthree 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 SouthernEuropean countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
(Batsaikhan andDarvas, 2017). This slight recovery is mainly due to Europe’s economicimprovement since the financial crisis of 2007/08 and the following Europeandebt crisis which began at the end of 2009. However, at the same time, recentevents such as European Migrant Crisis (2015) and Brexit (June 2016) are decreasingconfidence in the EU’s governance and many Europeans are pessimistic about thefuture of the union.Euroscepticism can also be linkedto immigration. Eurosceptics argues that EU policies encourages high levels ofimmigration. The Schengen Agreement, which was signed on the 14th ofJune 1985 and became effective less than 10 years later, largely abolishedinternal border checks, allowing passport-free movement within most EU statesand some non-EU states.
This agreement also allows non-EU nationals with aSchengen visa easy access to most of Europe. Eurosceptics criticise theagreement because they believe Europe is opening its door to even more migrantsand potential criminals. The Paris attacks, which occurred on the 13thof November 2015 and killed 130 people, further supported Eurosceptic belief whichurged the EU to not only rethink the Schengen agreement but also the EU’spolicy on immigration. (BBC News, 2016). There were major concerns that theperpetrators of the attack easily entered Paris from Belgium, and some enteredthe EU with crowds of migrants through Greece. (BBC News, 2016).Euroscepticism is actively linkedto voter support for PPR parties. The ever growing lack of trust in theEU have seen support for PRR parties rise.
Many EU citizens feel disillusionedwith the EU and their governments who they believe offer only little tomoderate messages about their positions on matters like European integration.Therefore, these citizens who already harbour very Eurosceptic views will see PRRparties in their countries as the only way to push for withdrawal from the EUor at least force the EU to enact major changes in their policies. The EU referendum also known asBrexit which took place in June 2016 saw the UK vote to leave the EU. This markeda major point in the Eurosceptic movement and created intense worldwide mediaspeculation about the growing influence of PRR parties mainly due to UKIP, a EuroscepticPRR party, playing a major role in the leave campaign. Many see Brexit asEuroscepticism recording its greatest political victory to date. As a result ofBrexit, major PRR parties in other EU countries, such as National Front(France), Party for Freedom (Netherlands), and Lega Nord (Italy), are moreactively advocating for withdrawal from the EU.
ConclusionSince the Great Recession, thesupport for populist radical right parties has been on a growth in Europe mainlydue to rising Immigration and discontent with the policies of the EU. Moreover, significant events such as the recentEuropean Migrant Crisis and Brexit have boosted the popularity of PRR partiesin several European countries. The two main reasons for voterssupporting PRR parties; Immigration and Euroscepticism are closely linkedtogether. The ever growing rate in which migrants are pouring into Europe,especially EU countries, and people’s dissatisfaction with the EU’s economicand immigration policies have made many groups of people feel disenchanted withtheir own governments and the EU’s governance. These people feel threatened byimmigration who they fear will cause social and economic decline in theirnations. Moreover, these people despise the authority the EU possesses over howtheir country is run.
This rising attitude of Euroscepticism have pushed many voterstowards PRR parties who base their political ideology on opposition toImmigration and the EU.Overall, the two arguments ofImmigration and Eurosceptism combined provides an explanation on why voters aredisillusioned with current European governments and why they view PRR partiesas a new way forward in regaining their national identity and autonomy.