Generalizable Models of European Right-wing Populist Parties

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Hossein Modifi Ahmadi
The increasing influence of right-wing populist parties in European countries is considered as a new phenomenon in Europe and a challenge facing the European project as well as the continent’s liberal democratic norms. At the present time, there is no doubt that after major moderate right and left parties lost ground, the right-wing populist parties have turned into important actors in Europe’s political sphere; actors, which will most probably influence future dynamism of the European project as well. Due to importance of right-wing populist parties in the future structure of Europe, attention has been paid to their strategic and discourse-based similarities and differences, including with regard to the European project and protectionist policies. Such similarities and differences also determine the possibility of creating coherent communication networks among right-wing populist parties in Western and Easter Europe. We know that leaders of right-wing populist parties from various European countries recently came together in the Czech Republic’s capital city to pave the way for creation of a network of these parties across Europe.

Many factors can be mentioned as the main drivers behind expanding social influence of right-wing populist parties. They include relative weakening of the European Union’s position as an institution; relative weakening of the European Union’s position as an idea; globalization and its consequences; strengthening of the “state-run capitalism” model; geopolitical developments along the southern boundaries of Europe; growing fear of immigration, asylum seeking and terrorism; economic recession; measures related to economic austerity policy; and the eurozone crisis.

It seems that some generalizable models can be achieved through concentration on discourse-based and strategic components of right-wing populist parties in Europe. Those parties include Poland’s Law and Justice Party; the Czech Republic’s Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (which hosted the recent gathering of the leaders of European right-wing populist parties); Hungary’s Fidesz Party; the Netherlands’ Party of Freedom; Britain’s UKIP (UK Independence Party); Italy’s Northern League; Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD); and France’s National Front. The most important of those components are as follows:

1.      Almost all European right-wing populist parties have anti-elitism tendencies. This means that these parties consider national and even transnational organizations, parties and institutions, such as the European Union, as representatives of inefficient elites that rule European societies.

2.      Almost all European right-wing populist parties have anti-liberal tendencies with regard to social and political issues. Of course, many Western European right-wing populist parties are considered as liberal in economic terms, because they oppose government’s intervention in the economy and support national capitalism. It appears that one reason why most European right-wing populist parties are opposed to democracy is because democracy supports minorities, including Muslims, and prevents the majority to impose its will on the entire society.

3.      Both in Eastern and Western Europe, there are tendencies against immigration and multiculturalism, which constitute a major factor that increases attraction of the right-wing populist parties. However, this factor is more powerful in Eastern Europe compared to other factors. It seems that the attraction that right-wing populist parties have in Eastern Europe is rooted in historical backdrop of the rule of totalitarian right and left parties, historically powerful nationalistic tendencies in this region, and a narrow-minded definition of the concept of the West by these parties. Following the Cold War, the dominant tendency in Eastern European countries has been manifest in an effort to be defined under the Western world and Western Europe. Within this framework, right-wing populist parties in Eastern Europe see the phenomenon of immigration, especially presence of Muslim immigrants, as the end of the West and its identity as they know it.

4.      Anti-European Union tendencies and opposition to the concept of European citizen – based on the discourse of nationalism and control – constitute the most important factor that makes right-wing populist parties look attractive in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, however, we see the dominance of criticism of the European Union or Euroscepticism, which is more pervasive than anti-EU tendencies. The main criticism raised by right-wing populist parties in Eastern Europe is about less democratic approaches adopted by the European Union and the pivotal role of Germany in the decision-making process of this union.

5.      On both sides of the continent, concerns about globalization and its consequences, especially with regard to immigration and unemployment, have been among major drivers that have increased social influence of right-wing populist parties. Such concerns, however, have been stronger in Eastern European countries. This is why Eastern European right-wing populist parties, unlike their Western European counterparts (except for parties like France’s National Front), mostly support government’s intervention in the economy and protectionist policies.

6.      Apart from such parties as the Netherlands’ Party of Freedom, European right-wing populist parties generally follow conservative and religious tendencies when it comes to social freedoms and are opposed to more modern lifestyles such as the acceptance of homosexualism.


*Photo CreditNeweuropeans

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.