Between Bizarre and Extremism: Czech Hard Euroscepticism in the 2017 Elections

Vít Hloušek and Petr Kaniok

The Czech Republic is (in)famous for its extraordinary high level of Euroscepticism. The public continuously declares very low levels of trust in the EU and perceives terrorism and immigration as the main threats despite the fact that there have not been any terrorist attacks there and the number of migrants from Syria or Africa reached staggering figure of 12. As we have shown, Euroscepticism is also widespread among the Czech political elites as well, and it remains vibrant and able to cope with new challenges. Fortunately, Soft Euroscepticism prevails among the relevant political parties and Hard Euroscepticism typically falls behind the threshold of 5% that assures parliamentary representation in the House of Deputies. Nevertheless, the landscape of the Czech Hard Euroscepticism prior to the 2017 elections was colourful and composed of many species and it the Czech Hard Eurosceptic political parties that we will present in this post.

The most traditional – and, one might add, “normal” – Czech Hard Eurosceptic party is the Party of Free Citizens (Svobodní). Established in early 2009 by groups of former members of the Civic Democrats (ODS) who did not agree with party’s EU policy, the Free Citizens have been combining Hard Euroscepticism with libertarianism. In 2014, Svobodní surprisingly succeeded in the European Parliament (EP) elections and send its leader Petr Mach to Brussels. In coming years, the party has tried to use this presence for domestic purposes, but without visible success. Even though party leader Mach has tried to extend the party´s scope and correct its single issue perception, Svobodni has remained known particularly for their harsh critique of the EU. This did not change in its 2017 electoral manifesto. European integration was characterized there as a “dead end” due to its un-democratic nature and incompatibility with European values such as freedom, democracy and accountability. Svobodni, therefore, called for an EU membership referendum and recommended ‘Czexit’. As an alternative model of European co-operation, the party suggested an architecture based upon inter-governmental principles typical of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). However, voters do not seem to care – Svobodní were far away from the 5% threshold in every published poll and its support did not increase even when Petr Mach left the EP in late August claiming that national elections were his priority.

The second Hard Eurosceptic party which has, since its establishment in November 2016, tried to carefully build up non-extremist reputation are Realists (Realisté). The party was founded by Petr Robejšek, a political scientist and commentator living for a long time in Germany. In the first phase of its existence, the party rhetoric obviously tried to copycat the “professorial” style typical of the Alliance for Germany (AfD) during its first years. Mr Robejšek confidentially announced the Realists could get 20% of votes in the elections but, as in case of Svobodní, the party was almost invisible in the polls. Concerning the EU, Realists put strong emphasis on security issues claiming that the whole of Czech policy, including EU policy, had to treat the national security as the most important issue. The Realists also suggested that term “national interest” should be included into the Czech Constitution as being superior to supranational commitments, and explicitly rejected joining the Eurozone.

Moving on to the club of gentlemen who are not as cultivated as Messrs Mach and Robejšek, let us start with the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party led by Tomio Okamura, an incumbent MP. Mr Okamura is not a newcomer on the Czech far right Eurosceptic scene. His current political project is a product of a in the Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit) party that scored well enough to get 14 MPs in 2013. The Dawn of Direct Democracy broke up quickly and Mr Okamura founded the new Freedom and Direct Democracy party. The new party’s electoral manifesto, For Democracy and Freedom: Never Again about Us without Us, stressed the notion of Czech sovereignty and called for referendum that would lead to Czexit (“Stop the EU dictate. We will leave in the English style”). After Czexit, EFTA would be enough to continue economic exchange with the EU member countries. The main electoral blockbuster of the party is, however, triggering fear of Muslim migrants depicted as terrorists endangering the Czech way of life and the very existence of the Czech nation. This simple and frenetically employed message connected with the well-known face of Tomio Okamura to make Freedom and Direct Democracy the only real candidate for parliamentary seats among the Czech far right Hard Eurosceptic parties.

The other offspring of the Dawn of Direct Democracy party fared far worse in the pre-election polls despite its ability to keep part of the name of the former party. Dawn-National Coalition (Ú-NK) is the heir of the former Dawn of Direct Democracy not only in name but also in its extremely “economical” way of drafting manifestos. The only larger material dealt with the direct democracy as a panacea to all current political troubles. There was no official manifesto aimed at presentation of the party´s position in 2017 elections, so we had to be satisfied with statements from the general policy line claiming that “Europe without barriers” and opposing “centralisation of power in supranational organisations, such as the European Commission, the European Parliaments and other similar institutions”. Browsing the party’s blog also reveals that the migrants are the most criticized and hottest electoral topic for this party too.

There are plenty of other parties carrying the Hard Eurosceptic flag, although of much less political relevance. Typically, these are far right parties that derive their Hard Eurosceptic policies from their extremist ideology. Some of these parties – such as the Rally for the Republic-Republican Party of Czechoslovakia founded by the veteran of Czech far right politics Miroslav Sládek, or the Workers´ Party of Social Justice related closely to skinhead scene – have their roots in a longer tradition of being present in Czech politics. Others are the products of personal feuds within the Party of Free Citizens, such as the ‘Referendum on the EU’ movement. This particular movement was founded by the former vice-chair of the Party of Free Citizens František Matějka and is literally a single-issue party calling for the referendum that would guide the Czech Republic out of the EU. Reading the manifestos of the other far right parties – the Anti-Islam Bloc, the Common Sense Party, the Czech National Front, or Order of Nation-Patriotic Union to list just a few – they have two features in common. They stress the threat posed by Muslim migrants who are identified automatically with terrorists. In addition, they call for a referendum that would trigger Czexit. The far right parties are not alone in covering these topics. A similar programme on the EU is a feature of a quite bizarre movement called ‘The Sportspeople’. In their manifesto, nicely called With Sport against the Drugs, Alcohol, and Hazard Games: Let Us Save Us, Our Children, Homeland, and Our Civilisation, the Sportspeople are against migration but they do not want a referendum nor Czexit but “merely” to “abandon the Lisbon Treaty”.

We should not forget that there is also one centre-left Hard Eurosceptic party in the Czech Republic. The main message of the Party of Citizens´ rights (SPO) is that “by voting us, you support President Miloš Zeman”. This is hardly a surprise given the roots and history of the party. In 2008, a tiny group of former ministers and other political collaborators of former prime minister Miloš Zeman formed the ‘Friends of Miloš Zeman’ club and, a year later, the Party of Citizen´s Rights-Zemanites replaced the club. After failing to get into to the House of Deputies in 2013, Mr Zeman (who remains the honorary chair of the party) forced the party to abandon its official nickname ‘Zemanites’ (Zemanovci) but the party has continued to serve as a club to support, and megaphone to promote, the views of Miloš Zeman. Traditionally represented by uncharismatic leaders, the party decided to boost its chances to cross the 5% threshold in 2017 by placing the popular musician, painter and showman František “Ringo” Čech in the position of an electoral leader. This former drummer was involved in politics in the 1990s being a member of the Prague City Council and MP for the Czech Social Democratic Party in 1996-1998. Many of his interviews presented the Party of Citizens’ Rights in a rather erratic way that was not focusing on the programme at all but stressed the idea that President Zeman was the cleverest and the most skilful Czech politician: “The people would be better off if Miloš (Zeman) would have more powers”. Mr Zeman’s views on the EU are unclear (indeed, it is not clear whether he has any) apart from mobilising fear of Muslim migrants. The party’s electoral manifesto, Strong Czech Roots for the Citizens of This Country, states that “The EU has been in reality ceasing to fulfil its basic functions” and therefore, a plebiscite shall decide as soon as possible the question of Czech membership of the EU. The Czech Republic, it argues, has to abandon the EU trajectory anyway in order to strengthen cooperation with other Central European countries in the so-called Visegrád Group and foster economic relations with Asian countries, especially China. Here, as well, migrants were felt to constitute the main threat for the Czech security.

We can make a couple of generalisations from the positions taken by the parties discussed above. The attractiveness of an outright critique towards the EU, requiring Czexit, seems to have increased in the recent years. However, Hard Euroscepticism is not appealing per se. It only becomes relevant as a by-product of harsh critique of the domestic political system as expressed by political protest parties such as Freedom and Direct Democracy. Parties which use Hard Euroscepticism as their single policy (or one of their most important policies) such as Svobodní and the Realists are far from being relevant. This suggests that Hard Euroscepticism still has a very limited potential for Czech politics.

The election results confirmed this view. The only Hard Eurosceptic party that entered the Lower House of the Czech Parliament was Mr Okamura´s Freedom and Direct Democracy with 10.64%of the vote. From the others, only Svobodni reached at least the 1.5% threshold (1.56% in fact) to guarantee them some re-imbursement of the costs spent on the campaign. The rest were simply marginalized: The Common Sense Party scored 0.72%, the Realists 0.71%, the Party of Citizens´ Rights 0.36%, the Sportspeople 0.20%, the Workers´ Party of Social Justice 0.20%, Mr Sládek´s Republicans 0.19%, the Order of Nation 0.17%, the Anti-Islam Bloc 0.10%, and Referendum on the EU 0.08%. The Czech National Front obtained just 117 out of 5,060,759 valid votes.

Vít Hloušek ( is Professor of European Politics at the Department of International Relations and European Studies, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno. His pedagogical research areas of specialization cover the contemporary history and comparative politics of Central-Eastern European countries with a special focus on Europeanisation of domestic party politics. His is the author of the books Origin, Ideology and Transformation of Political Parties. East-Central and Western Europe Compared (Routledge, with L. Kopecek) and Europeanised Defiance – Czech Euroscepticism since 2004 (Barbara Budrich Publishers, with P. Kaniok and V. Havlik), among others.

Petr Kaniok ( works as Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations and European Studies, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno. He is interested in the political system of the European Union, European citizenship and the politics of CEE countries. Most recently, his work has been published by Journal of Contemporary European Research and East European Politics.


Softs remain soft…and attractive; Czech Soft Eurosceptic parties in the run-up to the 2017 parliamentary elections

Vít Hloušek and Petr Kaniok

What a political party thinks about the European integration hardly matters in election campaigns. Such statements has always been an idiom even for Czech party politics where EU issues always been, for several reasons, more salient than, for example, in Slovakia. This year’s parliamentary election, and the campaign leading up to them, confirms this once again. This does not, however, mean that EU politics and policies have not played any role. Recent developments in the EU involving a variety of crisis have particularly fuelled Eurosceptic streams. In this piece we review the ‘Soft’ ones – placing them in the context of established pro-European parties.

The first usual suspect, of course, represents they Civic Democrats (ODS). They did their traditional Soft Eurosceptic homework by drafting the paper A Strong Czechia in Europe of the 21st Century in April 2017. Here, there was a clear link going back to the 16-year-old Manifesto of the Czech Eurorealism which is hardly surprising given the fact that both of these papers were co-authored by Civic Democratic MEP Jan Zahradil. Both A Strong Czechia in Europe and the party’s election manifesto A Strong Program for a Strong Czechia discuss the EU’s situation as a crisis comprising migration, economics, security and trust. The Civic Democrats repeatedly stress that there is no other way than to remain an EU member but that the EU must be substantially transformed into a multi-speed Europe that would offer the Czechs the opportunity to participate only in what they want to without taking other obligations from other EU members. According to the Civic Democrats, the Czech authorities must “deny all legislation which contradicts Czech national interests, such as quotas for the refugees or regulation of the legal possession of weapons.” This approach, together with the promise to voters that the Civic Democrats, will negotiate an opt-out from the obligation to adopt the Euro are showing that the slogan of ‘Eurorealism’ hid a rather unrealistic treatment of any future Czech political representation’s bargaining potential is hidden. The Civic Democrats are offering detailed scheme of how to reform the EU demonstrating thereby that they are minor but still vital members of the European Conservatives and Reformists European Parliament (EP) grouping but they do not bother to assess feasibility of their proposals.

The second in the Soft Eurosceptic camp are, again not surprisingly, the Czech Communists (KSČM). Although the Communists have been previously labelled as Hard Eurosceptics, the scope and intensity of their critique towards the EU does not qualify them for this camp anymore. First, for example, the Communists´ interest in the EU affairs is remarkably lower than in the case of the Civic Democrats. To put it simply, the EU does not represent a policy of prominent interest for the Communists. It sometimes feels that the party mentions the EU in a critical tone because such a message, a very trivial one, is expected from its supporters. Particularly those core ones who still feel some sort of nostalgia for the “old times”. Hence, as in previous years, the Communists ritually called for “substantial institutional reform of the EU that would ensure equal position of EU Member states” or for “an increased role of the European Parliament as well as national parliaments at the expense of the influence of bureaucrats”. The Communists also criticized EU migration policy and rejected the “enforced quotas system”. This point, however, was perhaps the only innovation of the party´s approach towards the EU. The remaining slogans could be found in manifestos issued for all previous elections.

All the governmental parties are formally and rhetorically very much pro-EU. However, a detailed look suggests that words do not always match actions. A good example of this is Andrej Babiš’ Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) movement. Mr Babiš was “Rookie of the year” in the 2013 elections when his movement made a significant breakthrough. However in the run-up to the October 2017 poll no one was questioning whether ANO would win the election just how substantial its lead would be. The obvious superstar of the Czech party scene has developed into such a position due to a combination of Mr Babiš’s charisma, ANO’s strong presence in mainstream newspapers (owned, incidentally by Mr. Babiš) and dexterous populism; including the party’s policy towards the European integration.

As such, ANO is a movement that pays very limited attention to Brussels. The list of party statements and media appearances is long and contains hundreds of entries just for one calendar year, but entries on the EU are very rare and when they occur they quite sensitively follow what “the people” want to hear and what they currently associate the EU with. Such topics are particularly the money from the Structural Funds (which Mr Babiš and his team fight for) and refugees or security concerns (which Mr Babiš and his team will resolve).

Not surprisingly, this approach is very visible in the ANO 2017 election manifesto. Here EU affairs are discussed from the perspective of Czech interests. For example, ANO only agrees to the Czech Republic joining the Eurozone only after it has been substantially reformed. ANO also claims that immigration policy has to remain in hands of Member States. Even though ANO says that the Czech membership in the EU is a key principle of its policy, the EU is understood only as a utility to carry out Czech interests in a better way. ANO also suggests reform of the EU: “to do less and more effectively and only in these areas where the EU can bring added value”. This is quite an interesting approach for a party whose MEPs sit in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe EP grouping which has labelled itself as pro-European.

The Social Democrats are the party with the main share of responsibility for Czech EU policy – holding both the positions of Minister of Foreign Affairs and State Secretary for the EU Affairs maintained their official Europhile profile, rhetorically at least. The party´s manifesto, for example, advocated the Czech Republic being in the EU “core”, one speed European integration as well as calling for it to join the Eurozone. This clear profile was, however, problematized several times by key party politicians’ media appearance For example, in an interview for Austrian daily ‘Die Presse’, prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka claimed that “we do not want to have more Muslims in the Czech Republic” obviously addressing concerns about EU migration policy expressed by some parts of the Czech electorate.

The Christian Democratic electoral manifesto Responsibly for a Common Home is based on the metaphor of a common house for different generations of Czechs. This metaphor leaves only a little space for thorough discussions of the party’s EU policy. Moreover, the party treats the EU and its position on European integration as part of its foreign policy programme, more than 13 years after Czechia became an EU member. Both the party’s election manifesto and its long-term program adopted in May 2017, Basic Directions of the Policy of KDU-ČSL for the Period of 2017-2019 are rather vague. They express general support for the idea of European integration as the only tool for assuring peace and prosperity in Europe, but this is “compensated” for with references to Czech national interests and sovereignty and the necessity to reform the EU in order to achieve more subsidiarity.

The Christian Democrats highlight the EU as a community based on a common Christian heritage and values. This predestines their strong “no” to any vision of Turkish EU membership as well as the party’s attention to migration issues. Here, the Christian Democrats reject any permanent relocation mechanisms and focus on blocking the inflow of migrants and increasing the level of protection of the external Schengen borders. Currently, the Czech Christian Democrats are changing into a slightly more critical actor in terms of assessment of the current state of the EU. They highlight the principle of subsidiarity to give “a bigger space to decision-making at the national and regional levels” including the notion of flexible integration and the use of the “cards” mechanism more often.

The EU flag is hence only carried just by the TOP 09 party led by Miroslav Kalousek. Undoubtedly, Mr Kalousek’s party is the most enthusiastically pro-European party among the incumbents in the House of Deputies. In the 2017 campaign 2017, it starts already with the symbolical slogan of the campaign “nEUhneme” (We won´t move over) stressing the letter “E” and “U”. Its position towards the EU is discussed in the long-term program Successful Country – Resilient Society: Vision of the Czech Republic in 2030. It is a vision of the Europeanisation and modernisation of the Czech society fresher than the typical electoral manifesto yet less readable and emotionally catchy than Mr Babiš´s book dreaming about the future of the Czech Republic, as well as in its election manifesto of the same title.

The preamble of the programme summarizes the party’s policy on the EU issues concisely: “We are the part of the EU and we want to be its active and responsible member…We will decide (in the elections) … to remain a firm constituent of Western Europe or to become a periphery of the EU under still bigger Russian influence,” promises TOP 09. The EU is treated as the natural (and, together with NATO, the only) guarantee of Czech security. TOP 09 belongs (together with Greens) to the few parties that do not treat their EU policies as a part of their foreign policy agenda. “We are the EU” says the slogan: entering the Eurozone, turning to the core and mainstream of the integration process, maintaining close co-operation, including on migration issues, are the tools. TOP 09 is a straight pro-EU party, which agrees with the Czech mainstream (which is more openly or covertly Eurosceptic) only at one point, namely: rejection of any permanent mechanism relocating refugees among the EU member countries.

If we should sum up the role of EU for Soft Eurosceptics and pro-European parties, there would be three interesting points. Firstly, there has been quite remarkable stability in parties´ positions towards the EU. Neither earlier crisis as the Eurozone one, nor the newer EU troubles as Brexit or the refugee crisis, have changed parties´ approaches much. That means, we can hardly speak about any signs of a hardening of the Soft Eurosceptic family due to these multiple crisis. Secondly, the pro-EU camp seems to be very heterogeneous and flexible when it comes to borrowing metaphors and positions particularly from traditional Soft Eurosceptics. This is particularly the case of ANO, but we could identify this tendency also in Czech Communist rhetoric. The latter party in particular does not dare to, for example, call for a return of power back to national states and regions. What has been defined as Soft Euroscepticism does seem to keep its attractiveness and even increases it. These findings could suggest that there are much fewer differences between the Soft Eurosceptics and pro-European camp as it was assumed. Or, that there could be similar differences between the pro-EU parties in terms of their Soft and Hard positions as have been defined in the case of Eurosceptics.

Vít Hloušek ( is Professor of European Politics at the Department of International Relations and European Studies, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno. His pedagogical research areas of specialization cover the contemporary history and comparative politics of Central-Eastern European countries with a special focus on Europeanisation of domestic party politics. His is the author of the books Origin, Ideology and Transformation of Political Parties. East-Central and Western Europe Compared (Routledge, with L. Kopecek) and Europeanised Defiance – Czech Euroscepticism since 2004 (Barbara Budrich Publishers, with P. Kaniok and V. Havlik), among others.

Petr Kaniok ( works as Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations and European Studies, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno. He is interested in the political system of the European Union, European citizenship and the politics of CEE countries. Most recently, his work has been published by Journal of Contemporary European Research and East European Politics.

Public Euroscepticism after the British referendum

Theofanis Exadaktylos, Simona Guerra and Roberta Guerrina

The British EU membership referendum in June 2016 has had a limited impact on national politics across the EU member states, but it has definitely changed the public debate in terms of redefining Euroscepticism. While the literature has extensively examined party Euroscepticism, contributions on public attitudes have focused on causal explanations based on identity, rationality, institutional and cultural models. Recent studies analyse the impact of the economic and financial crisis, and the media, and how the salience of Euroscepticism has increased and shifted its position from the margins to the mainstream. Yet, the post-financial crisis years, the steady decreasing levels of turnout at European Parliament (EP) elections, the refugee crisis, the British referendum and wider security debates have led towards more pressing questions on the future of the EU, and, in particular, towards the study of public opinion and civil society.

Although the current crisis and contested debates have raised the salience of the EU issue, it is important to distinguish how citizens live the crisis and encourage the agenda on research on public Euroscepticism, focused on non-elites and civil society.
 John FitzGibbon addresses the multi-faceted opposition to the current state of the EU integration process, developed across different arenas, which found a lack of leadership and response in the EU decision-making structure and vision. In FitzGibbon’s study he argues that the reaction across civil society to this type of institutional crisis, strengthened by the Eurocrisis, led to a new form of opposition, supporting the polity, but opposing the current direction of the EU integration process, labelled Euroalternativism.

As noted in previous research, although diversified, political and social debates are deeply affected by the media. This might not always favour unbiased information, as the media undoubtedly represents a channel of contestation. Charlotte Galpin and Hans-Joerg Trenz address a possible ‘spiral of Euroscepticism’ following the preference towards ‘polemicism, excessiveness, and general negativity’. In addition, the widespread use of online media is likely to favour context-based events that do not necessarily support the spread of political information and/or facts. On the contrary, traditional media correlates with information and a more positive attitude towards the EU, while online media exposure is likely to impact on more pessimism towards the EU and the trajectory of the EU integration process, as underlined by Nicolò Conti and Vincenzo Memoli – perhaps creating online echo-chambers and reproduction of such paradigms. In addition, the harshly contested referendum campaign, following years of general contentious and negative coverage across the EU due to the financial and economic crisis, and the previous Greek referendum (July 2015), ended well beyond the tipping point examined just two years ago by Nick Startin.

The campaign ahead of the referendum on British membership of the EU, leading to the vote of 23 June 2016, was highly charged. The rhetoric deployed by both camps generated anxiety, uncertainty, anger and fear. In this contribution, we offer an analysis of survey data carried out by the YouGov polling agency two weeks after the referendum (6-7 July 2016) as part of our research project ‘Brexit or Bremain: Britain and the 2016 British Referendum’, assessing the results. Our survey data show that both Leave and Remain voters cited ‘immigration’, the ‘economy’ (or economic stability), and ‘sovereignty’ as the reason for their voting preference. In particular, we seek to point to the salience of emotions that have been moved by the referendum campaign and the impact these may have.

Emotions are an important factor behind human decision-making and are likely to influence the rational evaluation of the referendum position. It appears that both campaigns had an influence in increasing citizens’ anxieties and uncertainties, with uncertainty quite widespread among those who voted Remain and with gender and age-group cleavage that seem to have persisted through to the June 2017 UK general election campaign. While women and young people tend to be more anxious or uncertain, men are likely to feel angry and disappointed. Among their open answers, the possible challenges towards the future and the lack of stable expectations and probable economic instability are likely to have played an impact on their vote.

Following the verbatim comments in the survey and presenting the words of voters, ‘Leave’ meant:
• ‘To regain control over our laws and money’,
• ‘Less control from Brussels’,
• ‘Immigration out of control’,
• ‘To get control of our country back’,
• ‘Immigration’,
• ‘I don’t want our country to be watered down with red tape and bureaucracy from countries we fought against in two World Wars’,
• ‘A £320 million pounds a week going to the EU’,
• ‘Have the ABILITY to control borders’,
• ‘Sovereignty.’

On the other hand, voters who chose to vote ‘Remain’ said:
• ‘To prevent economic uncertainty’,
• ‘Less uncertainty for the future & continuing trading with the EU’,
• ‘Unity with other countries’,
• ‘Peace in Europe through cooperation, trade and tackling climate change’,
• ‘No clear information. Blatant lies and confusion. Felt it was more about our dissatisfaction with our own government’,
• ‘Leaving would be madness/suicide’,
• ‘I consider myself European’,
• ‘Future for the young more important’.
• ‘I felt that the UK leaves itself vulnerable away from the EU’,
• ‘It’s common sense – Wales receives a lot of money from the EEC.’

Both sets of voters cited here convey a degree of certainty about the values underpinning their choice or concerns and fears towards the future, in some cases for young people’s future perspectives, and in others for direct funds to some regions. However, this sense of confidence or trust towards a better future in the EU was matched by widespread ambiguity about the options and the long-term impact of the vote:
• ‘I did not understand enough to put my opinion forward’,
• ‘I felt extremely let down by both sides and all the untruths they were telling’,
• ‘Not sure anymore!!!’

Concomitantly, there has been an immediate upsurge of disappointment for the general tone of the campaign, showing distrust towards political leaders – ‘(D)isgraceful campaigns by both sides for a horrible divisive referendum which should not have happened. Cameron should be tried for treason’ – but also the perception that there was ‘not enough impartial information’. These emotions seem to reflect the two sides of the vote. As immigration and the economy characterize the issue salience, among the emotions displayed the feeling about the future of the country post-referendum is ‘uncertainty’ that seems to persist across public opinion.

As we have already noted, most comments have underlined ‘anger’ as the factor that could mobilize the vote or could further emerge from the referendum outcome. Our findings highlight the emergence of uncertainty, which can further affect a slow, but attentive to details, decision-making process, and how further information is going to be processed.

The bi-directional nature of the relationship between emotions and decision making characterises the current state of the debate across public opinion and can well move into the negotiation process of leaving the EU, and affect future attitudes and decision making related to EU issues in Britain. Additionally, it is worth noting that emotions can affect different attitudes and behaviours, as uncertainty can make some voters more risk-averse; although, clearly, many citizens were ready to take the risk of the vote. Research shows that the intensity of the emotion can further increase, when knowledge and confidence are lower.

This leaves us with further research to address for the future of the Brexit negotiation process, and methodologically about the role of emotions and perceptions and attitudes and behaviours.

Theofanis Exadaktylos ( is Senior Lecturer in European Politics at the Department of Politics at the University of Surrey. His research agenda includes research on: Europeanisation; politics of austerity in Europe; policy implementation and political trust; the rise of populism and the emergence of national stereotypes in the media. His work has appeared in, among others, the Journal of Common Market Studies and Policy Studies Journal. He is also the co-chair of the ECPR Standing Group on Political Methodology.

Simona Guerra ( is Associate Professor in Politics at the University of Leicester and Senior Research Fellow at the LSEE (Research on South Eastern Europe) (May-December 2017). She has published, among others, in the Journal of Communist and Post-Communist Studies and the Journal of Common Market Studies, and is the author of Euroscepticism, Democracy and the Media: Communicating Europe, Contesting Europe (Palgrave, Series in European Political Sociology 2017) and Central and Eastern European Attitudes in the Face of Union (Palgrave 2013).

Roberta Guerrina ( is Professor of Politics at the University of Surrey with a particular interest in European social policy, citizenship policy and gender equality. She has published in the area of women’s human rights, work-life balance, identity politics and the idea of Europe. She has published in, among others: the Journal of European Public Policy, International Affairs, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, Journal of Civil Society, Policy, Organisation and Society and Identities: Journal for Politics Gender and Culture. She is author of Mothering the Union: Gender Politics in the EU (Manchester University Press 2005) and Europe: History, Ideas and Ideologies (Arnold 2002).

How has Brexit, and other EU crises, affected party Euroscepticism across Europe?

Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart

As a rather distant and abstract process with little apparent popular resonance, Brexit has so far had a very limited impact on national party politics across Europe beyond the UK, particularly compared with the earlier Eurozone and migration crisis, although. While the longer-term, dynamic effects of Brexit on party Euroscepticism might be greater and there are a number of countries to watch where such impacts might develop, perceptions of its ‘success’ or ‘failure’ will be filtered through competing narratives and questions raised about whether broader lessons can be drawn from the British case.

A distant and abstract process

In 2015 and earlier this year we conducted two expert surveys in which we examined the impact the Eurozone crisis, the migration crisis and Brexit on Euroscepticism on party politics across Europe. We drew on expertise from the University of Sussex-based European Parties Elections and Referendums Network (EPERN) to gather data on all EU member states together with Norway, Serbia and Switzerland. The project was funded by the ESRC’s ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ project. (We are extremely grateful to the ESRC and all of our respondents, although analysis and interpretation of the comparative findings are our own).

Our main finding is that there has been a clear difference between the impacts of the different crises. The Eurozone crisis had a particularly powerful effect, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the party systems of those countries most affected by the bailout packages: Germany, Greece and Ireland (to a lesser extent, Slovakia, Finland, Spain, Portugal). The migration crisis had a particularly strong effect on party politics in the post-communist states of central Europe (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic), and also Bulgaria – but, interestingly, not most of the post-communist Balkan EU members (Croatia, Romania, Slovenia) and candidates (Serbia), nor the post-Soviet Baltic states.

The UK’s June 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU has, on the other hand, had a very limited impact on national party politics, particularly when compared with these two earlier EU crises. Its main effect has been to re-inforce and legitimise existing what we term ‘Soft’ or ‘Hard’ Eurosceptic narratives, rather than lead to an increase in Eurosceptic party politics overall or shifts from Hard to Soft Euroscepticism. In our earlier writings, we defined: Hard Euroscepticism as principled opposition to the project of European integration (based on the ceding or transfer of powers to supranational institutions such as the EU); and Soft Euroscepticism as when there was not a principled objection to EU European integration but there was opposition to Union’s current or future planned trajectory (based on the further extension of competencies that it was planning to make).

Beyond the immediate news impact of the actual referendum vote, Brexit has hitherto been a rather distant and abstract process, with little apparent popular resonance – certainly compared with the two earlier crises which, in some countries at least, appeared to have a powerful public salience and perceived impact upon many people’s day-to-lives. The survey was conducted before Article 50 was invoked and this meant that EU states had not formally reacted to Brexit. However, the initial nature of the process, even after Article 50, would seem to suggest that it will be complicated, elite-driven and multi-institutional. For this reason, the process may continue to have low public resonance throughout the Brexit negotiations; except in Britain, of course, where it is dominating and over-shadowing virtually all other political issues.

What might change this is the chance that particular issues which have a public salience in particular countries may flare up in the course of the negotiations, such as the post-Brexit status of EU citizens currently in the UK. However, it is also possible these will be contested as so-called ‘valence’ issues over the competence (or lack of it) of the governing party that is conducting the negotiations. It is also important to note that Brexit might decrease as well as increase Euroscepticism, especially of the Hard variety, if it becomes associated with too much economic, political and social uncertainty and dislocation.

Countries to watch

Within this overall framework there are a number of countries ‘to watch’ where we think that there have been interesting responses to the Brexit crisis or where such responses might develop, particularly when the impact of this is re-inforced by or linked to the two earlier crises:

  • France (parliamentary election in June 2017) – France has a strong Eurosceptic party on the radical right (the National Front) and some smaller (Soft Eurosceptic) ones on the radical left. All three crises have provided an impetus for the National Front: the Eurozone crisis created space for their Euroscepticism to flourish; the migration crisis allowed the increased focus on security to mesh with the party’s policy on border control; and the Brexit crisis allowed it argue that ‘Frexit’ is now clearly possible and galvanised the issue of a referendum on EU membership for the party (as well as increasing Soft Euroscepticism on the mainstream right). Eurosceptic candidates of left and right won a sizeable share of the vote in the first round of the April/May presidential election and National Front leader Marine Le Pen secured over one-third in the second round run-off; although there was also evidence that she rowed back from emphasising Euroscepticism as an issue as the campaign progressed.


  • Ireland (next parliamentary election before April 2021) – the Eurozone crisis pushed Euroscepticism to the fore of the Irish party system and transformed the salience of these issues. However, interestingly, Brexit appears to have dramatically reduced party-based Euroscepticism in this country due to: economic uncertainty, the opportunities it presents for Irish ‘reunification’ and for Ireland to act as a bridge between the UK and EU, and its association with English nationalism.


  • Denmark (next parliamentary election before June 2019) – with its strong tradition of Eurosceptic public opinion and single issue parties/movements, and a propensity for EU referendums, Denmark is possibly the country most ‘to watch’ in terms of parties attempting to follow the Brexit route. Although Brexit and the two other crises had a moderate impact on party Euroscepticism, Denmark has a strong Eurosceptic party on the radical right (Danish People’s Party) which is pushing for a ‘British solution’ and wants a referendum to leave the EU. A new right-wing Eurosceptic party (the New Civic Party) has also emerged recently which appears likely to enter parliament after the next election and is also calling for an EU referendum and for the Union to be re-focused solely on to free trade.


  • Italy (next parliamentary election before May 2018) – Italy has a large, radical anti-establishment Eurosceptic party (the Five Star Movement), which is performing strongly in opinion polls, and another medium-sized radical right Eurosceptic grouping (Northern League). Party Euroscepticism in Italy was given much greater salience and opportunity by the Eurozone crisis, and sustained by the migration crisis, where the EU was accused even by mainstream parties of abandoning Italy. The Brexit crisis has not, however, given this a significant boost. Its main impact appears to have been introducing the new word ‘Italexit’ into the political lexicon, although Eurosceptic parties refer mainly to leaving the Eurozone rather than the EU itself when they discuss this.


  • The ‘Visegrad Four’ post-communist Central European states – the Czech Republic (next parliamentary election before October 2017), Hungary (before spring 2018), Slovakia (before March 2020), and Poland (before October 2019) – although the Eurozone crisis had little impact on party politics in these countries (notwithstanding helping to bring down a Slovak government in 2011) and the Brexit referendum simply re-affirmed existing Soft Eurosceptic narratives, the migration crisis did lead to a significant re-framing of the way that the EU is debated in these states, leading to a sharpening of Soft Euroscepticism among mainstream political actors. Interestingly, this phenomenon has not really affected other post-communist states such as the Baltic republics (where security continues to trump all other considerations) and (except for Bulgaria, where the migration issue meshes with existing tensions with the Turkish minority) the Balkan states. In the Western Balkan ‘front line’ states, the greater concern is that the EU manage the flows and burden share rather than oppose compulsory migrant relocation in principle.


  • Austria (next parliamentary election before October 2018) – the Eurosceptic Freedom Party is polling strongly and its presidential candidate Norbert Hofer performed very well in the 2016 election being defeated in a re-run second round run-off. The Eurozone crisis and the migration crisis both had the effect of crystallising the Freedom Party’s Euroscepticism but also, because of the direct impacts of both crises on Austria (with a relatively large intake of migrants), also appeared to move the centrist Social Democrats and Christian Democrats to adopt a more critical tone towards the EU. Brexit had an initial effect of bringing ‘Oxit’ into the political lexicon but all parties have since moved to a position of clarifying their support for EU membership in principle.


  • Greece (next parliamentary election before October 2019) – Eurosceptic parties can be found on both the radical left (SYRIZA and Communist Party) and right (Independent Greeks, Golden Dawn and, before it started to wane, the Greek Orthodox Rally). Not surprisingly the Eurozone crisis had a substantial impact on the Greek party system and led to major debates about, and criticisms of, the process that led to the country’s economic settlement with the EU. Similarly, the migration issue led to a particularly intense debate around accusations that the EU was not felt to be doing enough to help Greece and was proving incapable of handling another crisis. However, although Brexit has contributed to the general sense of uncertainty about the future of the EU and stimulated some debate about whether Greece should leave, it has not had the same impact as the two earlier crises. Over time, SYRIZA has also become somewhat less Eurosceptic; although, given that it has been the main governing party since 2015, this could be part of what Nick Sitter (writing about the Scandinavian countries) has termed the ‘government-opposition’ dynamic, whereby previously Eurosceptic opposition parties often become more pro-EU when they enter office and vice versa.

Less impact than expected?

There are also two cases where the impact of the Brexit crisis was not, or does not appear to have been, as significant as some commentators expected:

  • The Netherlands – given the previous electoral successes of radical right Eurosceptic Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, there was considerable interest in how the Brexit crisis would play out in this country, particularly during the recent March 2017 parliamentary election. Earlier, the Eurozone crisis had some impact with the Freedom Party attempting to use it to bolster its arguments about sovereignty, while the radical left (Soft Eurosceptic) Socialist Party also objected to the costs of the bailout. The Freedom Party also used the migration crisis to call for a closing of the Dutch borders. However, although the party originally lauded the UK’s ‘independence day’, Brexit barely featured as one of the themes in the Freedom Party’s election campaign when, although it slightly increased its share of the vote and remained the main opposition grouping, the party performed below some commentators expectations.


  • Germany (parliamentary election in September 2017) – the Eurozone crisis was essential to the emergence and initial electoral success of the radical right Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany – and also re-inforced the Euroscepticism of the radical Left Party. However, while the migration crisis shifted the Alternative for Germany’s policy focus, this came out more as anti-immigration than Eurosceptic and the party did little to tie these two issues together. Moreover, although both the Alternative for Germany and Left Party used the Brexit vote to legitimate their existing opposition to the EU, it has had little salience so far and certainly not provided either party with a boost in the run-up to September’s federal election.

Competing narratives and British exceptionalism?

However, when considering the impact of Brexit it is also important to distinguish the short-term and long-term – and the dynamic effects of one of the largest member states leaving the EU on the organisation, both in terms of perceptions and the reality of how it operates (or even survives) in the future. Put simply: it is too early to tell what these might be. On the one hand, if the Brexit process is a relatively smooth one and Britain is, or appears to be, successful outside the EU bloc there is a possibility that it could be used as a model for other Eurosceptic parties who could then shift to adopting a (Hard) Eurosceptic stance. One the other hand, if it is not a success, or not perceived to be one, this could discourage Soft Eurosceptic parties from adopting a Hard Eurosceptic stance, and all kinds of Eurosceptics (especially Hard ones) from articulating their position (as appears to be happening in Ireland at the moment).

However, there are two reasons why even then the perceived ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of Brexit may not lead to a long-term changes in the levels, nature and salience party Euroscepticism. Firstly, unless developments are completely unambiguous (which is unlikely) the question of whether or not Brexit is a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ is likely to be highly contested, with any subsequent developments filtered and interpreted through the different narratives of Euroenthusiasts and Eurosceptics respectively. Second, even if the outcome is seen as more clear-cut, questions will still be raised about British exceptionalism and whether broader lessons can really be drawn from the British case; this is particularly likely to be the case if Brexit is a ‘success’.

Aleks Szczerbiak is Professor of Politics and Contemporary European Studies at the University of Sussex. Paul Taggart is Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex and Director of the Sussex European Institute. They are Co-Convenors of the European Parties Elections and Referendums Network (EPERN), co-editors of Opposing Europe: The Comparative Party Politics of Euroscepticism (Oxford University Press, 2008), and are currently running a project on ‘The Impact of the UK’s Referendum on Euroscepticism in Europe’ supported by ESRC ‘UK in Changing Europe’ programme.



Patriotic games on the EU’s periphery: Eurosceptic parties and the March 2017 Bulgarian election

Dragomir Stoyanov

The 2005 Bulgarian parliamentary elections were interesting for three reasons: the spectacular decline of the meteor party led by former Bulgarian king Simeon Saxkoburggotski, the confirmation of the role of the DPS (the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the political party representing Bulgarian Turks) as the ‘king-making power’, and the emergence of a new party on the far-right end of the political spectrum, Ataka. This was a party that many observers expected to disappear after one or two elections but it survived and succeeded in imposing its values on Bulgarian political discourse.

Ironically, 12 years later – when Bulgarian political discourse became dominated by nationalistic, xenophobic and racist ideas – the party, led by Volen Siderov is in crisis. This forced Ataka, in the run-up to the March 26th 2017 Bulgarian national elections, to enter into an alliance with other far-right parties like the NFSB (National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria) and VMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) in order to secure representation in the new parliament. The name of this coalition is the ‘United Patriots’ and it includes a number of other smaller fringe parties in addition to Ataka, NFSB and VMRO, namely: the Union of Patriotic Forces ‘Defense’, BG Patriot, and the Middle European Class (SEK). What unites this coalition beyond their desire to enter parliament, is their national populism and anti-establishment rhetoric, expressed in slogans such as “Bulgaria above all”, “It’s time for revenge” (VMRO) and “Let’s get our Bulgaria back” (Ataka). Table 1 shows the support for the three main parties comprising the coalition in national and European Parliament (EP) elections since 2009.


Table 1: Support for the main parties comprising the Bulgarian ‘Patriots’ coalition

  2009 National Elections MPs 2009 EP Elections MEPs 2013 National Elections MPs 2014 EP Elections MEPs 2014 National Elections MPs
Ataka 9.37% 21 11.97% 2 7.30% 23 2.96% 0 4.52% 11
VMRO 2.25%* 0 1.89% 0 10.66%* 1 7.28% 19
NFSB 3.70% 0 3.05% 0

*In coalition with other parties

The party with the longest political history dating back to the end of nineteenth century is VRMO which, in different periods, has functioned as a militant political organization. The party has been banned on a number of occasions and suffered severe persecution by the communist regime. After the fall of the communism in 1989 it was re-established and its current leader Karakachanov (formerly a member of the communist State Security Service) is one of the longest standing Bulgarian politicians. Although this party has always situated itself on the right the political spectrum, it was only in recent years that they adopted anti-establishment rhetoric combined with harsh xenophobic sentiments that often echo Ataka.

NFSB, like Ataka, originated from the TV station Skat, which, from being region-based, became a channel with national coverage based on its popular anti-establishment, xenophobic and nationalistic views on both domestic and world politics. The leader of the party, Valery Simeonov, is also the owner of the channel and some of his employees occupy key positions in the party’s structures.

Members and supporters of the ‘Patriots’ coalition are mainly people with low social status, angry with the political status quo, who often have a background in the armed forces of the communist regime, and who can be considered ‘losers of the transition’. They are often very nostalgic about the communist past and especially about the law and order that existed in this period. Still, there are differences among supporters of the different parties within the coalition. Supporters of Ataka are strongly pro-Russian, while supporters of VMRO and NFSB have more nuanced views on the role of Russia in Bulgarian politics.

National politics

One of the foci of the ‘Patriots’ coalition during the current election campaign is the so-called “demographic catastrophe” which is related to the “Gypsy question”. According to the ‘United Patriots’, Bulgarians will disappear as an ethnic community in the next 50-100 years. VMRO, NFSB and Ataka blame the Bulgarian political establishment that they say is responsible for the “genocide” of the Bulgarian people which has been taking place after the fall of communism. Pointing to the Roma population as the main threat, the “Patriots” propose different measures in their programme which aim to increase birth rates among Bulgarians (aid for families with three children) and discouraging them among Roma (ending child benefits for families with more than three children). There is even an idea in the NFSB and VMRO 2014 coalition programme for the isolation of the Roma minority in special camps where they can live according to their own values and customs and be made an object of interest for tourists to visit.

Another measure to solve the “demographic catastrophe” are policies to attract to Bulgaria members of the Bulgarian minorities traditionally inhabiting territories in neighboring countries such as Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and Moldova. The “Patriots” also support the creation of para-military groups which are supposed to provide order and security and protect citizens from petty criminality, traditionally attributed mainly to the Roma minority. These para-military groups are also seen as protection against the illegal immigrants and refugees which have been coming to Bulgaria for the last three years.

Migration crisis

The issue of migration has become one of the pillars of the current election campaign. Describing the migrant situation in Bulgaria, and more generally in Europe, as ‘catastrophic’, parties from the ‘Patriots’ coalition criticise the Bulgarian establishment for its incapacity to resolve the current crisis in the country, and oppose Brussels’ liberal migration policies which, according to them, will cause the destruction of European civilization. Thus, in a media environment full of rumours, fake news and lies, the ‘Patriots’ succeeded in transforming a relatively marginal problem into one of society’s priorities. This also helped them to present themselves as defenders of the Bulgarian population and Christian values from the invasion of Muslims. This xenophobic rhetoric closely corresponds with their positions on Roma and Bulgarian Turks.

Economic policy

In different forms, the parties oppose big international companies investing in Bulgaria, claiming that relations between these corporations and the Bulgarian state put the country’s population in a situation of “colonial slavery”. The parties of the ‘Patriotic’ coalition oppose the CETA agreement and stand for protectionism favouring Bulgarian small and medium-sized businesses. In a media interview, Angel Djambazki, a current MEP from VMRO and a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) EP grouping, stated that he voted against CETA despite the ECR instructions. The ‘Patriotic’ coalition also supports the creation of an independent Bulgarian energy system and the country’s transformation, with Russia’s help, into an energy hub for the region.


The ‘Patriots’ criticize so-called liberal values which “have brought Europe to desperation”. They perceive the EU as incapable of handling terrorism, and the migration and the financial crises. According to their leaders, these crises can be overcome with the adoption of the values of patriotism. In their 2013 programme, NFSB blamed the EU’s liberal values as the main reason why certain minorities (the Roma and Bulgarian Turks) were favoured at the expense of the Bulgarian majority. The government of Viktor Orban in Hungary is praised as a model for internal EU relations and his policy towards migrants as a successful response to the migration crisis.

Yet the whole coalition cannot be considered ‘Hard’ Eurosceptic, although Ataka argues that Bulgaria should leave the EU and join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). NFSB and VMRO, on the other hand, claim that they stand for a strong EU and strong nations, and oppose the EU’s development at different speeds; arguing that this will divide Europe into richer and poorer countries. They also support collaboration in the field of security and advocate further commitment to the common EU market. At the same time, they stand for protectionist policies in favor of national industries and claim that regulations from Brussels severely harm Bulgarian agriculture. While they support the EU as a big, free market, they also want specific state measures to be implemented in support of Bulgarian agriculture and industry.

The ‘Patriots’ also criticize the EU’s liberal positions regarding homosexuality and the rights of LGBT people which they see as destroying traditional social and family values. Thus, they advocate that questions regarding culture, the family and education should be left to the sovereign decisions of member states. In education they propose the introduction of “Patriotism” as a subject and military education. They also propose the re-introduction of mandatory military service which was abolished after the fall of communism.

 The “Patriots” strongly oppose the accession of Turkey to the EU, since they believe that it will be damaging both to the Bulgarian economy and society. They consider Turkish culture and Muslim religion as unacceptable in a Christian Europe. At the same time, the parties that comprise the coalition are not so unequivocal about EU sanctions against Russia. Thus, Ataka strongly opposes the sanctions claiming that they severely harm Bulgarian companies and agricultural producers. The party recognizes the annexation of Crimea as legitimate and even sent observers to its independence referendum in 2014. On the other side, VMRO and NFSB have a more nuanced approach towards these the sanctions. They argue that they have both political and economic aspects, and even if the Bulgarian economy suffers from the sanctions the political dimension is still important. Nevertheless, all of these parties claim that Bulgaria needs to deepen its political and economic relations with Russia.

 Electoral reform

 In the last parliament, NFSB and VMRO, who were part of the governing coalition, proposed a variety of restrictive electoral reforms most of which were aimed at limiting the possibilities to vote for representatives of the Roma and Turkish minorities. They supported the introduction of compulsory voting as well as the imposition of restrictions on voting abroad, the main target here being Bulgarian citizens living in Turkey. They also proposed the introduction of an educational census, which would restrict the electoral rights of people with only primary or secondary education, and the creation of a special committee to examine the deputy and minister candidates for their competence and patriotism.

Prospects for the 2017 election

The ‘Patriots’ are expected to receive between 7-9% of votes which will make them “king-making” power in the new parliament. This may make them of decisive significance for the kind of government that will be formed after the elections, since at this point opinion surveys show parity between the two main parties: the centre-right GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria) and the communist successor BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party). The ‘Patriot’ have indicated their willingness to form a coalition with either of these two parties; the only condition being that they follow the policies set out in the coalition’s programme. The ‘Patriots’’s coalitional flexibility comes from their rhetoric which explicitly rejects dichotomies such as right-left, and pro-West/pro-East that they consider to be false. Instead, they propose a union of national interests which would guarantee the stability of the next Bulgarian government and keep the status quo, but this time with a strong patriotic flavor.

Dragomir Stoyanov ( is a lecturer at VUZF University, Bulgaria. His research focuses on political parties, elections, and democratization with a special emphasis on Central and East European politics.

Not always that keen on ‘Nexit’: the evolving Euroscepticism of the Dutch Freedom Party of Geert Wilders

Stijn van Kessel

As in many European party systems, Eurosceptic sentiments in the Netherlands are most loudly expressed by a party of the populist radical right. Members of this party family typically lament the loss of national sovereignty due to European integration and see the EU as an elite-driven project which does not benefit ‘ordinary people’, and even hurts their interests. The Dutch Freedom Party (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) of Geert Wilders is no exception in this regard, although the intensity of its Euroscepticism and the prominence of the issue in its communication have fluctuated over the years. Notably, while opposition to the EU was at the heart of the PVV’s 2012 parliamentary election campaign, Mr. Wilders is seemingly giving somewhat less priority to the issue in the current campaign for the upcoming election of 15 March.

Two weeks ahead of the poll, the PVV is one of the front-runners. Recent opinion polls suggest that the PVV is competing with the Liberal Party (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, VVD) of prime minster Mark Rutte to become the largest party in parliament. The PVV has, nevertheless, seen its predicted number of seats dwindle somewhat in the most recent weeks. It also seems unlikely – at least at this stage – that the PVV will enter a governing coalition: all mainstream parties, and most other serious contenders, have ruled out cooperating with Wilders’ party in government. Although the PVV has never been in government before, the party provided parliamentary support for a centre-right minority coalition including the VVD and the Christian Democrats (Christen Democratisch Appel, CDA) between 2010 and 2012.

The PVV has been a Eurosceptic party from the outset. The party was founded after Mr Wilders left the VVD parliamentary group in September 2004, following a conflict with the party leadership over the issue of Turkish EU membership, which he opposed. In a document titled ‘declaration of independence’ (Onafhankelijkheidsverklaring) from March 2005, Mr Wilders continued to voice opposition to Turkish EU accession and also spoke about the loss of sovereignty as a result of European integration, not least regarding the area of immigration, and the EU’s high costs to the taxpayer. He also criticised the EU’s undemocratic character, stressing its remoteness from citizens.

In the years after the official foundation of the PVV, and entrance into parliament in November 2006, the party’s line on ‘Europe’ remained fairly consistent. While the PVV acknowledged the value of economic cooperation in the form of trade, it remained sceptical of other forms of integration. From the election campaign of 2010 onwards, the party also made a more explicit link between European integration and multiculturalism. By this time, Mr Wilders’ position on Islam had become more radical, and warnings about the threat of ‘Islamisation’ more central to the PVV’s discourse. Not only the ‘left-wing elites’ at the national level were blamed for allowing this process happen; in the 2010 PVV manifesto the EU was dubbed a ‘multicultural super state’, and the party complained that ‘thanks to that club in Brussels, Europe is swiftly turning into Eurabia’.

The issue of European integration truly took centre stage in the programme of 2012, which was titled ‘Their Brussels, our Netherlands’. At this time Mr. Wilders explicitly criticised the EU’s handling of the financial and economic crises. Indeed, Mr Wilders’ central argument for withdrawing his support from the governing coalition – and thus triggering the 2012 election – was that the austerity measures deriving from Brussels’ budget rules threatened the financial position of the Dutch elderly. The 2012 manifesto was filled with a multitude of disparaging comments about partying ‘EU-nationalists’ enjoying ‘ever-lasting lunches’, ‘blind inhabitants of the ivory towers in Brussels’, and Dutch politicians obediently following the orders of their European ‘masters’ According to the manifesto, Romanians were laughing at the silly Dutch for continuing to donate money, while Greeks drank another ouzo at the expense of the Dutch citizens.

Thus, the unfolding of the ‘Great Recession’ and Eurozone crisis seemingly encouraged Mr Wilders to increase the salience of the EU issue, and to make opposition to ‘Europe’ a central theme of his party’s campaign. What is more, the party also shifted to a ‘hard Eurosceptic’ position: for the first time the PVV proposed to end Dutch membership of the EU and the Eurozone.

The PVV maintained this position in more recent years. As a case in point, Mr Wilders congratulated Britons with ‘Independence Day’ after the Brexit vote of June 2016. The party wrote in a newsletter that Great Britain showed Europe the way towards the future, and that the Dutch deserved their own referendum as soon as possible. The desire to leave the EU in order to make the Netherlands independent again was also reflected in the party manifesto for the 2017 election, which notably covered only a single page.

In comparison with the 2012 campaign, however, Mr. Wilders’ focus is less strongly on ‘Europe’. For the PVV leaving the EU still constitutes a crucial step towards making ‘the Netherlands ours again’ – the party’s key slogan for the campaign – and Mr Wilders’ criticism of EU institutions and representatives has not waned. Yet the issue takes a less central position in the party’s communications, in which themes concerning immigration, cultural identity and ‘Islamisation’ – issues whose salience has been fuelled by the more recent refugee crisis – traditionally play a large role.

It may nevertheless be clear that no other significant Dutch party rivals the PVV’s Euroscepticism. Two new parties on the conservative right, For Netherlands (Voor Nederland, VNL) – a party founded by two ex-PVV MPs – and Forum for Democracy (Forum voor Democratie, FvD), are in favour of a ‘Nexit’ referendum, and otherwise seek to reverse many aspects of European integration (VNL) or promote to leave the EU altogether (FvD). Their electoral support, however, is likely to remain limited. On the socio-economic and ecological left, Eurosceptic messages are voiced by the Socialist Party (Socialistische Partij, SP) and Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren, PvdD), but they propose reforming the EU and continuing Dutch membership. The traditional mainstream parties – CDA, VVD and Labour (Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA) – have, in recent years, been keen to identify publicly the weaknesses of the EU, but remain firmly in favour of EU membership and the idea of European co-operation more generally. The greens (Groenlinks) and social liberals of Democrats 66 (Democraten 66, D66) are the two most unapologetically pro-European parties.

This leaves the PVV as the most prominent opponent of the EU. Whether many citizens are attracted by the PVV’s Euroscepticism per se is a moot point. More generally, even though public Euroscepticism is also evident in the Netherlands, certainly among PVV supporters, Dutch citizens favouring a ‘Nexit’ clearly remain in the minority. If extending electoral support for the PVV is his aim, Mr Wilders is probably wise to campaign on the basis of a multifaceted nativist programme, and not one primarily centred on opposition to Europe.

Stijn van Kessel ( is Lecturer in Politics at Loughborough University, UK. His main research interests are populism and the discourse, voters and electoral performance of populist (radical right) parties in Europe. He published his monograph Populist Parties in Europe: Agents of Discontent? with Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. In addition, he has published in edited books and journals including Government and Opposition, the Journal of European Integration, and the Journal of Political Ideologies.

Serbian presidential election 2017: Can Vučić pull a Putin-Medvedev?

Tena Prelec

The presidential election due to take place in Serbia this spring promises to be a significant affair. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić had already stated that if his preferred candidate does not win, he will step down from his post. In recent times, the choice of politicising and personalising a ballot has backfired for three European prime ministers – David Cameron, Matteo Renzi and Boyko Borisov – so it will be interesting to see whether Vučić can pull this one off.

So high are the stakes that Vučić has eventually decided to stand himself, as announced by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) on 14 February. This means that the ruling party will not back the current President Tomislav Nikolić in his bid for re-election. The choice has allegedly come on the back of public opinion research which has even involved showing three different electoral spots, with different candidates, and seeing how respondents reacted.

Why is the prime minister so preoccupied with keeping control over the institutions, given the relatively wide majority he enjoys? In part, this is to be attributed to his style of governing: he adopts an undeniably top-down, controlling approach. And yet, dismissing these concerns as the caprices of an egomaniac would obscure significant internecine developments that have occurred within Vučić’s block.

Rumours hinting at internal fractions within the ruling coalition seem to have found confirmation in the fact that it took almost four months for Vučić to form a government after last year’s election. The prime minister himself had stated that he ‘can’t form a government with backstabbers’ (presumably hinting at the Socialist Party of Serbia – SPS), that ‘the long wait is not just a whim, there are serious problems’, and that ‘the government might be formed by someone else in case he fails’, thus feeding rumours that external pressures – perhaps from Russia or from the West – were determining the spheres of influence. Either way, there is little doubt that at least two internal factions that are fighting over posts and resources are giving the prime minister a hard time in keeping the desired control.

On the other hand, keeping a constant atmosphere of tension plays favourably in convincing voters that Serbia needs a strong hand. Speaking of the upcoming presidential election, the PM has depicted the country’s situation in stark terms, as a choice of the path Serbia will take in the future. Politically, the intention here is certainly to present himself (once again) as the only candidate who can keep Serbia firmly on the road towards European integration. In the past, he has been able to obtain the trust of Western leaders and of the EU institutions, and there is no real sign of this support faltering for now.

Indeed, Vučić has been skilled in ensuring that his mix of credentials (a nationalist turned European reformist) make him ideally placed to carve a large middle ground encompassing citizens with a positive vision of the EU and those who place themselves on the right of the political spectrum, who prefer a ‘strong leader’ and are partial to nationalistic rhetoric.

As for the challengers, among the first to announce their candidature was Vuk Jeremić, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs who is said to have had his eyes set on the presidential ballot for a while, recently running a solid race for the post of UN Secretary General with the likely knowledge that his chances of getting through were rather low, but laying the ground for a new contest. A Cambridge and Harvard graduate and an anti-Milošević dissident in his early days in politics, Jeremić describes himself as ‘fervently pro-European’, but is also a figure capable of garnering some enthusiasm from nationalist-minded Serbs due to his strenuous commitment to keep Kosovo part of Serbia while he was at the Foreign Ministry.

More recently, Serbia’s Ombudsman Saša Janković announced his already expected candidature after handing in the official resignation from his post. Janković stated that he is standing for President to ‘return meaning to that institution, ensuring that it serves all citizens, and not only one man’. He is expected to elicit support from the liberally-minded opposition in urban centres and has received the backing of the Democratic Party (DS). It is however yet unclear whether another opposition candidate, Miroslava Milenović of ‘Enough is Enough’, will stand as well. Jeremić, Janković and (potentially) Milenović would be competing for the vote of broadly similar portions of the electorate.

And then there is Vojislav Šešelj, the head of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party who has only recently been acquitted by the ITCY, where he was tried on nine counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Šešelj, who very publicly rooted for Donald Trump in the run-up to the US elections, is expected to attract a sizeable share of the vote in the first round in case he will throw his hat in the ring. Boško Obradović, leader of the far-right party Dveri, has also announced he will stand. Finally, in a surprise move shortly after the SNS’s decision to put forward Vučić as their candidate, the incumbent President Tomislav Nikolić announced he will run as well, only to withdraw the candidature a few days later after behind-the-scenes talks.

The presidential election – a two-round affair – foreseen for the spring is, therefore, bound to be another testing ground for the ruling coalition and for the opposition alike. Currently, polls give Vučić near-certainty of victory, perhaps even in the first round. A question remains, however, as to whether Vučić’s appeal will be enough in a hypothetical second round, as opposition voters would in that case certainly unite around either Jeremić or Janković, should one of them reach second place.

Serbia’s voters, and especially those from the country’s capital, are not unanimous in their affection for the prime minister. His party had already lost some ground at the parliamentary elections last April, after which scandals involving alleged vote-rigging and the illegal demolition of houses in the centre of Belgrade triggered widespread demonstrations and fed civil society’s discontent towards the government. It is also worth noting that the mayor of Belgrade, Siniša Mali, a member of the ruling party and close Vučić ally, is once again at the centre of corruption allegations – this time being directly accused by his ex-wife. However, while the ruling party’s appeal might have started to falter in urban centres, Vučić’s party remains strong in the countryside. Big shifts in power look unlikely for now.

If Vučić manages to change roles in power, in a reverse version of what Putin did in Russia in 2012, we don’t know as yet who might be the present-day Medvedev to replace him as prime minister. Another open question is whether new parliamentary elections will accompany the presidential ballot – a possibility that has already been raised by the prime minister. It would be the sixteenth time that time Serbian citizens have been asked to vote for their parliament since 1990: another year, another electoral drama.

Tena Prelec ( is a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex and editor of the LSE’s EUROPP – European Politics and Policy blog.


EU enlargement after Brexit: Temporary turmoil or the final nail in the coffin of enlargement?

Marko Stojić

The result of the British referendum on EU membership sent powerful shockwaves across the EU and beyond, throwing the Union into ‘an existential crisis’ and causing a period of unprecedented uncertainty over its future. How will the British decision to leave the EU affect the prospects of countries that still seek to join the Union?

Most commentators argued that Brexit will significantly slow down enlargement or even that ‘EU enlargement process is dead’. Conversely, EU and member state officials rushed to re-assure concerned Western Balkan candidates that ‘nothing has changed with Britain’s decision’. Regional leaders also pledged to continue with their efforts to join the Union. However, they also acknowledged that ‘this new era will be unpleasant’, bringing delays in EU integration process and boosting the, dormant yet ever-present, Eurosceptic sentiments in the region.

Thus far, there have been no major implications of Brexit for EU enlargement. Although the UK did not grant its consent for Serbia to open negotiation chapters in June due to ‘technical reasons’, it quickly reversed its decision, allowing the country to open two chapters in July. Montenegro also opened two chapters in June and in September, and the Council accepted the Bosnian membership application. Other candidates made no tangible progress, being held back by long-term internal political crises rather than Brexit. At first glance, it seems it is business as usual in Brussels.

However, Brexit is a significant event whose long term ramifications are potentially far-reaching. It will inevitably have a negative bearing on the enlargement process that hinges on two equally important factors: the willingness of member states and EU institutions to genuinely support, encourage or, at least, not to block the candidates on this arduous journey; as well as the resolve of regional elites to carry out reforms. The EU and member states are now likely to become even less enthusiastic about expanding the weakened Union, while the candidates will grow more ‘frustrated and annoyed’ with the pace of the process.

Yet, most political elites in the candidate states have not had EU-required reforms at the top of their agendas for quite some time now, regardless of Brexit. In other words, internal political and economic problems coupled with the negative regional dynamics – not the fallout from Brexit – will remain to be the key reason for the delay or absence of the candidates’ progress towards EU membership. The aspiring states will not be ready to join the Union for a long time to come, somewhat limiting the damaging effects of the British decision. Overall, it is unlikely that Brexit itself will halt the enlargement process, not least because all other alternatives – such as staying indefinitely in limbo outside of the EU or forging strong links with Russia – are neither viable nor adequate responses to the regional needs for political stability and democratic consolidation.


The EU after Brexit: No more magic power

Although no member state has officially opposed enlargement to the Western Balkans, most of them have been reluctant to support any expansion of the Union. Brexit will further exacerbate such sentiments. Despite the July 2016 Paris summit, which confirmed that ‘the enlargement perspective of the Western Balkans is alive and as valid as ever’, an even lower level of commitment to enlargement has been already evident. In his annual address to MEPs, the Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker did not even mention EU enlargement and while the Bratislava Declaration did refer to the Western Balkans, it did so only in the context of migration and securing external borders. The Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has gone as far as to call for end to EU expansion, putting it rather bluntly let’s just say for once- this is it’.

The Commission’s plan to publish its next annual reports on candidates’ progress in spring 2018, instead of autumn 2017, may also be a cause for concern for those aspiring countries that are yet to begin negotiations. These reports are a crucial mechanism for not only monitoring, but also directing, reforms in the potential candidates which will now find themselves in a grey area for a relatively long period. It is yet to be seen if this is also a consequence of a more significant involvement of DG NEAR in negotiating future EU-UK relations, which is likely to put EU expansion off its radar. Overall, the bloc’s interest in the region seems to be waning along with a simultaneous loss of its ‘magic’ for the candidates that came to realise that ‘the EU is no longer the big dream it was in the past’.

However, a complete halt to enlargement is not likely to happen either. Indeed, it is a critical time for the Union faced with the complex challenges on its Southern and Eastern flanks. Yet, the EU has no other alternative but to continue with this policy. Severing relations with the Western Balkan candidates would have extremely negative consequences, not least given the more assertive Russian presence in the region. This would create a dangerous security and political vacuum, triggering a new cycle of regional tensions and dashing hopes for political stability and economic recovery.

Many pundits argued that the candidates will now lose an important ally in Brussels since the UK has been a promoter of enlargement. However, Britain has ceased to be a champion of enlargement in recent years. British enthusiasm for enlargement has eroded primarily as a consequence of the domestic political impact of mass migration from Central and Eastern Europe. The referendum campaign further revealed that British political elites – both in the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ camps – have deep reservations about the Western Balkan candidates ‘with poor populations and serious problems with organised crime, corruption, and sometimes even terrorism’. Post-Brexit Britain is thus more likely to block the aspirant countries. In October 2016, it was the only state blocking Montenegro from opening two chapters, doubting that this country (of only 620,000 people) was ready to make concessions on the free movement of labour. Britain apparently also blocked Serbia from opening three more chapters. According to an undisclosed EU diplomatic source, ‘London was preoccupied with its own problems’ and did not have a stance on this issue.

Moreover, given that the UK is the second biggest economy and a net contributor to EU budget, it may be reasonable to expect a decrease in EU funds available to the candidates. However, some analysts argued that the negative impact on the EU budget will be rather small. Likewise, the UK has never been a significant investor in the Western Balkans; British investments accounted for only 3% of the total FDIs in 2014. The potential economic decline of the UK as a fallout from Brexit may have thus a very limited impact on these economies.


The Western Balkans after Brexit: Shaken, but determined to ‘progress’

The bearing of Brexit on the candidates resolve to progress towards membership seems to be somewhat less significant. Although concerned about the EU prospects of their countries, regional leaders reiterated their determination to progress towards membership. However, they have been progressing very slowly and the reforms have been predominantly held back by internal and regional factors. Serbian EU accession remains a hostage to the ruling elites that have rhetorically supported EU membership (and relatively successfully implemented EU-required economic reforms). At the same time, they have demonstrated a misunderstanding of the key principles of modern democracies – the freedom of speech and the rule of law – best exemplified in the suspension of the latter in the Sava Mala case. In other countries, progress has been stalled by: an agonizing internal political crisis (Macedonia), unsettled constitutional arrangements coupled with deep mistrust among nationalist political elites (Bosnia and Herzegovina), weak state institutions and political polarization (Albania) or an unresolved status rendering EU membership de facto unattainable (Kosovo). Moreover, unresolved bilateral issues – such as a continued Greek opposition to Macedonian membership – are more likely to affect the Balkan candidates than Brexit.

A post-Brexit upsurge in party and public Euroscepticism, however, appears unlikely. The region has not witnessed the surge in populist Euroscepticism driven by anti-immigration ideology. Eurosceptic parties are politically irrelevant in Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Albania. Anti-EU parties returned to the Serbian parliament following the April 2016 election, but they are unable to present a serious alternative to the government. On the other hand, public support for EU membership has been high across the region: 71% in Macedonia, 74% in Montenegro, and 76% in Bosnia. Serbian public has been the only exception since support for EU membership hit a record low level in June 2016 with only 41% of respondents in favour. However, 53% of respondents still felt that even if the UK leaves the EU, Serbia should continue its EU accession process.

Brexit will, therefore, represent more than just temporary turmoil for the Balkan candidates. Nonetheless, it is unlikely to be the final nail in the coffin of enlargement. This is certainly not due to the resolve of EU and Balkan elites to work on overcoming the crisis or seizing an opportunity to invigorate this policy, but because all the other alternatives look less comforting. Despite enormous challenges ahead, the process that has widely lost its key purpose – to consolidate and transform the Western Balkan societies into liberal democracies – is thus likely to keep going, but will protracted and beset by domestic and regional problems, rather than the British decision to take back its sovereignty.

Marko Stojić ( is a lecturer at Metropolitan University in Prague. His research interests focus on the study of European integration, political parties and party systems in the Western Balkans. This post was first published on EUROPEUM blog.

Losing the Peace: English Nationalism and Euroscepticism

Ben Wellings

Brexit is Euroscepticism’s greatest victory to date. One of the most noticeable features of the June EU membership referendum vote was the divergence between the different nations of the United Kingdom, with Scotland’s overwhelming ‘Remain’ vote contrasting with the more complicated majority for ‘Leave’ in England.

Given my research on the links between Euroscepticism and English nationalism, this aspect of the vote was not a surprise. What follows is an outline of the argument I made in English Nationalism and Euroscepticism: losing the peace (2012). Based on archival research and semi-structured interviews, I argued that Euroscepticism was and is the most formed up expression of contemporary English nationalism.

I approached Euroscepticism obliquely. My principle concern was to understand the apparent ‘absence’ of English nationalism in the wake of devolution in the late 1990s. Euroscepticism was broadly defined as resistance to European integration (in its hard and soft varieties) and included all political resistance to European integration since the 1960s, during what we might call the ‘Anti-marketeer’ (1960s-70s) and ‘Eurosceptic’ periods (1980s to date).

It was the alignment of Euroscepticism and national imaginaries that gave Euroscepticism in England its popular resonance and its persistent quality. By linking Euroscepticism with the politics of nationalism in the United Kingdom, I argued that English nationalism was not absent at all, but instead expressed itself differently to other nationalisms in the United Kingdom.

In other words, we should not look to Scotland for an ideal-type against which to look for expressions of nationalism in England. This had been the mistaken assumption of much searching for the ‘English backlash’ against devolution that seemingly failed to materialise in the 2000s. Rather than being absent, English nationalism was hidden in plain view: a defence of British sovereignty against the deepening of the EU’s powers rather than an assertion of autonomy within the UK was the main vehicle for contemporary English nationalism even prior to devolution.

By linking English nationalism with the politics of European integration instead of devolution, new areas of inquiry were opened up. As one reviewer of the book put it, existing analysis focused on England within the UK was suffering from ‘Singapore syndrome’: all the intellectual firepower was facing in the wrong direction. To properly understand the drivers of English nationalism and the alignment between Euroscepticism and dominant English national narratives that gave resistance to European integration such force, we should turn our analytical attention across the Channel to Brussels rather than across the Tweed to Edinburgh.

To understand the depth of this alignment between English nationalism and Euroscepticism, it is important to understand that for centuries English nationalism was constructed around a defence and legitimisation of British sovereignty. This powerful link between English nationhood and British statehood was formed in the centuries when the British state was consolidating its rule across the British Isles and the Empire. Advancing from an understanding of nationalism as a novel means of legitimising statehood in the modern era, conceptions of Englishness and Britishness merged. Nationalists in England became habituated to defending British sovereignty. For such actors, nationalism was not about secession, but rather about defending the idea of the prodigious reach of British sovereignty within the UK and across the globe.

Sovereignty was, therefore, linked to ‘greatness’ in the English national consciousness. The Twentieth Century brought very real threats to the existence of this sovereignty, most notably in 1940. Survival was followed by victory, even if that victory turned out to be a Pyrrhic one.

More than any other, it was this historical experience that set English national consciousness on a different trajectory to the post-War European identity. In the ideology required to legitimise the very novel form of political organisation required by European integration, the two wars represented catastrophe followed by renaissance. ‘Post-War’ in the new Europe was not just a period of time but an ontological state. But in Britain, ‘the War’ represented an apogee followed by eclipse; it was Britain’s ‘finest hour’ and what came thereafter was decline.

The greatest admission of that decline was ‘Europe’. In the official British mindset of the 1940s and 1950s, European integration was literally for losers. Membership of the fledgling EU was itself a belated admission of defeat. Sovereignty – so important in the construction of English nationalism and so dearly defended – was being voluntarily surrendered for the dubious advantage of selling washing machines in Dusseldorf, as Harold Wilson put it. Britain may have won the war, but it had lost the peace.

All this was important for the emergence of an English nationalism focused on resisting European integration, but older forms of identification had to go first. The end of Empire weakened a particular version of Britishness that had developed in order to legitimise imperial dominion. Enoch Powell sought to outline a post-imperial English nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s opposed to Commonwealth integration and European integration. Powell injected an odd sort of Tory populism into British politics that rested on a veneration of parliamentary sovereignty and British political institutions.

One of the historical ironies of the English resistance to European integration is that Parliamentary Sovereignty was eclipsed by the efforts to save it. In this regard we might say that the operation was a success, but the patient died. This outcome was brought about by the advent of the referendum. Although Norman St John Stevas described referendums as a ‘nasty continental aberration’, it found its way into British political practice. This novel device was introduced into British politics to preserve Labour unity rather than cement European unity. The party was so divided on the question of membership of the European Communities the leadership handed the decision over to the electorate to avoid opposition within the party’s mass membership. This innovation had the effect of ultimately elevating the ‘European question’ to a level above Parliamentary control and making it seem like an issue of such national importance that only ‘The People’ could decide it.

The hope that the 1975 referendum would resolve the issue of Britain’s place in Europe proved illusory. The relationship between late Thatcherism and the emergence of Euroscepticism is well known. But the Thatcherite decade linked a socially conservative yet neo-liberal Euroscepticism to an emerging English nationhood that was expressed in the language of assertive Britishness. This Britishness was increasingly opposed to European integration and had the additional effect of alienating nationalist sentiment outside of England.

Until this point, this emergent English nationalism expressed itself in the language of Britishness. This did not change greatly in the early 1990s, but devolution led to the emergence of England as a political community by default. Scottish and Welsh nationalisms were the necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for the emergence of English nationalism. Many commentators expected an English ‘backlash’ after devolution, but none came; at least not in the form many were expecting. The fact that a backlash was expected was related to the increased visibility of a cultural form of Englishness – linked strongly to football and an English obsession with ‘the War’ – which appeared to have no political corollary.

But this wasn’t the case. It was just that in defending British sovereignty from nationalists within the UK as well as from the advances of European integration, de facto English nationalists emerged speaking the language of Britishness. Just when secessionists in Scotland and Wales began to campaign for ‘Independence in Europe’, nationalists in England began to campaign for ‘Independence from Europe’.

The self-evident Englishness of this new political force struggled to emerge. The Conservative leadership in opposition refused to embrace the Englishness of the grassroots, preferring to mask their position as the de facto English party with a strident Euroscepticism. New Labour was ideologically opposed to English nationalism, seeing it as the racist baggage of Empire and was too wedded to Scottish seats at Westminster to develop any feeling for English nationalism. The UK Independence Party filled this space. UKIP was another avowedly British party with its heartland in England that only made the link between a politicalised English nationhood and hard Euroscepticism clearer than ever before.

The analysis in this book stopped with the formation of the Coalition government in 2010. Events between then and the Brexit referendum in 2016 appear to have supported the claim made about the causal link made between Euroscepticism and an emergent English nationalism. The blunt version of the argument in this book is that Euroscepticism represents the most formed-up expression of contemporary English nationalism. Since 2010 the debate about the ‘absence’ of Englishness has moved on. Few now suggest that there is no such thing as English nationalism. Brexit has made understanding the link between English nationalism and Euroscepticism even more urgent. English imaginaries are an important place to start. It is not possible to understand ‘British’ attitudes towards the EU without understanding the role of British sovereignty and memories of ‘greatness’ in English national consciousness.

Dr Ben Wellings ( is Deputy-director of the Monash European and EU Centre at Monash University in Australia. His current research examines the place of the Anglosphere in English Eurosceptic thought and politics.

Hungary’s EU refugee quota referendum: “Let’s send a message to Brussels they can understand” – or not

Agnes Batory

Sending a message to Brussels was, at least, the main declared objective of Hungary’s Fidesz government which posed the following referendum question to voters on 2 October 2016: ‘Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?’

The answer, from virtually everyone (98%) who cast a valid ballot, was ‘No’. This outcome was never in doubt, since most people who bothered to vote seem to have interpreted the question, to simplify greatly, as to whether they wanted (more) foreigners to be allowed to live in their country. Public opinion in Hungary is relatively hostile to non-European immigration and these attitudes have been reinforced by the Fidesz government’s relentless campaign to portray the refugees as a threat to Hungary’s way of life and well-being.

While the majority of the ‘No’ votes was taken for granted, turnout was seen as much more uncertain. Prime Minister Viktor Orban made it clear in the run-up to the referendum that the vote was to be a show of strength, of ‘national unity’ backing the government’s position. However, polls in the final days before the referendum indicated that the 50% threshold required for a valid result might not be reached, causing Orban and his colleagues to backpedal, trying to downplay the importance of high participation. In the event, turnout was only 44%, including 4% spoiled ballots (leaving the figure 10% below the required 50%). The low turnout was widely seen as a failure for the government and Orban personally.

“We must stop Brussels”

In many ways the referendum should have been a non-event. First, as a consultative referendum, it was widely known that the outcome would not be binding on the government. Second, as counter-campaigners repeatedly pointed out, Parliament’s authorization was at best a technicality: Fidesz has a comfortable majority in the national assembly, and its highly disciplined caucus reliably enacts the party leadership’s decisions, which, in any case, is in the best position to defend the country’s interests in the EU decision-making process. Hungary’s ministers and prime minister are members of the European Council and the Council of the European Union, respectively, where the EU’s response to the migration crisis is debated and decided. And finally, the ‘non-Hungarian citizens’ who might be relocated to Hungary, for the purposes of processing their asylum requests, as a consequence of the EU redistribution plan numbered roughly 1300 people – a much smaller number than the 10,000 beneficiaries of the Hungarian government’s extremely lax residency bond programme. Non-European immigration to Hungary has been negligible; the vast majority of asylum seekers arriving in 2015 simply wanted to cross the country en route to Germany and Scandinavia.

More importantly, as many of Orban’s opponents both in Hungary and in the EU pointed out, the referendum should not have taken place, because it flies in the face of Hungary’s obligations as an EU member state. While the September 2015 Council decision on the mandatory relocation of 120,000 persons who have made an application in an EU country for international protection is hotly debated in the EU, and may eventually be overturned, in the meantime it is binding on all member states. (The two countries that voted against it, Hungary and Slovakia, legally challenged the decision at the European Court of Justice which however has not reached a verdict yet). Therefore, it was evident that should the referendum return a valid ‘No’ vote, the government would be forced to either disregard the outcome or adopt policies that directly defy the EU’s authority  something that Hungary’s prime minister is no stranger to.

So why hold a referendum? As David Cameron’s – and now Orban’s own – recent experience shows, referendums are always a bit of a gamble. Part of the answer probably lies in Viktor Orban’s supreme confidence in his own ability to read, and shape, the public mood. Another factor is Orban and his cabinet’s ambition to project (more) authority in the EU. The Hungarian government has sought to revive the previously rather lame Visegrad group and position itself as leader of the group, for which the issue presented a perfect platform. Viktor Orban is well-known for not shying away from conflict and has repeatedly clashed with the European Commission and other member states critical of his self-declared objective of building an ‘illiberal democracy’, cementing his party’s hold on power, and being friendly with Vladimir Putin. His vision for the EU is that of a Europe of nation states where supranational institutions cannot challenge the authority of national leaders. The government therefore framed the referendum as a vital boost to its authority vis-à-vis the EU institutions, arguing that it would be impossible for the European Commission in particular to go against the Hungarian government’s democratic mandate.

However, a clearer rationale for the referendum comes from Hungarian domestic politics, and Fidesz’s efforts to keep its stronghold on the political agenda – as its opponents claim, to divert attention from high-level corruption, the sorry state of healthcare and a bungled centralization of the school system. Halfway through the 2014-18 term, Fidesz wanted to solidify and broaden its electoral base, if possible by outflanking its main competitor, the extreme-right Jobbik. In this respect, from a purely partisan point of view, the refugee crisis was a godsend, allowing Fidesz to deepen its long-standing Euroscepticism.

From the spring of 2015, Fidesz strategists masterfully fuelled the public’s fears of uncontrolled (non-European) mass migration and used the EU as punching bag, moving from the EU’s inability to deal with the refugee crisis to a more systemic critique of the Union as dysfunctional, captured by special interests and/or the interests of the larger member states, and removed from the concerns of ordinary people. This was contrasted with the Hungarian government’s own measures, notably the controversial decision of building a fence along Hungary’s southern border with Serbia to block the migrants’ transit route.

Thus, although the referendum campaign only geared up in summer 2016, the ground was carefully prepared by an anti-immigration campaign starting a year before, featuring slogans such as ‘If you come to Hungary, you cannot take the Hungarians’ jobs away’. Fidesz also launched a so-called national consultation. A questionnaire mailed to every Hungarian household carefully made the link between immigration, terrorism, and unemployment, and pitted the refugees’ economic interests against those of Hungarian citizens. The party’s communication strategy then built up to the referendum in three distinct phases, using massive amounts of public funding as part of a ‘governmental information campaign’. Phase one focused on assigning blame: ‘Let’s send a message to Brussels they can understand’. Phase two centered on statements, disguised as objective fact, whipping up anti-migration sentiment. Giant billboards and a direct mail campaign posed questions such as ‘Did you know? The Paris attacks were committed by immigrants’; or ‘Did you know? Brussels wants to settle a whole city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary’. Finally, in the last weeks Fidesz instructed voters ‘not to take a risk – vote No’.

“Stay home – stay in Europe” and “Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer”

To what extent did the parliamentary opposition shape this turn of events? The answer is, at least concerning the moderate political forces in parliament, less than they could have had they been able to make up their minds about a common strategy early on. Fidesz’s arguably most effective competitor is Jobbik, the extreme right party that currently polls as Hungary’s second or third most popular (Fidesz continues to lead the polls). Jobbik campaigned for a ‘No’ in the referendum, and essentially claimed that Fidesz simply appropriated what was originally ‘their’ issue, but only for show. The several parties that nowadays make up the fragmented democratic opposition to Fidesz were, as is now usual, confused, confusing and divided on the issue. But after some hesitation the centre-left settled on boycotting the referendum, recognizing that repressing turnout was the only plausible way to defeat the government, in that at least the result would not be valid.

The advice to abstain was substantiated with the argument that, first, the referendum was not necessary, since there was no sinister EU migration ploy to combat, and second, that the vote was not about the resettlement quota or even about migration but ‘really’ about Hungary’s continued EU membership. Former Socialist prime minister Gyurcsany’s campaign posters consequently told people to ‘Stay home – stay in Europe’. This was based on sound strategic thinking: while anti-immigration sentiments are clearly strong in society, Hungarian voters are, at least in comparison with many other EU countries, relatively pro-EU. In spring 2016, three-quarters of the population supported Hungary’s membership in the European Union and only about one-fifth opposed it. Thus, managing to shift the debate from the migration issue to the EU issue was certainly suitable for dampening participation in a referendum that the government explicitly framed as a weapon against ‘Brussels’.

The main weakness of the Socialists’ and other centre-left opposition parties’ campaign was that they had relatively little street- or media-presence, for the simple reason that they could not compete with the massive financial and other resources that the government campaign drew on. In fact, the most visible counter-campaign came from a group of activists who define themselves as a ‘satirical party’ and go by the name Two-Tailed Dog Party (TTDP). The party became known in the previous election campaign where they ridiculed Orban’s populism, promoting ‘electoral pledges’ such as the classic: ‘Long life, free beer, down with taxes’. Their response to the government’s summer 2015 anti-immigration campaign was billboards addressed to the refugees making their way through Hungary: ‘Sorry about our prime minister’ and ‘Feel free to come to Hungary, we already work in England’.

The TTDP anti-referendum campaign was crowd-funded, and consisted almost entirely of (a few) large commercial billboards and in large cities masses of small posters, on photocopied A4 sheets, making fun of the government slogans in the same irreverent tone. Mirroring the government’s ‘Did you know’ (dis-)information campaign, TTDP posed questions such as ‘Did you know? The average Hungarian encounters more UFOs than migrants’. The party’s advice to voters was to register their disapproval by spoiling their ballot, captured in ‘Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer’. Given how small TTDP is, their impact on the outcome is remarkable: over 6% acted on the Two Tailed Dog advice nationally. In Budapest, almost 12% of those who voted spoiled their ballot, sending a message not so much to Brussels as to the prime minister’s office.

What’s next for Hungary, and for the study of Euroscepticism?

In Hungary, the low turnout is widely seen as a blow to Fidesz and Orban personally. After what some claim was the most expensive campaign in Hungarian political history, the 40% valid ‘No’ vote is clearly a disappointment, no matter how the party’s spin doctors and the prime minister himself insisted that only the large majority of the ‘No’ votes mattered. It is the first time since Fidesz’s landslide victory in 2010 that Orban’s will did not carry the day: despite the propaganda effort, the majority of Hungarians decided not to play along.

Nonetheless, Fidesz leaders have little reason to worry. The party continues to lead the polls by a large margin. The referendum’s ‘No’ voters (approximately 3.3 million) number some 300,000 more than those who supported Hungary’s EU membership in the 2003 referendum, and about a million more than those who supported the Fidesz list in the 2014 elections, suggesting that the government succeeded in reaching people beyond its core base. Given, furthermore, the electoral system tailored to the party’s needs, the dominance of Fidesz-friendly media outlets, and the fragmented mainstream opposition, it is unlikely that Hungary’s next elections will lead to a new government.

As to scholarship on parties, elections and referendums, Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart note in a previous comment that in the wake of Brexit advocating for leaving the EU could (again) become a litmus test for hard Euroscepticism, since this is now a viable policy position. But politicians like Hungary’s feisty populist prime minister defy categorization as hard or soft Eurosceptic along these lines. He displays principled, ideological opposition to most if not all the supranational features of the EU, yet does not wish to quit the club. Orban and his allies in other EU member states (notably Poland) seek to change the EU from within, possibly by unraveling particular aspects of European integration. This would entail the rest of the EU coming around to Orban’s point of view.

It is highly unlikely that Viktor Orban will succeed where David Cameron failed. However, for scholarship on Euroscepticism to remain relevant, finding the right label is perhaps less important than understanding party strategies devised for a multi-level political system – the repercussions of cultivated Euroscepticism in the member states, its effects on the EU and vice versa.


Agnes Batory ( is Professor of Public Policy at Central European University. Her research interests include party politics and European public policy.