Issues around EU integration driving success of far-right parties in western Europe

  • Date

    Thu 2 Feb 23

An increasing focus on European integration and Euroscepticism has allowed far-right parties across the continent to expand their voter base in recent years, according to a new study.

With “little room for further vote gains” utilising immigration as a central issue, academics from King’s College London and the University of Essex argue that far-right politicians have put greater emphasis on the European Union and an increasingly sceptical view of integration to extend their reach beyond a traditional base.

And, as the issue of European integration has become more salient in the minds of voters, far-right parties have been able to successfully politicise the issue, giving them an advantage over mainstream political parties.

The findings were revealed in a new paper, Electoral competition, the EU issue and far-right success in Western Europe, co-authored by Professor Sofia Vasilopoulou, of King’s College London, and Dr Roi Zur, of the Department of Government at the University of Essex.

Dr Zur said: “Because far-right parties hold a competitive advantage on the issue of European integration, they have higher expected electoral gains when this issue is debated in electoral campaigns and rises in importance in the eyes of the voters.”

Prof Vasilopoulou, from King’s College London, said: “We argue that changes in the public salience of policy issues offer far-right parties a comparative advantage which is more likely to be electorally beneficial compared to simply changing policy positions, which could risk alienating their traditional base.

“We furthermore suggest that far-right parties enjoy an electoral advantage that is specific to the issue of European integration. The European Union has become a source of social division, creating a vast untapped electoral potential among the pool of Eurosceptic voters.

“Whereas immigration has already become politicised in west European party systems, the fact that far-right parties do not face serious competition over their position on EU integration creates strong expected electoral gains when the issue is salient among the voters.”

To avoid making the EU more salient in the minds of voters, and consequently boosting the vote of far-right parties, the academics warned centre-ground political parties against adopting the positions of the far-right.

Prof Vasilopoulou added: “By accommodating the positions of far-right parties, not only do mainstream parties legitimate these positions, but they also increase the public salience of European integration.

“Our results imply that mainstream parties should not adopt more Eurosceptic positions, nor should they emphasise such positions, assuming their goal is vote-maximization.”