Right-wing opposition to the European Union, rooted in the perception that integration and all kinds of international cooperation are a threat to the nation-state and its sovereignty, is evident and self-explanatory. Excessive protectiveness of national interests lies at the heart of far-right ideology. As a result, tightening cooperation with supranational actors in political, economic or social matters is seen by the far right as a way to limit national liberties.
Various studies have shown that far-right parties differ in strength and scope of their rejection of the EU. Most of them believe that other, looser forms of cooperation, like “a Europe of nations,” would offer states more flexibility in fulfilling their “rightful” mission. This postulate can be reduced to the slogan that appeared in a blog published by the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD): “Whoever is for Europe, can’t be for the EU.”
Throughout the years, the radical right came up with a wide variety of arguments undermining the idea of European integration that only vicariously connect with the nation-state versus the “bad foreign powers” axis of the conflict. In the eyes of the far right, the European Union grew to a size of an omnipresent and far-reaching construct that could be blamed for almost everything that goes wrong, never deserving of praise.
Human Rights Perception
One of the areas where, as the radical right perceives it, Europe has gone way too far is humanitarian aid, especially for migrants and asylum seekers. Germany’s Identitarian Movement is an example of a group that instrumentalizes this argument in a very interesting way. Purposely avoiding rhetoric that would be directly anti-immigrant in nature, Identitarians claim that both Europeans and immigrants from other countries are mere “chess pieces in the globalists’ playground.”
Putting both of these groups in one basket gives radicals an opportunity to criticize representatives of the “multikulti leftist society, who wish to resolve all borders, nations and differences” and who, in their view, oppress them. Alternatively, Identitarians speak in favor of the concept of a Europe of nations and cultures in the spirit of ethnopluralism.
Commenting on the vast amounts of money spent by the German government on humanitarian aid for Syria, the NPD claimed that it would be wise for Syrian refugees currently living in Europe to contribute to the reconstruction of their homeland themselves, ideally after their quick return to the Middle East.
The NPD also welcomed the idea of the so-called push-backs — turning back boats with asylum seekers who managed to reach the European coast of the Mediterranean Sea back to their countries of origin. Nota bene, this practice was heavily criticized by international organizations as illegal and, this goes without saying, un-humanitarian.
The peculiarity of the far-right’s understanding of human rights also appears in materials published by Polish organizations. A fitting example are the National Movement’s claims supporting the death penalty. The party undermines the arguments of those who reject capital punishment: European legal thought is referred to as “too liberal” on this matter, while international organizations, including the EU, as “referring to incorrectly understood human rights.” As per the National Movement, restoring the death penalty would strengthen sovereignty by removing foreign influence over states’ penal codes.
In Leftists’ Hands
The alleged ideological underpinnings of European integration, far from its grounding concepts of Christian and traditional values, is yet another dimension of the conflict between the EU and far-right groups.
Without leaving much space for interpretation, Poland’s National Movement believes in the following: “The European Union is not only a political and economic project. The vast majority of Western European elites in charge of shaping it are children of the liberal-leftist revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is why, from the very beginning, the EU is an unequivocally ideological project. Its ideological core remains rooted in cultural Marxism and other phenomena derived from it.”
Moreover, members of the Identitarian Movement are also no strangers to blaming previous generations for the present-day “overly liberal” direction of European integration. In their manifesto, Identitarians claim to represent the victims of the ‘68 generation, those who rejected tradition and neglected their duties to observe and preserve them. The German branch of Identitarians has written about “leftist-liberal hegemony” and “leftist-liberal establishment” that dominated public discourse and have molded definitions for too long.
Mutually exclusive values — those postulated by Brussels and those that the far right declares to protect — spill over to various areas of policymaking such as family policy, minority rights and environmental issues, all of which have become new arenas of conflict.
Since the EU is perceived as an entity susceptible to leftist indoctrination, so are the politicians representing respective member states in European institutions seen as vulnerable to the perils of liberalism. Radical-right groups often consider them to be traitors. In Cas Mudde’s classification of enemies of the far right, there are enemies within or outside the state, as well as within or outside the nation. According to this categorization, politicians sent to European institutions become, by virtue of their function, enemies outside the state but within the nation.
A good representation of this way of thinking is the following passage from Poland’s Confederation Liberty and Independence party’s grounding theses: “Polish political class delegated to the European Parliament, in line with Eurocratic trends, undergoes systemic distortion.” The party has since suggested that in order to curb this tendency, members of the European Parliament should stand trial in case of “an evident violation of national interest.”
Germany’s NPD claims that the politicians “flee” to European institutions, which are not bound by any democratic legitimacy. “This EU-Europe of technocrats and big corporations is a declaration of war on a Europe of nations,” states the party manifesto.
A Non-Reformable Construct
Numerous other far-right allegations against European integration could easily be added to the list. Although radical-right groups vary in terms of their economic outlook, one of the arguments unifying them is that European integration failed to protect national domestic economies. Having adopted a new single currency, member states were deprived of their fiscal and monetary sovereignty.
The union distorted the legal order and betrayed farmers. It wreaked havoc on state control over borders and allowed terrorists to invade Europe. It is blinded by political correctness and acts as if there were no alternatives to solutions currently in force. There are plenty of grievances to choose from.
Such allegations lead most far-right groups to the conviction that the EU is a non-reformable construct. They have no illusions that the grand European project should come to an end in the foreseeable future. Alternatives suggested by the far right differ in terms of scope and specificity, generally circling around the idea of looser cooperation within a Europe of nations. Members of radical groups are absolutely certain that their rhetoric will be enough to sway respective societies away from the EU.
Their plans are an ambitious, large-scale endeavor. However, they may not have enough support. The 2019 Global Attitudes Survey listed Germany and Poland as two countries with the highest share of respondents perceiving their country’s membership in the EU as a good thing, at 74% and 67%, respectively. According to the 2020 Eurobarometer, support for the EU is around 50%, indicating that trust in European institutions, in fact, exceeds support for many national governments.
Dr Agata Kałabunowska is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right and a Senior Analyst at the Institute for Western Affairs. See full profile here.
© Agata Kałabunowska. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).