The impact of extreme-right parties on immigration policy in Italy and France in the early 2000s


In May 2001, the Italian Lega Nord (LN) was included in the coalition government led by Silvio Berlusconi after the general election. A year later, the French Front National (FN) provoked a political earthquake after the passage of Jean-Marie Le Pen to the second round of the 2002 presidential ballot, alongside the incumbent President Jacques Chirac. Drawing from a qualitative methodology, this article compares the LN’s and the FN’s impact on the development of Italian and French immigration policies during Berlusconi’s second term and President Chirac’s last term. Acknowledging the complexity of immigration policy, the article concludes that the LN had a moderate impact in Italy while the FN enjoyed significant impact on policy developments in France. This research highlights the presence of important endogenous and exogenous constraints on the development of this political process in the two cases, which have been neglected in the ERP literature.

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Figure 2


  1. 1.

    Potential issues of case selection bias reflecting the LN’s participation in government in 1994 and 2001 are dismissed because ERP impact is not dependent on access to office seats (Mudde, 2007).

  2. 2.

    This event was followed by a sweeping reform of immigration and asylum policy to achieve this goal, which led to a veto on the 1993 immigration law from the Constitutional Council. Relying on the 1946 constitutional text, the judges rejected the restrictions imposed on: family reunion, marriage between nationals and foreign citizens, right of appeal as well as the measures for the automatic expulsion of refugees (Hollifield, 2004, p. 199).

  3. 3.

    ERPs can be identified at the broad level by their location on the political spectrum and objectively classified on the basis of the ideological criterion by evaluation of the anti-system properties of these parties’ ideologies. These ideological properties encompass attachment to a Fascist legacy or anti-constitutional or anti-democratic values, including the denial of human equality (AUTHOR).

  4. 4.

    It should be noticed that gaps between the aims stated by the national government and the subsequent policy outcomes of these decisions are frequently observed across the immigration policies of industrialised countries (Cornelius et al, 2004).

  5. 5.

    ‘A research design that compares cases which are matched (i.e., in agreement) on one of the main variables of concern (either an independent or a dependent variable), and which differ on other variables understood to be potential causes or effects of that variable’ (Brady and Collier, 2010, p. 356).

  6. 6.

    Formed by the Italian Christian-Democrat parties and later renamed ‘Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e Democratici di Centro’ (UdC).

  7. 7.

    The ‘choice of immigration was ideological’ according to Bossi, as the left-wing parties’ failure to control immigration sought to ‘simplify the society’ according to the dichotomy of ‘big business against the people’ (Bossi, 2000, p. 6). In October 2000, Roberto Calderoli organised a rally against the construction of a mosque in Lodi (north of Milan) involving the spreading of pig excrement on the proposed site (Parenzo and Romano, 2008).

  8. 8.

    Bossi was appointed as Minister for Reform responsible for devolution; Roberto Maroni became the Minister of Welfare; and Roberto Castelli was appointed Minister of Justice.

  9. 9.

    The assignment of the Ministry of Justice to the LN demonstrated Berlusconi’s confidence in this ERP on issues of key personal interest, such as judicial reform and media regulation (Albertazzi and McDonnell, 2005).

  10. 10.

    By 2004, 700 000 data units had been collected by Italian authorities (Barbagli, 2008).

  11. 11.

    Reyneri (2007, p. 7) reported that Italian companies forecasted hiring an annual minimum of 105 000 non-seasonal immigrants between 2001 and 2005 (this forecast did not include domestic labour demand), a number much superior to the annual caps on labour inflows decreed until 2005 (Figure 1).

  12. 12.

    In particular, the Court vetoed the generalisation of escorted forced removals and imprisonment of individuals because of an administrative offence. However, the peak of forced removals had been in 2002 and was declining henceforth (Barbagli, 2008).

  13. 13.

    Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

  14. 14.

    Double peine refers to the legal mechanism of double penalty that decrees the imprisonment/incarceration of foreign citizens followed by their automatic deportation after expiration of judicial sentences deployed by the 1993 immigration law.

  15. 15.

    This contract obliges foreigners to have language training and civic formation, which includes a presentation on French institutions and Republican values, especially on equality between genders and secularity. This contract is valid for 1 year and mayors are responsible for supervising abidance with the contract. Failure to comply with the contract can lead to the rejection of renewal of residence authorisation.

  16. 16.

    In 2004, there were 50 547 first requests of asylum seeking against 42 578 in 2005 and 26 269 in 2006 (SGCICI, 2008, p. 124)

  17. 17.

    The FN (2001, p. 26) electoral manifesto stated: ‘The massive immigration that we do not want affects our national identity and consequently France’s existence’.

  18. 18.

    Circular of 21st February 2006 concerning internal controls on irregular immigrants.

  19. 19.

    Sarkozy captured 30 per cent of Le Pen’s 2001 voters in the first round and 67 per cent of these same voters in the second round of the 2007 presidential elections (Perrineau, 2008, p. 211). This trend reflected public perception that both Le Pen and Sarkozy shared a similar electoral platform but the UMP candidate’s image of a statesman and credibility was far superior to that enjoyed by the FN’s candidate (Mayer, 2007).


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Correspondence to João Carvalho.

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Carvalho, J. The impact of extreme-right parties on immigration policy in Italy and France in the early 2000s. Comp Eur Polit 14, 663–685 (2016).

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  • extreme-right parties
  • political impact
  • immigration policy
  • party politics
  • France
  • Italy