United in diversity: examining the diverging attitudes towards the European Union on the ideological fringes

Abstract

Despite their partial move towards the political mainstream, radical right and radical left parties are still habitually considered as ardently sceptical towards European Union. Recent scholarship has, however, observed that the nature of radical right and radical left Euroscepticism is not as uniform as previously expected. In this article, I provide support for the argument that both the radical right and the radical left family are, in terms of standpoints towards the European Union, united in diversity; both families include parties with a variety of positions, ranging from hardline Euroscepticism to soft criticism and acceptance. More importantly, the article also examines the possible reasons underlying these differences. Using the policy, office or votes-framework, it provides robust support for the view that radical right and radical left parties’ attitudes towards the current European integration process are shaped by their overall (sociocultural and socioeconomic) policy profiles rather than by office- or vote-seeking incentives.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Without dwelling too much into etymology, I note that ‘radical right’ was the preferred generic term for fascist-like groups during the early post-war era while the term ‘extreme right’ entered the scene in the 1960s. Although occasionally in use already in the early and mid-twentieth century Europe, ‘radical left’ and ‘extreme left’ gained widespread use after the fall of communism, when they gradually came to replace labels such as, for example, democratic socialism, communism, Marxism and Marxism-Leninism. A more detailed conceptual history of political radicalism and political extremism is provided by Backes (2010).

  2. 2.

    The two other categories identified by Kopecký and Mudde are the Euroenthusiasts (who support both EU and European integration) and the Europragmatists (who support EU, but not European integration).

  3. 3.

    A more fine-grained typology of attitudes towards the European Union has been proposed by Krouwel and Abts (2007), who distinguish between Euroscepticism, Eurodistrust, Eurocynicism and Euralienation. In line with conventional practice (e.g. Szczerbiak and Taggart 2018), I use the term Euroscepticism as a generic label that captures different degrees of discontent towards the European Union.

  4. 4.

    As a general rule, I have included the parties coded as ‘socialist’ or ‘nationalist’ in the Manifesto Project Dataset (Volkens et al. 2016). From the list of radical right parties, I have excluded the Christian democratic and conservative DISY in Cyprus and the conservative HZDS in Slovakia. I have also included a number of parties coded into other party families in the Manifesto Project Dataset but commonly considered as members of either the radical right or radical left family (parties marked with an asterisk in online appendix A).

  5. 5.

    For a non-partisan review of the Manifesto Project Data, see Gemenis (2013). Data on party positions are also provided by the Chapel Hill expert surveys (Bakker et al. 2015). This is certainly a valuable source of data, but it is less suitable for this study due to its focus on the orientations of the party leadership (rather than on the party as a whole) towards European integration (rather than towards the EU). (In the five survey rounds conducted 1999–2014, the experts were asked to ‘describe the general position on European integration that the party leadership took over the course of [year of survey]’. Experts have also been asked to position the party leadership on several specific EU policy questions. In 2010, a question on the position of the party leadership on whether the country has benefited from its membership in the EU was included).

  6. 6.

    I have removed the categories per606 (‘right’) and per706 (‘left’) from the scale suggested by McDonald and Mendes. On a closer examination, these categories appears to have low face validity as indicators of sociocultural right and left, respectively. Category per606 includes favorable mentions of, e.g., help for fellow people, civil society and public spiritedness—features that may be associated with the sociocultural left as well as with the sociocultural right. Category per706, in turn, includes favorable references not only to groups typically associated with sociocultural left politics, such as women, but also to groups equally favored by the sociocultural right (e.g. old or middle-aged people). To get an idea of the construct validity of the proposed scales, a robust confirmatory factor analysis on a data set covering all significant parties in Western and Central Eastern European countries from 1975 onwards (N = 1.970) was conducted. The following fit measures are given for the proposed sociocultural scale: CFI = 0.74; RMSEA = 0.05; SRMR = 0.03. (The McDonald and Mendes scale fails to converge.) CFI increases to 0.92 (RMSEA and SRMR remain unchanged) with a sociocultural scale focusing only on national way of life (per601, per602), traditional morality (per603, per604) and multiculturalism (per607, per608). Because of their high face validity, per605 and per705 are, however, retained in the scale. (See also the discussion on robustness below.) The socioeconomic scale obtains the following values on key fit indices: CFI = 0.89; RMSEA = 0.03; SRMR = 0.03. A more detailed presentation of the categories included in both scales is given in online appendix B.

  7. 7.

    Eleven (11.2%) of the radical right and nine (5.6%) of the radical left manifestos are based on estimates from available manifestos. The interpretation of the results remain unchanged also when excluding these observations.

  8. 8.

    Including a random intercept on the country level does not improve the fit of the models.

  9. 9.

    The excluded borderline/ambiguous cases were the following: Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR), Law and Justice (PiS), National Alliance (AN), Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), Progress Party (FrP) and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). I also excluded the Finns Party (and its predecessor) up to 2003.

  10. 10.

    The excluded borderline/ambiguous parties were Democratic Left (DIMAR), Democratic Party of the Left (PDS; 1992–1994) and Sinn Fein (SF; in both the UK and Ireland).

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Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2017 Swedish Political Science Association (SWEPSA) Annual Conference in Karlstad. I thank the participants of the workshop ‘The European Union and the Challenges of a Transforming World Order’ for their comments. I am also grateful to the two anonymous referees for their reviews. The usual disclaimer applies.

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Correspondence to Andreas Fagerholm.

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Fagerholm, A. United in diversity: examining the diverging attitudes towards the European Union on the ideological fringes. Acta Polit 54, 177–195 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-018-0080-6

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Keywords

  • European Union
  • Euroscepticism
  • Radical right
  • Radical left
  • Ideologies
  • Political parties