Monday 13. July 2020
#176 - November 2014


Facing nationalism in the European Union


The European Parliament brought the crucial problem of eurosceptical radical parties’ popularity to light. Those parties mostly share one common ideological denominator: nationalism or their nationalist attitude.

The 2014 European elections showed that euroscepticism is on the rise and it is gaining in popularity. Despite the fact that the current European Parliament is the most eurosceptic ever (around 140 MEPs), the attempt of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders to create one single and strong political group has so far failed. The only organized eurosceptical group is the EFDD (Europe of freedom and direct democracy Group), headed by UKIP leader Nigel Farage.


The main reason for those developments is that differences among those eurosceptical parties are very profound, especially in their programmes and policies. Furthermore, on the political spectrum they come from both right and left wing camps. However, on a closer look at the parties’ profiles there is one common ideological denominator: nationalism or a strong tendency to nationalism. This ideology can have a very uniting potential but it is not as homogenous as it seems to be.


Western/ eastern nationalism

Already in 1944 the philosopher Hans Kohn developed a theory about the dichotomy between “eastern” and “western“ nationalism. By a “western” type of nationalism he means the product of political and social processes in established states or coinciding with their establishment; it is “voluntaristic” and equates to citizenship and therefore conductive to democracy. The “eastern” type is not inspired by the Enlightenment, but is in reaction to it; it does not equate the nation with citizenship but looks to the past for inspiration and justification for its determinism and its tendencies towards aggression.


Recent studies, such as the one from Erika Harris, are proving that nationalism in the post-communist Central European countries has today still more of an “eastern” ethnic character. However, the situation has changed due to democratization and European integration. As Harris writes, the understanding of the nation is still as an ethnic community, but not necessarily opposed to a civic understanding of the multi-ethnic nation-state. The new post-communist nation is preferably in possession of its own state, its citizenship is civic, it conforms to all international agreements and expectations, but through varied and complex kin-state legislation, the state remains a protector of the ethnic nation.


The Russian Connection

As was mentioned at the beginning, nationalism can have a very uniting character. Despite the fact that post-communist countries have changed and the distinction between eastern and western nationalism is nowadays more blurred, some common features and positions remain. One of the most significant and dangerous is their pro-Russian position, according to the recent study ‘The Russian connection’. Parties such as Jobbik (Hungary), ATAKA (Bulgaria), TT (Lithuania), SRP (Poland) and LSNS (Slovakia) are openly pro-Russian while they strongly criticise the EU project. They enjoy strong bonding with Russia and its creation of a Eurasian Union. Besides these parties there are other pro-Russian ones from other corners of Europe: Front National (France), FPÖ (Austria), Golden Dawn (Greece) and Lega Nord (Italy). Together they have now around 40 seats in the European Parliament and Russia can possibly use those parties to influence relevant decisions. especially in the areas which are very important for Russia (for example. energy).


Dangers of nationalism

The real threat of nationalism is not only in the potential influence of Russia on European affairs. According to recent research, the real danger lies in the capability to adapt to the different situations on both sides of the political spectrum. Moreover, nationalism a propensity for radicalization. Radical nationalistic parties consider a united EU as a threat to the autonomy, unity and identity of their own nation (Front National, PVV, FPÖ, Jobbik, Golden Dawn). Radical right wing parties oppose the EU on ethnic grounds. They see the EU project as a threat to the homogeneity of the nation. Radical left wing parties are against a united Europe because they perceive it as interventionist, imperialistic control and a threat to territorial integrity. Furthermore, they criticize the EU’s leaning towards neo-liberal policies (SYRIZA, die Linke, PCF). Eurosceptism is here a main feature of radical nationalistic parties that mainly lack answers to key social questions such as justice and welfare.


The rising popularity of nationalistic parties in the empowered European Parliament can challenge the so far peaceful European project in many ways. Most significantly, it is in a rejection of the basic values on which our society is built. Those values were also to a large extent shaped by the teaching of the Church. Moreover, nationalism is causing the radicalization and polarization of society which can have very damaging consequences. It is therefore in the interest of all of us to pay special attention to ascendant nationalism at the EU level.


Adriana Vandenbossche


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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.