Europeanization as a cause of Euroscepticism – comparing the outlooks of parties in Eastern and Western Europe: Bulgaria (Ataka), Romania (PRM), the Netherlands (PVV) and Germany (die Republikaner)

  • Philip Dandolov

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis examines party-based Euroscepticism across four different national contexts in the period 2011-3 by bringing into focus right-wing populist parties. Understanding Europeanization as a label for the impact of engagement with the EU and its practical and normative influences on statecraft, policy-making, and the wider society, the thesis looks into the Europeanization of narratives of national identity, minority rights issues, immigration and citizenship. It discusses the way in which the impact of engagement with the EU is perceived as well as the nature of the arguments made against the EU’s involvement in associated policy processes. There has been a recent upsurge in Euroscepticism due to a combination of economic and political factors, on both the popular and party level in EU countries, as well as the increased blurring of the boundaries between mainstream and fringe Eurosceptics. Hence, it is important to analyze the precise reasons behind this phenomenon. The discussion focuses on “soft Euroscepticism” – the thesis is generally not interested in pondering the generic arguments against a country’s membership in supranational entities or shedding light on those parties who oppose the underlying values on which the EU project rests. The thesis therefore probes the attitudes of parties that – with the recent and partial exception of the PVV in the Netherlands – tend to emphasize relatively specific issue-areas as sources of concerns. This work is primarily based on qualitative methods - 32 elite interviews with nationalist-populist politicians including key figures such as party leaders (Rolf Schlierer, Gheorghe Funar), European Parliament representatives (Barry Madlener) and members of the National Parliament as well as of the general party councils (Ventsislav Lakov) in addition to detailed analysis of policy documentation and books authored by party representatives – and highlights and deconstructs these parties’ grievances attributable to nationalistically-oriented concerns. It includes a detailed literature review that clarifies the EU’s impacts and country-specific historical and contemporary differences in the four domains affected by “Europeanization” (Chapters 1-3) and then in Chapters 4-6 uses original empirical data to compare the attitudes of the four parties – Ataka, PRM, REP, and PVV – with regard to the issues already introduced. The thesis utilizes theoretical approaches drawn from several disciplines ranging from political science to sociology, though it mostly confines itself to those pertaining to core group or minority/ethno-regionalist nationalist mobilization, ethnic vs. civic nationalisms in Eastern vs. Western Europe, as well as the different role played by EU conditionality in relation to the political landscape on the two sides of the continent. Extrapolating from this body of research, it develops hypotheses and projections regarding the expected disconnect in viewpoints between Eastern and Western parties. The study finds that attitudes towards “Europeanized” issues areas diverge greatly and do not necessarily correlate with the extent to which EU membership as a whole is opposed by the party. In line with previous research findings, the EU’s capacity to create a super-order nationalism that could challenge conventional readings of patriotism is generally not conceptualized as a significant threat. However, the interviews did reveal that pre-existing transcendent identities – like Latin identity in the case of Romania or the Slavic one in Bulgaria - – are perceived as threatened or as being tacitly degraded due to assumed cultural biases within the EU. At the same time, the reduced salience of such identities among the members of the Western populist parties does not make them more sympathetic to Pan-Europeanism. EU effects on immigration are predictably rated as manifestly detrimental by the West European parties, because they distrust the professionalism of EU agencies and networks, dislike the Eastern Europeans’ increasing involvement in making higher-level decisions and perceive the EU as more liberally inclined than the national government in this realm (with the latter two points especially applicable to the PVV). However, it was interesting that the East Europeans also expressed some disquiet due to the EU’s supposed culpability in encouraging emigration of their own citizens and the presumed unwillingness of the EU organs to offer them the necessary financial means for combating immigration into Bulgaria across the Turkish border. However, contrary to theoretical expectations, the study suggests that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the populist party’s proclivity to regard the EU as an ally of “minority lobbies”, with the PVV (the most Eurosceptic party) assessing the relevancy of this aspect as minor, while it is gauged to be of fundamental importance by Ataka (less Eurosceptic than the PVV). Among CEE populists, the thesis shows how “privileged minorities” like Hungarians and Turks are viewed with alarm due to supposedly making use of the EU level in order to advance their secessionist ambitions (Hungarians in Romania) or improve their socio-economic prospects at the expense of the majority (Turks in ethnically mixed regions of Bulgaria). In short, the thesis establishes that there is still a strong dividing line between Eastern and Western populist parties in relation to the assessments made with regard to the impact of the EU on European identity, migration issues and majority-minority dynamics.
Date of Award24 Jun 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAnne White (Supervisor) & Charles Lees (Supervisor)


  • nationalism, Euroscepticism, populism, Europeanization, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, minorities, immigration, Pan-Europeanism, empowerment, transcendent identities

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