Cas Mudde: EU Far Right Has No Convincing Economic Program
An interview of Novinite.com with Cas Mudde, an assistant professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia (USA), on far-right and anti-establishment parties in the EU and their outlook for the upcoming European elections.
Mudde is the author of Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (2007) and co-editor of Populism in Europe and Latin America: Corrective or Threat for Democracy? (2012).
His research includes fields such as political parties, extremism, democracy, civil society, and European politics. He is trying to find out how liberal democracies can defend themselves against extremist challenges without undermining their own core values.
You earlier said in an article that populists are unlikely to "win big" at May 25’s polls. If populist parties really did fail to charm most EU citizens during the economic and financial crisis, what is your explanation to this?
Most Europeans look for economic solutions during an economic crisis and far right parties don’t have very elaborate and convincing economic programs. They mainly have non-economic solutions to economic problems, such as anti-immigrant and anti-EU points.
Will anti-establishment parties trigger a higher voter turnout compared to previous EU elections activity, which has been teadily dwindling since 1979?
No. Turnout tends to be influenced by the intensity of the campaign, the importance of the elections, and the closeness of the race. None of these apply.
How could actually a significant far-right or far-left success at EU polls impact the way the Union is governed?
This is not really relevant, but for the sake of speculation: it will only have indirect effects, as the far right/left will not be big enough to block initiatives of the main party groups together (i.e. EPP, S&D and ALDE). However, it will push the mainstream right/left to be more critical and vocal in debates – although that seldom also translates in policies.
You have said that the French National Front is an exception to a trend of relatively low support that far-right parties in Europe enjoy despite claims. What makes the FN different?
FN has a long history of electoral success and builds upon a well-organized party. It profits from a strong nationalist culture and subculture and, currently, the division within the right-wing camp.
And what explains then the reported huge popularity of Greece's SYRIZA?
Greece is also an outlier, as the country is not just the worst affected economically by the crisis, but also politically, having virtually no autonomy in major economic decisions anymore. On top of that, Greek democracy has always been much more problematic than other (west European) EU states, with two large and clientelist parties. SYRIZA profits from the combination of complete economic collapse, domestic political incompetence, and external economic and political domination.
Both the French FN and Netherlands' Party for Freedom (PVV) have vowed to refrain from teaming up with extremists such as the Golden Dawn and Jobbik. With such fault lines in sight, are European populists capable of forging a sustainable alliance within the EP?
They are undoubtedly able to constitute an official party group, but I doubt it will be very effective or durable. History shows us that incidents easily occur and both the factions of the individual parties and the party group itself are fragile and easily fall apart.
Weeks after Geert Wilders [the leader of Dutch far-right PVV] called for a Dutch city with "no Moroccans", how do you think it has affected his party’s outlook for the elections?
No effect. He is back to his old position in the polls.
Were harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric adopted by the UK government and implications of free movement restrictions in Germany only a pre-election move, or it expressed somehow justified government concerns?
Whether or not they are "justified", they are, as always, a response to both social and political pressure. Anti-immigration sentiments are not restricted to supporters of far right parties, but are quite broadly shared, including among leading members of mainstream parties. So, these acts are directed at satisfying internal support and fighting off potential electoral competitors.
Have you had any specific observations on the Bulgarian stage, regarding chances of a few new anti-establishment parties (apart from Ataka) to obtain MEP seats?
Given the relatively high threshold for the European elections in Bulgaria (6%), I would be surprised if Ataka or another far right party would make it into the EP. However, Bulgaria Without Censorship could jump the threshold.
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