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Session Overview
Panel 413: Euroscepticism in the 2019 EP Elections - Central Eastern European Experience
Tuesday, 03/Sep/2019:
10:50am - 12:20pm

Session Chair: Vít Hloušek, Masaryk University
Location: Anfiteatro 8


Euroscepticism in the 2019 EP Elections - Central Eastern European Experience

Chair(s): Vít Hloušek (Masaryk University, Czech Republic)

Discussant(s): Vít Hloušek (Masaryk University, Czech Republic)

The panel provides an analysis of the 2019 elections to the European Parliament in selected Central and Eastern European EU Member states. The aim is to find out and interpret the performance of Central and Eastern European Eurosceptical political parties in the EP elections. According to the concept of Second Order Elections, Euroscepticism works well both as an ideology of principled opposition (hard Euroscepticism) and strategic choice (soft Euroscepticism) for opposition parties to contest the incumbents. The papers will focus on party Euroscepticism and its manifestations. Party manifestos and campaigns will be analysed in order to detect and compare different Eurosceptic discourses. The particular papers will test the following assumptions: (1) Soft Euroscepticism is used by moderate opposition parties to contest the domestic governmental incumbents. (2) In the countries with long term trend of strong level of public Euroscepticism, even some of the moderate ruling parties will use soft Euroscepticism as a strategic tool to increase popular support. (3) Strong presence of hard and soft Eurosceptic parties will lead to increased “Europeanisation” of the EP electoral campaign in general. (4) Support for hard Eurosceptic parties using Euroscepticism as a part of their ideology and political identity will score better in the EP elections than in the first order elections. (5) Parties employing strongly soft Euroscepticism will score better than in the first order elections. In order to achieve comparable picture, we included two Visegrad Group countries, one Baltic country, and Romania representing the 2007 enlargement.


Presentations of the Symposium


The Czech Republic: Euroscepticism as a Dominant Tone

Petr Kaniok, Vít Hloušek
Masaryk University, Czech Republic

The Czech party system has underwent a profound changes since the parliamentary elections in 2013 undermining the position of two long-term strongest Czech political parties – the Civic and Social Democrats, and establishing a business firm party ANO as the predominant actor. Among the opposition parties, there are various parliamentary as well as extra-parliamentary Eurosceptic parties reaching form hard Eurosceptic far right Freedom and Direct Democracy claiming the “Czexit” to soft Eurosceptic Civic Democrats, members of the ECR Group of which Czech MEP Jan Zahradil is going to be the Spitzenkandidat for ECR after 2019 EP Elections. Therefore we can expect high level of utilisation of Eurosceptic topics and discourses. Moreover, the main ruling party ANO demonstrates high level of soft Eurosceptic discourses which can be reinforced by the recurrent accusations of the leader of the party of misusing the money form the structural funds. Moreover, the minority government is externally supported by the Eurosceptic Communist Party. Last but not least, the pro-integration parties like Social Democrats, Christian Democrats or TOP 09 are facing slightly declining electoral support which potentially challenges their very representation in the EP after 2019 elections. The paper will therefore examine, analyse and compare the Eurosceptic discourses present in 2019 campaign. The authors will explain the sources of Euroscepticism such as ideological position or strategic choice.


The Romanian Hidden Tandem between Populism and Euroscepticism in the Context of the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections

Mattia Collini1, Sorina Soare2
1Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy, 2Università di Firenze, Italy

Romania has been known as one of the most docile and Europhile New Member States. However, the empirical evidence pinpoints towards a recent proliferation of anti-EU stances. On paper, Romania continues being an exception in a region characterized by increased Euroscepticism and nationalist stances. Indeed, there are no relevant populist parties and no mainstream party openly embraces critical stances towards EU. However over the last years, a mélange of populist and Eurosceptic stances has multiplied, first, in the context of the European refugee crisis and, more recently, with regard to Brussels criticisms of Romanian judicial reforms and, last but not least, the management of the 2019 Romania's EU presidency. On this ground, the paper aims to unpack the sequences of a diffused form of Eurosceptic populism by looking at the political opportunity structures in which Romanian parties act. As such, the paper aims to demonstrate that anti-EU stances are integral to the mainstream discursive toolkit, but the ways in which the parties choose to debate and position themselves on EU depend on the national context, and, more specifically, the nature of party competition, and its political cleavage structure. Our analysis focuses on the Romanian mainstream political actors in the context of the 2019 EP elections, and the evolution over time of the pro-EU and Eurosceptic forces, combining a diachronic analysis of electoral data and volatility, a qualitative content analysis of official statements and public discourses, and desk research.


Hungary: Euroscepticism in Government

Krisztina Arató
ELTE University, Hungary

Hungary has been part of the global trend of the dispersion (return) of identity politics. The government and the opposition parties not only believe in different policy strategies, meanings of democracy and politics in general but offer different political identities. FIDESZ has built up a communication strategy of defending Hungarians from different enemies, including “Brussels” and “European bureaucrats”, with a message of the EU being the “assassin” of national sovereignties that has to be taken back. The scattered Hungarian opposition parties are connected by the notion of the EU being a natural family for modern Hungary, the unconditional support of Hungary’s EU membership and a natural Western orientation. The 2019 EP elections bring these identity discourses on surface, moreover, they might affect political strategies as well. For the opposition, electoral success of the 2019 May EP elections can be a fore room for the local elections to be held in autumn this year. For FIDESZ the stake of the 2019 EP elections is important for their position in the European political arena – staying in the EPP and the ability to influence European migration policy is in focus. The paper examines both the identity discourses in the electoral campaign, as well as the effects of the results both in the internal and the European political arena.


Estonia: Electoral Support for Eurosceptic parties in a Very Pro-European Country

Tõnis Saarts1, Piret Ehin2, Mari-Liis Jakobson1
1Tallinn University, Estonia, 2Tartu University, Estonia

According to the Eurobarometer, Estonia is one of the most pro-European countries in CEE, with more than two-thirds of the population believing that EU membership is a good thing. Recently, however, a new anti-immigration right-wing party, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), has gained considerable popular support (since 2015 the party has increased its popularity for three-fold – from 7% to 20%). The EKRE is the first substantial parliamentary party in Estonia which openly embraces Eurosceptic rhetoric. In previous European elections, Eurosceptic views were mostly expressed by marginal extra-parliamentary parties, or very mildly by some mainstream parties. The 2019 EP election will be held three months after the general election in Estonia. This timing offers opportunities to analyse interactions and inertias between the two elections. This paper analyses party manifestos and electoral campaigns in both elections, focusing on three main questions: (1) Will EKRE embrace soft or hard Euroscepticism, considering the prevalence of pro-European sentiments in the country? (2) Will EKRE vary its positions and rhetoric on European integration from one electoral setting to the next, and if so, how can the change be explained? (3) Will EKRE be able to introduce a new substantial pro/anti-European cleavage to European elections in Estonia, or will mainstream pro-European parties able to dictate the major issues for this election?