Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Panel 110: Strategies of Populist Governments in the European Union
Monday, 02/Sep/2019:
10:50am - 12:20pm

Session Chair: Dina Sebastião, University of Coimbra
Location: Room 12.06


Strategies of Populist Governments in the European Union

Chair(s): Dina Sebastião (University of Coimbra)

In recent years, populist parties have gained access to governments, and in some cases, these parties formed cabinets. Numerous studies have examined the behaviour of Eurosceptic governments of the East Central European countries, however, comparative works failed to broaden their horizon to other regions of the continent. The panel focuses on the strategies of populist and/or Eurosceptic governments in the European Union, i.e. how they have used the European issue in domestic politics and how they have handled (or failed to handle) their conflicts with the EU.

The panel includes three countries/governments (Hungary, Italy, and Portugal) because all these governing parties campaigned on an anti-austerity (sometimes even anti-EU) platform in the run-up to the last parliamentary elections, however, these governments chose divergent strategies later. Hungary has had lots of conflicts with European institutions, her government used the European issue as part of its strategy to mobilise voters even before the migration crisis. In this aspect, the Hungarian government became an example for other populist parties that followed its steps. The Italian government can be considered a divided one. Though both governing parties can be labelled as Eurosceptic, their EU-criticism is quite different, and only the Lega succeeded in profiting from its EU agenda. Meanwhile the Portuguese government is a special case, as here it was the Socialist Party which campaigned on anti-austerity platform formed a minority government supported by radical left parties. Though it kept its promises in government, it has successfully avoided major clashes with the EU.


Presentations of the Symposium


Fidesz’ Double-talk Concerning EU Issues

Jozsef Duro, Reka Varnagy
Corvinus University of Budapest

Since 2010 the Fidesz-led government has developed a populist communication strategy which is characterised by a strong anti-establishment, protest attitude. Following its electoral victory there was an inherent need to find an enemy, preferable in the non-domestic sphere to fight to keep its anti-establishment message. Thus international organisations such as IMF and later the EU became the targets of these messages which fit in well the anti-cosmopolitan stance of the party. At the same time being an EU member state called for cooperation and adaptation which at times contradicted its main messages spread in the domestic political arena.

This paper addresses this challenge by analysing the nature of this double-talk through the major conflicts between the government and the EU institutions. In order to better understand the populist strategy of Fidesz we distinguish between pragmatic and ideological conflict assuming that these conflicts are treated differently: the negotiations take place on different levels (experts vs politicians) and given different levels of attention (hidden vs visible).

Our research focuses on the 2010-2014 period in order to track the formation of the double-talk strategy and its role in the first electoral campaign that Fidesz led after its 2010 landslide victory. A comparative research methodology will be applied to highlight the differences between the domestic and EU-level communication. We not only concentrate on what is communicated but also on what is hidden or missing from these messages. Expert interviews are also conducted to deepen our understanding of the government’s communication strategy.

In its conclusions the paper also aims at giving an outlook on how other similar strategies have been developed.


Squaring the Circle? A Case-study of the XXI Portuguese Government Navigating the Political Landscape amidst the Populist Tide in Europe

Alexandre de Sousa Carvalho
University of Coimbra

In November 2015, the XX Portuguese Government, led by a coalition of centre-right political parties PSD (Social Democrat Party) and CDS/PP (Social Democratic Centre/Popular Party), gave way to a PS-led (Socialist Party) government, made possible due to a negotiated parliamentary majority with the parties to its left in a unprecedented political partnership - also known as ‘geringonça’ (contraption) - since the country joined the then-European Community in 1986.

Since the subprime crisis in the USA in 2008 and its impact on the subsequent Eurozone crisis, numerous European countries have seen the rise of populist parties, and in some cases joining government cabinets. Portugal, having been one of the most affected countries of the Eurozone, has not until now given the same rise in populist parties witnessed in other parts of Europe.

This paper will explore the reasons that Portugal has shown to be an exception that not only has garnered international praise as a successful example in combating austerity, but also to an apparently successful relationship both with EU institutions and its national eurosceptic parliamentary partners. In particular it will focus on the PS-led government and assess its strategy in dealing with both the EU institutions and its domestic parliamentary partners, as well as a comparative analysis of the Portuguese Government discourse on the issues that have driven the emergence of populist parties elsewhere in the EU. Finally, this paper will put forward an interpretation of the impact of the geringonça at the national level, in particular the redefinition of red lines and EU discourse on the left and at the possibility of giving rise to national right-wing populist parties in forthcoming elections.


What does Euroskeptic Mean? The New Italian Government and its Attitudes towards the European Union

Giorgio Giraudi
University of Calabria

On the 4th of March 2018 Italy had general elections. The final results of the elections were the followings: the center-right coalition made up by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia was the most voted, with the 37% of the valid votes (casted mainly in the northern regions); a new populist party, the 5 Star Movement, reached 32.66% (the votes where expressed in a quite homogeneous way, with the highest peaks in the southern regions); the center-left coalition guided by Matteo Renzi’s Partito Democratico was heavily defeated, with 22.85% of the votes, and was able to elect representatives almost exclusively in the central regions. After a rather long enpasse, and a failed attempt to form a government between the left coalition and the 5 Star Movement, a new government finally was formed with a “limited agreement” subscribed by the Lega (leaving the center-right coalition) and the 5 Star Movement. Since the beginning, the new government could have been described as ‘euroskeptic’, and the issue of the future relations between Rome and Brussels was the most difficult to manage. This was particularly true for the financial issues. The 5 Star Movement proposed Paolo Savona (a distinguished professor of Economics who worked at the Banca d’Italia for many years) as economic and financial minister; however, the President of the Republic Mattarella vetoed him, because Savona had repeatedly expressed strong critiques about the functioning of the Euro. Instead of Savona, Mattarella was able to impose Giovanni Tria as ‘technical’ minister. At the time, no-one out of the two winning leaders (Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio) became Prime Minister and Giuseppe Conte (with no party and no political experience) was chosen, more as a mediator than as a leader. Therefore, the Italian government can be described as complex and multifaceted with, at least, three different components: Salvini’s Lega (with its zero tolerance towards migrants and overtly euroskeptic policy); Di Maio’s 5 Star Movement (with its fast-changing opinions and anti-elite rhetoric) and the ‘technocratic’ element, represented by Giuseppe Conte, Giovanni Tria and Sergio Mattarella who is a big supporter of the European integration. The complexity of the government is reflected in the difficult and fragmented relations that Italy has nowadays with the European Union: a stop-and-go system that mainly reflects tensions and problems inside the government, much more than between the government itself and the EU.

Right-wing Attacks on 'Gender Ideology' on National and European level – New Challenges for Progressive Politics and for Gendered Research

Eszter Kováts

University ELTE, Hungary

Mobilizations against what its opponents call “gender ideology” have presented new challenges for scholars, activists and politicians in Europe, on the European level, and beyond. Also in Hungary: The attacks of the Hungarian government on the Istanbul Convention and on Gender Studies since February-March 2017, culminating in the recent deletion of GS from possible MA-options per decree, are situated within a broader transnational phenomenon (Kováts 2017) that certain scholars call “anti-gender mobilizations” (Kuhar & Paternotte 2017). My paper will demonstrate that different meanings of gender are in use within progressive activism and policy too (Kováts 2018a), and if we fail to see this, that leads to one-sided interpretations of the phenomenon: that we would face an old wine (homophobia, antifeminism) in a new bottle (fight against “gender ideology”); or that this would be a “backlash” or the return of essentialism. Also, reducing the analysis to the role the enemy “gender ideology” plays in the cleavage-building and polarizing communication and mobilization strategy of populist actors, and hides the sociological background of why this enemy functions in the Hungarian society (and beyond) in the first place (Kováts 2018b, 2019).

With the help of social and political theories, among others of Chantal Mouffe (Kováts 2018b) and Nancy Fraser (Kováts 2019), as well as of the role of Europeanization in development of gender equality and LGBT rights infrastructure in East-Central Europe and its left and right-wing critiques, the paper will propose a more complex framework for the interpretation of the phenomenon and set out some methodological dilemmas for gendered research.