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Eurosceptic Populist Party Organization and Representation: A Comparative Study

Final Report Summary - POPREP (Eurosceptic Populist Party Organization and Representation: A Comparative Study)


The key overall research aims of the project ‘Eurosceptic Populist Party Organization and Representation: A Comparative Study’ were, firstly, to understand better different types of populist party organizations in Western Europe and, secondly, to gain new insights into the similarities and differences between their positions towards the European Union. In terms of my development as a researcher, my key aims were, firstly, to significantly expand my publications record and international profile and, secondly, to be a competitive candidate for senior lecturer positions by the end of the Marie Curie fellowship.

My project suffered a serious and tragic blow prior to its start date with the death of my nominated mentor, Professor Peter Mair. However, thanks to the research environment and support at the European University Institute, including my replacement mentor Professor Stefano Bartolini, I nonetheless achieved my main aims.

From a research point of view, I extended the initial scope of the study over the course of the fellowship to cover nine Eurosceptic populist parties from Western Europe (the Sweden Democrats; the Danish People’s Party; the Austrian Freedom Party; the Northern League and the Five-Star Movement in Italy; the French Front National, The Finns Party, the Flemish Interest Party, and the UK Independence Party). This expansion of the research focus was particularly due to a key development in European politics during my fellowship: i.e. the rise in prominence and importance of these parties’ alliance strategies before and after the May 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections. I conducted interviews with representatives of all the parties named above, either in their own countries, or in EU institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg or, on the rare occasions where face-to-face interviews were not possible, by telephone.

My work has led me to develop a far better understanding of contemporary Eurosceptic populist parties. The principal research findings results will be released in one, and possibly two, books with a leading international academic publisher, along with several journal articles. They will show, firstly, that although there has long been a belief among scholars (in addition to among media commentators and mainstream politicians) that populist parties are not ‘built to last’ and will therefore be episodic, we now need to revise that judgement. In fact, in many cases, populist parties have well-rooted grassroots organizations, in which representatives at all institutional levels and members are firmly integrated. Secondly, my findings will show how – despite other ideological differences – the positions of these parties on the European Union and European integration have come ever closer to one another over time. Moreover, thanks especially to the very rich interview material, the research will also explain not only why the parties studied were not able to form a single strong Eurosceptic alliance within the European Parliament after the 2014 elections, but also why this division among right-wing populist Eurosceptics may not last in the future.

In terms of its wider relevance, the project has therefore addressed a topic on which the EU has called for further research. For example, the 2010 Social Sciences Work Programme, within Activity 8.5 ‘The Citizen in the European Union’, terms the rise and success of populist parties as a ‘challenge for European democracy’ and invites research ‘addressing populism and its implications for national and European governance’. This concern has been reflected in frequent statements by leading EU figures. For example, in the run-up to the September 2012 general election in the Netherlands, the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, warned about the danger of ‘anti-European populism’, while at the annual Brussels Think Tank Forum on 22 April 2013 European Commission President José Manuel Barroso (not for the first time) said he was concerned by ‘populism tearing apart the political support and the social fabric that we need to deal with the crisis’. Given its subject nature, my research is therefore clearly very timely for the EU.

In terms of my objectives to develop as a scholar and expand my publications record, my new book (with Daniele Albertazzi) entitled “Populists in Power” will be published by Routledge in March 2015, while my co-edited book (with two colleagues whom I met at the EUI, Nadia Marzouki and Professor Olivier Roy) “Saving the People: How Populist Parties hijack Religion” is under review with the New York branch of Oxford University Press with a view to being published in mid-2015. I have also had single-authored and co-authored articles published in the leading political science journals European Journal of Political Research, Political Studies and Government & Opposition, along with several forthcoming book chapters in scholarly volumes on populism during the crisis and populist party organization.

Again, regarding dissemination, I have discussed my work at academic workshops and conferences during the Marie Curie fellowship in Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Austria, Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. I have also communicated my work beyond academia through over 20 comment pieces on research-related issues in media outlets and by collaborating with the UK-based international think-tank Demos on two research reports which were covered in over 40 international media outlets. Finally, during my fellowship, I have been interviewed on research-related topics by media such as The Economist, the New York Times, The Guardian, Time, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, RAI, along with many other national media organs.

I therefore have been successful in my goal to “significantly expand my publications record and international profile”. Finally, I also achieved my aim of becoming “a competitive candidate for senior lecturer positions by the end of the fellowship” since I applied for and was successful in securing a Senior Lectureship which has begun in September 2014, immediately after the end of my Marie Curie Fellowship. I am certain that the experience of being a Marie Curie Fellow at the EUI was essential to this, not only because of the many reasons mentioned above, but also due to the continuous training in research and new academic skills which I received there, the experience gained in project management of research in multiple sites, my very active participation in activities at the EUI, and the new international networks I was exposed to.