Sovereignists: much ado about nothing?

Immigration doesn’t appear to be the only worry of Europeans, also economic fears are widespread. And analyses suggest that the success of the new populist group is far from certain.

This word cloud shows the frequency of terms used in tweets by MEPs containing the word "populists". The Quote Finder  tool allows for customised analysis and the tracking of other relevant information.

All things considered, hardcore nationalists - those for whom the European Union is the problem, and nation states the solution - remain a minority. Topping the the list of Europeans’ main concerns is not immigration, but rather domestic issues such as corruption, housing conditions, health, pensions and unemployment. This is what a recent poll by the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) would seem to suggest.

Of course, sovereignists happen to be a loud minority, and their potential ascent in the forthcoming European elections is a cause for concern. If they manage to succeed, they could wreck the European Union from within. These are the terms used by the ECFR in an analysis published last February, where they speculate that sovereignist and populist groups could take more than a third of seats in the next European Parliament.

The tool

This article relies on the possibilities for research and analysis provided by the Quote Finder tool  developed by EDJNet, allowing users to track the Twitter activity – tweets, hashtags – of every MEP.

Just recently, openDemocracy reported on the flow of money funding the spread of ultra-Catholic and ultra-conservative ideas in Europe: “far-right parties aim for big wins in the upcoming European Parliament elections in May”, reads their analysis, and “large amounts of foreign money have supported the spread of their ‘traditional values’”.

Meanwhile, leader of Lega and Interior Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, has launched the “European alliance of people and nations” (EAPN), which he hopes will become a new European Parliament group, gathering members of ENF (including Lega), EFDD (from which MEPs from Germany’s AFD would migrate) and ECR.

Present at the launch of the new formation were the Finns Party (formerly known as the True Finns), the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) - currently members of the conservative, eurosceptic ECR group. Nevertheless, the possible merger of ECR with the far right has been denied in a tweet by ECR Spitzenkandidat Jan Zahradil:

Opinions on the new group’s chances of success are mixed. Some commentators are sceptical: the parties are too quarrelsome, precisely because they’re nationalists; and in any case, they’re hardly drawing a full crowd. According to Europe Elects , the new group - focused on “harsher policies towards immigration and borders, and subscribing to various levels of euroscepticism in favour of more national independence” - could win 84 seats.

However, the rise in anti-European views is not just coming from the right . This is how the situation is viewed by Liberties, who evaluate parties in the European Parliament in terms of adherence to - and respect of - the founding values of Europe, starting with democratic pluralism and the fundamental rights established in article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union .

From this viewpoint, the “problematic” fringe includes members of the People’s Party, the Liberals and the Socialists: for example, in the current Parliament there are 16 members from the socialists, and 11 from the PPE-DE. If we combine all these “bad apples” - as Liberties defines them - found in groups not considered anti-European, those in opposition to fundamental European principles could reach 69 seats. If we then add the populists and self-declared anti-Europeans, the number of seats could be as high as 164.

From the other side, however, there’s no lack of encouragement to flip the perspective and reframe the message:

Available translations
Monday 15 April 2019


Gina Pavone


OBC Transeuropa
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