The spectre of nationalist populists is hovering over the EU

Published on 28/04/2022

The opposition between European progressives and nationalist populists can be seen in all elections, whether legislative or presidential in Europe (in Hungary with Orban or in France with the presidential election and soon the legislative elections) and is reflected in debates around two fundamental issues: solidarity and sovereignty.

In fact, either voters will consider that the solidarity budgetary, security, migration, environmental, etc., is strengthened by cooperation at European level, or they will choose to withdraw to national bordersbelieving that national or even regional solutions are preferable.

The same applies to sovereigntyThis applies to military defence (the question of whether or not a European army should be integrated into NATO), and to shared control of the Union's external borders, as opposed to re-establishing controls on migrants at national borders and calling into question the four freedoms, i.e. the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. For it is the issue of migration policy that is decisive for nationalist populists. Open or closed, bridges rather than walls...

But what is nationalist populism?

A huge question! In an attempt to answer it, the principles, doctrines and political strategies are based on expressing the interests, prejudices and almost always the fears and anxieties of ordinary people, defined in opposition to the elites. The designated scapegoats are always the "others", in particular migrants, and often Muslims, and again the elites, and of course "Brussels".

Let's be more explicit about the common vision shared by populists: they claim to have a direct link with the "real people", perceived or presented as homogeneous. Hence Marine Le Pen's insistence on systematic recourse to popular initiative referendums (RIP) or citizens' initiative referendums (RIC). [1] which could deal with social issues (annulment of marriage for all, reinstatement of the death penalty, etc.), migration policy, of course, but also revisions to the Constitution.

And they want to govern by transcribing the will of this "real" people into their actions. So they reject social and political diversity and are :

-against the political, economic, intellectual and cultural elites,

-against minority groups (Roma, Hungarians in Slovakia, religious minorities, Jews, Masons, the political opposition, described as "all rotten", etc.).

-against political and judicial institutions, the media, NGOs, etc.

- and against migrants, of course[2]...

They are also in favour of expanding majority rule, whereas democracy also means protecting the rights of minorities (Art 2 TFEU),

By way of example, let's take a look at the Ms Le Pen's radical proposals on migration policy: a total halt to non-European immigration and the deportation of illegal immigrants who are delinquent or radicalised; an end to family reunification, and, more seriously, social assistance reserved for French nationals, with priority also given to French nationals for access to social housing and employment; making access to solidarity benefits conditional on five years' work, and abolishing residence permits for foreign nationals who have not worked for 12 months.

In short, it's a discriminatory programme, and it's called " national preference "This discriminatory programme includes an interpretation of "laïcité" (secularism) as enshrined in the 1905 French law to "erect a rampart protecting the Christian heritage from Islam". [3] which leads it to banning the veil in public areas, unlike the signs of other religions. On the pretext that it is "Islamist garb" and not a religious sign, this ban on the headscarf would not therefore be an infringement of the equality of religions enshrined in national law and in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Nationalistic, xenophobic, protectionist as they are they are anti-European even if they declare the contrary (Ms Le Pen emphasising that she has abandoned the idea of leaving the euro, given the fears of French voters, who have overwhelmingly adopted it). Indeed, to want to give primacy to national law over European law, as Poland, Hungary and now Marine Le Pen are already calling for, is to put an end to common legislation that guarantees the internal market and the four freedoms of movement mentioned above.

Mrs Le Pen's programme also includes a unilateral reduction in France's contribution to the EU budget, which would be impossible without the unanimous agreement of all the other Member States, and the creation of a "European Alliance of Nations", which the Rassemblement National candidate would like gradually to replace the European Union. Let's imagine for a moment that the 24 other Member States would also be tempted by the supremacy of national law over European law. This would cause an unparalleled cacophony that would paralyse the EU once and for all.

In France's case, this would mean a 'Frexit' by another name, with an immediate loss of credibility, particularly on the financial markets, and a profound crisis within the Union.

Let us briefly analyse the communication strategy of nationalist populists in general:

they systematically seek to avoid a fair debate and use language designed to heighten anxiety and propose simple, even simplistic, solutions. Populists therefore make assertions, without the need to back them up with arguments or reasoning.

they don't need proof, and they think that the simple but insistent repetition of these assertions should eventually convince their listeners or viewers that they are right.

The search for truth is no longer an objectiveThis is especially true if it is unfavourable to them and constitutes an embarrassment for their action or their image, whether at election time or when they are governing. Whether it's Marine Le Pen, Zemmour, in a presidential election campaign, Orban, Kaczynski, or Trump ("alternative facts") and Putin in the exercise of their power. This is also why the independent media - newspapers, networks, blogs, etc. - are enemies. that they denounce, oppress or forbid.

Like Putin, some populists do not hesitate to use coarse language, supposedly to be close to the people, a macho tendency as displayed by Mussolini or Salvini, or to insult, or to attack the person directly rather than his ideas, like Trump or Orban during their election campaigns, and Marine Le Pen at election rallies , rather than face to face.

In conclusion, the values, programmes and actions of nationalist populists are the exact opposite of those of EAFT and those of Europe.

This is why they want to divide it in order to dissolve it. This is also why freethinkers are systematically their enemies. This is also why we must fight the nationalists and populists with perseverance, strength and vigourwhoever they may be.

If you have any comments or thoughts, please send them to Éric Paradis ( and/or Tony van der Haegen (

The Board of Administration

[1] The discussion on the possible scope and modalities of these referendums goes far beyond the Rassemblement National candidate's proposal, with J-L Mélenchon's France Insoumise group, for example, having presented a bill that was discussed and rejected in the National Assembly in 2019. Hence Marine Le Pen's desire to opt for referendums that don't require the agreement of elected parliamentarians, which presupposes a change to the Constitution.

[2] with recent exceptions for Ukrainian refugees

[3] see the detailed report by the Fondation Jean Jaurès on the candidate's programme

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