“National Political Conflict and Identity Formation: The Diverse Nature of the Threat from the Extreme Left and the Extreme Populist Right”..

In: Dieter Fuchs and Hans-Dieter Klingemann (eds.), Cultural Diversity, European Identity and the Legitimacy of the EU. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2011.

In the past years, scepticism regarding the European Union in European mass publics has become increasingly evident, culminating in the failure of the constitutional treaty to gain majority support in France and in the Netherlands. The precise nature of this Euroscepticism, however, remains poorly understood to date. While some excellent case studies exist, we lack a comparative perspective to illuminate whether opposition against European integration primarily reflects national idiosyncrasies or whether there are common patterns across countries. Furthermore, one of the key reasons why prior research has led to inconclusive results is the problematic assumption that political space at the national level is structured by a simple left-right dimension.
Based on new findings that political space in Western Europe is structured by an economic and a cultural line of conflict, at least two logics of opposition against European integration are conceivable. First, given the overall liberalizing thrust of the European project in the economic domain, Euroscepticism on the (extreme) left is presumably related to positions regarding the state-market cleavage. The emerging opposition from the extreme populist right, on the other hand, represents a cultural logic of rejection of the European Union, and is related to the traditionalist-communitarian conceptions of community held by the supporters of these parties. This conception represents a polar normative ideal to libertarian-universalistic understandings of community, which are fully compatible with the emergence of a European identity. Thus, the hypothesis is that voters of the populist right are not concerned with economic threats posed by the European Union. Much rather, they claim that the formation of a supranational polity at the European level endangers the organically grown political community at the national level and the primacy of national politics. Consequently, while the extreme left’s conception of Europe is compatible with the formation of a European identity, that of the populist right forms a formidable obstacle to a widening and deepening of European integration.