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Centre for European Research

Mobilising Around Europe: Pro and Anti-EU Politics in an Era of Populism

7 November 2019

Time: 6:30 - 8:00pm
Venue: Anatomy Museum, King's College London, Strand Campus,London WC2R 2LS

Brexit, and previously the Eurozone and migrant crises, have raised questions about the EU’s ability to maintain cohesion in the face of rising nationalist and populist challenges across Europe. Mainstream politicians supporting further integration can no longer rely on a ‘permissive consensus’ among European citizens. Meanwhile, populist parties, which claim to speak for the ‘ordinary people’ and lament the unresponsiveness or corruption of the (political) elites, have gained increasing popular support. They are typically characterised by a Eurosceptic agenda, and criticise the allegedly undemocratic and complex nature of EU decision-making. Those with a radical right ideology, which pose the greatest challenge to mainstream parties in many European countries, present themselves as guardians of their native cultures and national sovereignty, and dislike the EU’s drive towards further integration and open borders. Public contestation around immigration and European integration not only happens at the domestic party-political level. Indeed, recent research has brought attention to the societal roots and activist elements of nativist and Eurosceptic politics. The Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (PEGIDA) or the European Identitarian Movement are examples of cross-national movements espousing culturally conservative, and often xenophobic, ideas.

Nevertheless, the populist interpretation of European integration as an issue that divides ‘the people’, on the one hand, and ‘the elites’ on the other, deserves qualification. In almost all countries, populist party supporters represent only a minority of the electorate, and the majority of citizens in Europe remain supportive of their country’s EU membership. What is more, across Europe, a considerable number of citizens have come out to defend the EU more explicitly. One notable example is the Pulse of Europe social movement, established at the end of 2016 with the aim of ‘preserving and shaping of a united Europe’, seeking to confront ‘nationalistic and protectionist tendencies’.

This Roundtable discusses the contemporary mobilisation around the theme of European integration: considering pro- and anti-EU forces both at the party-political and the grass-roots level. Four expert academics will provide their insights concerning the following guiding questions:

  • To what extent has the European integration been politicised? Has the EU become a prominent and lasting issue of political contestation across member states?
  • How are current debates about European integration framed? Should we move beyond the Euroscepticism-Europhile dichotomy, and towards various forms of ‘Euroalternativism’?
  • What is the potential for pan-European social movement mobilisation – ‘for’ as well as ‘against’ Europe?
  • What is the potential for the creation of a European public sphere, as a reaction to populist Eurosceptic mobilisation?

After their interventions the floor will be opened for discussion.



The event is jointly organised by King's College London and the Centre for European Research, Queen Mary University of London (a Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence on the Future of EU-UK Relations). The event is linked to the project 28+ Perspectives on Brexit (funded by the Economic and Social Research Council) and supported by The UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

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