Europe in the World

The Impact of Populism on Europe’s external relations

Globalisation shortens economic, financial, political, cultural, social, and technological distances between countries and individuals but, at the same time, it opens wide gaps in democratic terms. For when so many problems and their solutions in our modern world cross national borders, the power over binding and effective decisions has to follow suit. Prompted to shift and pool competences in different policy fields to non-state actors outside the realm of domestic politics – like the European Union – countries struggle to remain responsive and accountable to their citizens. In turn, the more alienated people feel by their political representatives’ visible loss of control, and the more dissatisfied with their leaders’ performance, the greater the appeal of discourses against elites, economic liberalism and internationalisation.

This project investigates the manner and extent to which the growing focus on internal affairs and crisis-related ‘navel-gazing’ by political actors in various member states bear on the strategies and interactions of countries with their European counterparts and non-EU partners, as well as on the voice and leverage of the Union abroad.  The core question of the project is: how do populist political forces shape a country’s foreign policy vision and choices, and with what consequences for its role on the European/global stage?

Given the intricacies and complex nature of today’s foreign policy domain of any member state, this project considers the effects of an increasing parliamentary and governmental presence of political parties with an overall populist approach (like the Finns Party, the French National Front, the UK Independence Party, the Greek Syriza, the Italian 5-star Movement, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom, and the Hungarian Fidesz for example) across a range of issues, including trade, transatlantic relations, mobility and immigration, relations with Russia, development aid, and European integration itself.

Moreover, since domestic and European politics – including in foreign policy – are by now entangled arenas or interlinked political markets, the strategic decisions of key actors operating on one or both of these two levels might invariably impact the supranational and national context, as well as a member state’s room for maneuver with third countries. Thus, this project calls for a reflection on how different political actors influence decision-making at national level but also in the European Parliament, for example, on foreign policy issues of communitarian competence, where the EP powers have been expanded by the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

The objective is to produce a Report, as well as policy recommendations for different stakeholders at the European and national levels. This Report will be launched in a high-level public event in Brussels, and then disseminated to a wide audience in several member states.

Reflection Group

The project has set up a Reflection Group consisting of a pan-European network of experts to discuss and examine on the basis of a shared conceptual and methodological approach the effects of populism on Europe’s external relations. The members include:

Charlotta Collen, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Janis A. Emmanouilidis, European Policy Centre
Catherine Fieschi, Counterpoint
Heather Grabbe, Open Society European Policy Institute
Christopher Hill, University of Cambridge
Timo Lochocki, German Marshall Fund of the US
Marie Mendras, Sciences Po University Paris
Cas Mudde, University of Georgia
Mari Niemi, University of Turku

The EPC team

The Reflection Group is led by Rosa Balfour, EPC Senior Adviser, and Corina Stratulat, Senior Policy Analyst,  and coordinated by Juliane Schmidt, Programme Assistant.

The project is kindly supported by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Open Society Foundations.


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