Central Europe’s Radical Right and EU Foreign Policy

May 17, 2021
Zsuzsanna Végh
3 min read


Radical right parties have become a stable feature of party systems in Central Europe over the past decade. The transformation of Fidesz in Hungary and Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland from mainstream parties into radical right ones have also had a significant influ­ence on the region’s politics. Following their relative success in the 2019 elections for the European Parlia­ment and given that some of them are in government, the members of this typically Eurosceptic party family have the potential to influence policymaking at the EU level and have a say in how the union acts on the inter­national scene.

This paper focuses on eight Central European radical right parties—Freedom and Direct Democ­racy (SPD) in the Czech Republic; Jobbik—Move­ment for a Better Hungary and Fidesz—Hungarian Civic Alliance in Hungary; PiS, the National Move­ment (RN), and the Coalition for the Renewal of the Republic—Liberty and Hope (KORWiN) in Poland; and We Are Family (SR) and the Kotlebists—People’s Party Our Slovakia (L’SNS) in Slovakia – to study how they see their country’s place in the world, what foreign policy goals they pursue, and what channels and chances they have to further their nationalist and sovereigntist positions in the EU and its foreign policy.

The foreign policy positions of the Central Euro­pean radical right parties show differences regarding their approach to European integration, their threat perception, and relations with the United States, Russia, or China. These differences set limits to the extent to which they can pull together in the same direction at the EU level. However, there are also simi­larities that bring especially the more influential, soft Eurosceptics among them on the same page.

Soft Eurosceptic radical right parties do not want to undermine the European Commission’s foreign policy agenda in its entirety, but rather seek to shift policies to the right by pushing their priorities and in turn radicalizing the positions of mainstream parties. They also pursue their securitizing agenda on all issues that can be connected to migration, such as development policy or relations with Africa or the Middle East. Additionally, the disregard of these parties for certain democratic principles undermines the EU’s ability to speak with one voice and credibility in pursuing a value-based global order.

While the direct influence of radical right parties on EU foreign policy is only significant if they are in government, those in opposition can also have an impact on the discourses and positions of mainstream parties if the latter consider them serious competi­tors. Therefore, keeping an eye on their positions is important because of their potential indirect influence on policymaking, too.

Since the most influential Central European radical right parties today do not seek to withdraw their country from the EU but rather to channel their posi­tions into its policymaking bodies and processes, and change the union from within, countering their influ­ence depends above all on the strategic reactions of the pro-EU mainstream parties. Limiting the impact of the radical right necessitates the commitment of mainstream forces to resist the temptation of shifting their own stance and co-opting the positions of radical right competitors. Such strategies undermine the trust of moderate voters in mainstream parties while legiti­mizing illiberal positions and thus eroding the demo­cratic values and principles as the cornerstones of the EU’s political system. Instead, mainstream parties as well as EU institutions need to develop and effectively communicate rational and well-substantiated policy solutions that have basic democratic values and prin­ciples at their core.

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