From the margins to the mainstream: Populist radical right parties and government formation in Europe


Marianne & Marcus Wallenbergs Stiftelse



The European party landscapes have transformed since the 1980s as two new party families – the green and populist radical right have established a presence. Their impact on electoral competition, government formation and policy-making is conditioned by their size, position and organization. The populist radical right parties (PRR) have been electorally more successful and more frequent in government than the greens (see more information below and in the appendix). The PRR parties have despite their perceived weak democratic credentials due to, above all, nationalism and xenophobia, moved from the margins to the mainstream of political life (Betz 2003). The two most recent party families have contributed to an increased polarization of the European party systems (Minkenberg 2001, Bale 2003, Heinisch 2003), and are considered to have enhanced the power of centre-right. The PRR parties have influenced policy-making directly by government participation and indirectly through influencing mainstream parties’ behaviour and policy choices (Minkenberg 2001, Zaslove 2004, Akkerman, 2012).

The purpose is to analyze how PRR parties have influenced government formation and, ultimately, transformed European parliamentary democracies. The European PRR parties have different experiences of parliamentary politics. Some PRR parties have been full members of government, such as the Austrian FPÖ, whereas others have been support parties through formalized agreements or looser forms of cooperation with the government, as the Danish People’s party and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands (Laver 1986, Bale and Bergman 2006, Christensen 2003). Successful electoral alliances have been more frequent in Central Eastern Europe (CEE) (Müller-Rommel et al. 2004). They have been considered opposition parties possessing ‘koalitionsfähigkeit’ (Sartori 1976, von Beyme 1983), but also been treated as ‘ostracised pariahs’ illegitimate as coalition partners, which presently is the case in Sweden (see e.g., De Lange 2008). This variation is a laboratory for asking questions of how ‘new’ radical parties relate to the parliamentary heart of power, namely the government.

The project has one overarching question: ‘How does the presence of PRR parties influence parliamentary politics and government formation?’.

Three sub-questions are asked to answer this general question:

  1. ‘How do the coalition patterns change when PRR parties gain representation in parliament and how do mainstream parties respond to their presence?’,
  2. ‘When and why have some PRR parties become full members of or supporter parties of government whereas others are totally excluded from political negotiations?’, and
  3. ‘Which portfolios do PRR parties receive when in government and why?’ The aim is to analyze the impact of PRR parties on government formation in the European countries (EU 27 + Norway) since the 1980s to the present, for Central and Eastern Europe 1990.

Professor Hanna Bäck, Lunds universitet

Ph.D student Anders Backlund

Forskningsområde / geografiskt område

Institutionen för samhällsvetenskaper Statsvetenskap Politik, ekonomi och samhällets organisering Samhällsvetenskap Europa


2014 — 2021


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