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United in Euroscepticism: Populist Foreign Policy in Hungary and Poland

Edit Zgut

The post-Cold war age, in particular, the Euroatlantic integration and the multiple crises of the European Union provided fertile ground for the rise of populism both in the East and the West. Research in this area (Verbeek & Zaslove, 2017; Chryssogelos, 2021) suggests that there is no such thing as a single populist foreign policy, since populists employ a wide range of approaches. Accordingly, the particular brand of foreign policy mostly depends on the relation between populism and the main ideology adopted by populist stakeholders.

Central and Eastern Europe is a peculiar region to study in this matter. Not only did it become the textbook case of democratic and rule of law backsliding, but it is also home to the countries where populism became most pronounced within the European Union. Whereas this year marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the decline in quality of democratic governance today is most severe in Hungary and Poland (V-DEM, 2021). Furthermore, the Eurosceptic parties in both countries, the Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats) in Hungary and the PiS (Law and Justice) in Poland, were able to win consecutive elections since 2010 and 2015 respectively, despite the fact that Hungarians and Poles place great trust in the EU (Pew Research, 2019).

Paying greater attention to these countries in the context of populist foreign policy is crucial for various reasons. Being in no man’s land (after quitting the European People’s Party this year) amid a huge political storm over the attack on LGBTQ rights, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orb.n wants to build a perception of Eurosceptic unity based on a common fight against EU institutions and norms. Together with Poland’s informal leader Jarosław Kaczyński, they do not only employ a strong anti-imperialist theme in their Eurosceptic populist rhetoric, but also intend to significantly alter the institutional design of the EU, thus challenging the legal basis of the integration.

The aim of this policy paper is threefold. Besides explaining the linkage between Euroscepticism and populism in Hungary and Poland, Edit Zgut's goal is to put these cases into comparison with Western (Italian, French) examples. By zooming into the foreign policies of Fidesz and the PiS, she also attempts to highlight their nationalistic tendencies, which derive from different sources than those of similar movements on the continent to which they are tenuously linked at best.