Coherent Identifier About this item: 20.500.12592/x121nm

Is there a populist foreign policy?

30 March 2021


In¬†recent years, populist figures, movements and parties have been widely seen as¬†a¬†threat to¬†the liberal international order. But this prevalent narrative is¬†misleading. Much analysis has focused on¬†the attitudes of¬†populist figures, movements and¬†parties to¬†the EU. This paper focuses instead on¬†the broader approaches they take to¬†questions of¬†foreign policy beyond Europe and in¬†particular on their¬†attitudes to¬†Atlanticism, which reveals a¬†much more complicated picture. European populists are extremely diverse. First, they differ in¬†ideological terms¬†‚Äď i.e. whether they are on¬†the right or¬†left. Second, they differ in¬†how they approach foreign policy, which often reflects the dominant strategic tradition and national interests of¬†their countries more than ideology. When populists have entered government in¬†the last decade¬†‚Äď for example in¬†Hungary, Poland, Greece and Italy¬†‚Äď they have rarely implemented foreign policies that diverged significantly from their countries‚Äô previous orientation. In¬†so far as¬†they differ from the foreign policy actions of¬†mainstream parties in¬†their countries, it¬†is primarily in¬†terms of¬†discourse. While it¬†is misleading to¬†generalize about a¬†single populist approach to foreign¬†policy, there are certain distinct themes and positions that link some populist figures, movements and parties. This paper identifies three types of¬†populists in¬†Europe: Atlanticist nationalists, continental nationalists and anti-imperialist¬†internationalists. Focusing on¬†the threat of¬†a¬†populist takeover of¬†European foreign policy distracts from the real difficulties in¬†developing a¬†coherent, effective European foreign policy, which must balance different national interests and strategic cultures in¬†Europe.


Dr Angelos Chryssogelos
Associate Fellow, Europe Programme


europe programme european union (eu) democracy and political participation demographics and politics eurozone