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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

'In Brussels No One Hears You Scream.' Mapping the Agenda and Activities of Populist MEPs

Political Competition
Political Parties
Sandrino Smeets
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Sandrino Smeets
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Andrej Zaslove
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

The elections of May 2014 brought about a sea change in the composition of the European Parliament (EP). The previously marginalized group of populist and Eurosceptic MEP's acquired, around 100 to 150 seats. This makes them a significant power block, which at least in theory should be able to influence policy making. The formation of the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group together with the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group shows that these parties are becoming organized. The key questions then become: can and do these populist parties make a difference? Do they (try to) influence EU policy? There is extensive literature on the role and influence of populist parties in/on domestic politics and policies. There is far less literature on the link between populist parties and the European Parliament. This is for good reasons: the EP a different kind of political arena, which requires different strategies. (e.g. less media attention, less in done in plenaries, influence stems from being in relevant positions in key committees). On the one hand, one could expect that populist parties are not very keen on becoming part of the EP machinery. Populist parties, especially on the right, are highly critical of the EU, i.e. many propose that their respective countries pull out of the EU altogether. On the other hand, populist parties may also see the strategic advantages of playing EU politics. For example, during the migration crisis, populist parties can try to influence the re-working of EU migration and asylum policies. Moreover, populist parties such as the Italian Northern League have argued that the EU needs to play a stronger role in limiting economic completion from counties such as China. We provide a new database that provides a detailed mapping of the various activities, the substantive agendas, and the strategies of populist MEPs. The database monitors their attendance and interventions at plenaries, their respective roles in committees; and their input in crucial policy domains, like migration or trade policy. We will use it to determine: a) whether populist parties play an active role in Brussels b) whether they are working from a coherent agenda, and c) to what extent they have been able to influence/shape key EU policies during the current legislative period.
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