In the past decade there has been a constant rise of nationalism in European politics, with nationalist parties gaining popularity in almost every member of the European Union. The canonical example is Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National in France, that won 15% of the overall vote in the 2011 cantonal elections, under Le Pen's daughter Marine. Other examples include:

While I understand that there each party may owe most of its recent popularity in localized, country specific reasons, there certainly seems to be a current wave of nationalism in Europe and I'm more interested in what the key factors for it might be, in a EU politics level.

The European sovereign-debt crisis seems like an obvious explanation and it's indeed brought forth by several authors as the most important factor, but I'm not qualified to assess whether that's true or not, or if is as significant as posited.

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    Another important factor is the refusal of established politicians to actually have sane policies and keep promises. But I won't be able to find a source for that on a European level. Many people vote for these parties because they feel there is no option amongst the established parties. Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 6:03
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    (1) On a political level, EU was created with specific promised benefits. Many people (whether rightly or wrongly) don't see those benefits, and therefore wish to return to status quo pre-EU, since the problems are blamed on the current structure (irrelevant whether rightly or wrongly). When the seat of power is quite remote, people feel less potent to effect change.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 11:45
  • 4
    (2) On a scientific level, it's quite possible that such a large union as EU is simply not an ESS for EU-specific geopolitical conditions (USA is somewhat of an outlier due to very special geopolitics and history involved). Large multtinational states don't usually exist for long, especially when not enforced militarily.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 11:48
  • This is very interesting Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 22:32
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    Also I suspect immigration and rise of criminality, coupled with economical crisis and a serious engenders of each country's traditions due to many factors (again immigration, multinational companies, too much tourism, too much mixed marriages, etc...), as well as a total lack of the official authorities to acknowledge the above problems as actual problems, are key elements of rises of modern nationalism.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 21:06

7 Answers 7


Disclaimer: This is a complex issue and influenced by perception and country of origin.

I think DVK's first comment is fundamentally correct: the rise of nationalisation is a result of ordinary people's growing dissatisfaction with the European state.

This dissatisfaction can be summarised into a couple of "pain points" (which inevitably vary by country & can be more perception than reality):

  • Handing of national powers to Europe (especially if you're part of the EMU).
  • Mass immigration, especially economic migration.
  • The cost of the EU with the ever-increasing size of the EU (increasing the EU budget and payments) by allowing poorer countries (who can barely meet the entry requirements), esp. paying far more than receiving.

The current financial difficulties have exacerbated these factors and added a new one:

Iechlukasz's first paragraph is also largely correct, countries in Europe have fought each other for centuries and have built up official and unofficial alliances over that time.
Many countries (& the people in them) simply do not trust other countries in the EU and often don't think of themselves as "Europeans" (esp. in the UK).

Yet national politicians continue to push forward with further integration and more devolution of powers to a bigger and more expensive EU, whose main purpose is perceived as trying to create an economic super-state to rival the US.

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    As you said depends on the country you live in. In Spain there has been a very big focus on immigration. Which has been pointed as the problem of lack of job. They have also been focused as the main spenders in public health care and social basic coverage. That, attached to a good populism, you have the basics of a rising nationalism.
    – ederollora
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 22:58
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    I'm not so sure about other European countries, but in Ireland there is a big feeling that EU policy is dictated by the German and French governments as well as the ECB. Immigration isn't a big issue. It's mostly that many people feel that Ireland has no say in EU policy, for example there is the fact that we were forced into a terrible bailout deal by the head of the ECB at the time Jean Claude Trichet who allegedly threatened to cut off funding to Irish banks if we didn't accept the bailout deal. Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 23:07
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    @Adrian Kelly Totally agreed with your point about immigration. Sure it is the source of some nationalism all over Europe, but the economical management of the ECB is, in my opinion, what boils the people most. Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 16:14
  • Seriously as a Swiss it makes me laugh to see other EU countries crying over their migration. We get as much non-EU immigration as them, PLUS a lot of EU immigration. I don't have exact numbers but I'm pretty sure we're by far Europe 1st in terms of immigration. Do they realize there is people who wish to have as few immigration as them? (it's nothing personal)
    – Bregalad
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 21:16
  • Your argument appears to be reasonable, but for the richest Western Europe countries only. As you move towards Central and Eastern Europe, I would say that there is still some nationalism on the rise, but the reasoning is different, as the WEU problems mostly don't exist, and there are other problems instead.
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 19:57

Sadly I am sure I can't give a whole answer, but maybe it can be improved later.

Main reasons - reason chains - why nationalism being enforced in Europe.

First of all, as in the 30's: economic tension. When the standard of living get stucked at a certain level, and recession starts, people tend to feel that the problem is based on the current system, and they are more likely to listen to those who are telling some radically different. Radical parties in booming periods are usually below 5% since no radical change needed, everything seems fine. As soon as something extraordinary happens in world economy, and their own economy, they seek quick solution, and those parties standing up with alternatives. This happens with left-wing radicals as well, but I am sure it is not popular because of the "recent" collapse of USSR and eastern-block.

Second big factor is the European Union itself. It restricts the right of a nation in exchange of the common good. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes not. As a huge system, EU isn't flawless. For example Hungary had to close all but one sugar factories because of EU regulations and quotas. If somebody wants to criticize the EU, they can, and some things should be changed. If you make a political platform based on contra-EU politics, you can get a decent voting base.

Third factor is oppositions' privilige: populism. You can say whatever you want when you are not in power, you don't have the pressure to make everything plausible what you are saying, since you don't have to deal with everyday economic problems like a governing power. Of course when a populist party or platform gets the power, they have to come back to reality. This happened in Hungary. After the populist right-wing won the elections, they had to continue to press out as much money as they could from the people. Like the previous government did. Now their popularity declined from 55% to 20%. So populism helps them to grab the power, but depends on them if they can really provide alternative. And their biggest enemy is winning an election. Since that is the time when they have to decide what to do: go back to reality and risk popularity, or remain populist and risk a bankrupcy.

I hope this answer helps find the final answer.


There is a certain "built-in" nationalistic expectancy in pretty much all of European countries - almost all of the countries and their borders were defined in the Age of Nationalism; and unlike many other worldwide countries, they've defined themselves as nation-states; i.e., the reason of existence for the state is as embodiment of a particular single nation; and the definition of citizenship equals belonging to that nation.

This automatically implies that any political movement away from that - for example, citizens/immigrants from other nations or integration with other nations - are naturally viewed as a disgression from both the traditions and also the "national deal"; a country where all nationalities would be equal is quite contrary and incompatible with the original concept based on which the country got created and (usually) spilled lots of blood to make it happen in that particular way, for that single, particular nation. The original reason of existence of a nation-state is a homeplace where that nation would hold all the advantages against other nations; and changing a nation-state to a location-state (unifying all the different citizens living in those borders) is a major psychological change that (1) won't happen by itself without major effort and (2) can't happen faster than multiple generation changes; at the very least all before it happens, everybody who personally remember in-person and "feel" the nation-state need to die of old age, it won't happen much faster than that.


According to Bertrand Russell's analysis, there is a lot of muddleheadedness in nationalism. Nationalism is not a product of reason, it has its root in national feelings. Nationalism gained much of its nourishment from romanticism. Greek war of independence and Byron's poems did much to popularize the principle of nationality.

But abroad Byron was considered the greatest poet of the age, with the possible exception of Gothe. Everything about him suited the romantic temperament: he was a Lord and yet an outcast, a man of wealth and yet a champion of the oppressed, outwardly a cynic but concealing (very ineffectually) a bleeding heart. Greece was the most romantic cause of the age, and Byron died for Greece.

Russell, Bertrand. Freedom and Organization. Longdon and New York: Routledge, 2010

  • With all due respect for Russell's genius in other fields, in this case he was way off. Nationalism started long before Byron; and in countries other than UK as well.
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 20:37
  • @DVK Nationalism started in Greece. Byron popularized it. Nobody said it started in UK. This book is a gem. Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 21:45
  • [citation required]. here's a list of early nationalist thinkers who predate Byron (and Greece events) by centuries: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 21:59
  • There were tribal feelings, provincial feelings long before national feelings. It was events in Greece that romanticized this sentiment, and added aura to an emotion that would otherwise be considered parochial and morbid. This whole thing is about feelings, not reason. Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 22:24
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    @DVK, You're right. Nationalism in its modern form began centuries earlier. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 18:14

I believe it is the first duty of a government to provide for the needs of the homeland; in particular, for the needs of all the people in that homeland. That, simply put, is what nationalism is.

Contrast with globalism, the idea that wealthier countries should offer help and support to third-world countries; even at the expense of the well-being of their own populations.

The use of the word "all" above is important. It means that a nation cannot provide for the needs of SOME of the citizens/resident at the EXPENSE of other citizens/residents -- or if they do, they are engaging in "bad nationalism" or even "racism".

75 years ago Europe experienced some "really bad" nationalism. I don't need to name names or countries here. But as a result, nationalism got a really bad name.

What we are seeing now is just the pendulum swinging the other way.


People from the beginning were divided, at the beginning in small groups, then tribes, groups of tribes etc. Nationalism is the divide into the very large groups. The instinct to divide is bound with survival. When the amount of resources is limited, not everyone can survive so people divide into groups fighting each other for resources. It is not specific for people, but for all herd animals.

Currently we have crisis, big unemployment (as compare to the state before 2008). So in fact, it would be suprising, if the popularity of nationalistic parties would not increase.

In Europe, we have also the new form of nationalism, which was represented for Pim Fortuyn, for example. As opposed to conservative nationalism, this is liberal nationalism, which is based on assumption, that imigration from other countries, especially the muslim ones, would endager the liberal model and liberal values of Europe.

We have also nationalism on the higher level, the economical nationalism of EU and US. EU is fighting against GMO to protects its agriculture and US propagate extended copyrights conception, which brings the most profit to the US companies. This is also motivated by egoism and the fight to have the most resources for themselves, while not being classified as nationalism by wide studies. But it is based on the same mechanisms.


The crisis is one of the biggest fact that have increased the nationalisms in the politic field. People in more reduced regions are looking for someone that represents them having a better look at their area, their people etc.

Let's take a look at the situation in Catalonia, Spain. With financial problems in all over the country central government has to take more resources of the richest areas, thing that has been allways unpleasant for catalan people, since there have been allways cultural differences.

Now, appart from that, with a central government that wants to turn catalan, the cooficial language of the Catalonia, to the 4th language, the number of nationalists has increased and is increasing more every day.

So what I think, is that it's more the feeling that they have to find out someone who really represents them, their situation and interests, normally not close to central institutions like UE or central government in Spain in the example of Catalonia.

Update: To clarify the situation in Catalonia I add two articles of the New York Times explaining what happened in the elections and why they were tooken two years before because of the demonstration of 11th of September.

11th September: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/opinion/a-new-call-for-catalonias-independence.html

Catalan elections: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/26/world/europe/divisive-election-in-spains-catalonia-gives-win-to-separatist-parties.html?_r=0

Article of Jonathan Hopkin – London School of Economics: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2012/11/27/catalonia-election/

  • Catalonia has been traditionally nationalist, and has been an autonomous community since 1979, not really a good example.
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 7:28
  • I'm from Catalonia, and I think I can understand the situation. It's an autonomus community, but this doesn't mean that it's autonomus from central government. To say it somehow, the economy income of the region is not directly gestioned in Catalonia, it has to go first to central government and then some of that economy income come back to the region. The term "autonomus community" it's something that doesn't really mean autonomus here in Spain
    – Nuxy
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 7:43
  • I didn't mean to suggest you don't understand the situation in Catalonia, just that it's not a good example in the context of my question. Catalonia has a very unique history that doesn't really apply to the rest of the European countries / communities where a rise in nationalism is evident.
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 7:45
  • You should check last Catalonia elections to the community government where the nationalism has grow up evidently with the aim of self-gestion and independence of the region
    – Nuxy
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 7:48

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