Europe Should Take Steve Bannon’s Threats Seriously

In an interview with the Daily Beast, Steve Bannon announced his plan for The Movement, a foundation to support right-wing populist parties in the upcoming European Parliament (EP) elections. Many have already diminished and disregarded Bannon’s threat to unite a right-wing bloc in the EP.[1] Populist party structures and priorities vary across states, and some are skeptical that Bannon’s experience with the American political landscape would be compatible with Europe’s. Instead of brushing off The Movement, pro-EU parties should take his threat of a 30 percent voting bloc in the EP very seriously and campaign that way.

Populists already do well in European and national elections

The European Parliament elections in 2014 sent shockwaves through Europe. Anti-EU and anti-immigration fringe parties made surprising gains across EU states, shocking the established centrist parties and ultimately forming a bloc in the EP. While many hoped that this populist surge was a fluke with low voter turnout to blame, populists instead were successful in national elections that came after. In the UK, the UKIP’s campaign to leave the EU was successful in 2016, and right-wing populists have continued to win major victories in parliamentary elections in 2017. Germany’s AfD is the opposition party in the Bundestag. Right-wing populists are in governing coalitions in Austria and Italy. France’s National Front has rebranded itself National Rally in an attempt to bounce back after the presidential loss (where it still came in second) and win back voters who are moving to other populist candidates.

Immigration is still the hottest topic in Europe

European populists’ electoral success goes hand in hand with their embrace of anti-immigration rhetoric. Even though the number of migrants coming to the EU has decreased since the surge in 2015 and 2016, immigration remains as the top issue to most EU voters. In April of 2018, YouGov published a poll of eleven European countries. In every country except Spain and Poland (where it was the second most important), immigration was listed as the most important issue facing the EU. In none of the countries did the majority of the respondents trust the EU to make things better when it came to immigration. Indeed, regarding no issue area did respondents trend toward trust in the EU. And when questioned if people like them had a voice in the European Union, in every country more people responded no than yes.

It is easy to dismiss The Movement’s limited funding and small team of ten as too small to make any impact. It is easy to dismiss Bannon as irrelevant, clinging to fame after being ousted from his right-wing blog and place of influence in the White House. It is easy to say that Bannon doesn’t understand Europe and uniting varying parties with varying domestic agendas in a continent-wide election. Dissatisfaction with Brussels, anxieties about recent immigration waves, and debates about European identity and national sovereignty are not going away. Bannon has fertile ground in Europe to disrupt the establishment, and centrist parties need to mobilize voters if they are committed to ensuring that the European Union remains intact. As we have all (hopefully) learned by now, elections have consequences. It is possible that the future of the European Union will be decided by the European Parliament elected in 2019. Now is not the time to take the EU and elections for granted.


[1] For more on this, see Huffington Post, Vox, Politico

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Elizabeth Caruth

Research Associate

Elizabeth Caruth is the Research Associate at AICGS. She oversees planning and logistics for AICGS seminars, workshops, conferences, and symposia and coordinates the AICGS internship program. Before joining AICGS, she taught English at a secondary school in Herne, Germany, as part of the Fulbright Program. She worked previously at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in the Office of the Dean and Office of Career and Professional Development and interned at WorldDenver.

Ms. Caruth received her MA in International Studies from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and her BA in International Relations, European Studies, and German from the University of Arkansas.

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ecaruth@aicgs.org | 202-672-1194