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The Extreme Right in Eastern Europe: EU Accession and the Quality of Governance

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This paper investigates variation in voter support for extreme-right parties in Eastern Europe, especially among the new EU members. It suggests that the success of the extreme right is a reaction to corruption and the absence of political accountability, and that extremists thrive in competitive democracies where the rule of law is weak. Moreover, it shows that the accession process and EU conditionality contributed to emptying the policy-oriented issue space, and that as EU conditionality has withered away, so too have rapid improvements in the quality of governance. Variation in cross-national support for the extreme right is therefore a reaction to the convergence of the major political parties on the most salient policy issue of the late 1990s—joining the EU. The technocratic and bureaucratic process of EU accession, which was accompanied by declining improvements in the quality of governance, contributed to a 'vacuum' effect in the policy space that led to party competition based on identity-based appeals, such as ethnic hatred, and set the stage for the success of the extreme right in Eastern Europe.
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Keywords: EU; Eastern Europe; corruption; extreme right; legacies; policy convergence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA

Publication date: 01 August 2009

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