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The impact of populist radical right parties on foreign policy: the Northern League as a junior coalition partner in the Berlusconi Governments

  • Bertjan Verbeek (a1) and Andrej Zaslove (a1)

Despite the populist radical right’s (PRR) popularity among political scientists, little scholarship has focused on its influence on foreign policy. This lack of study is due, in part, to a general lack of attention to the role of political parties in foreign policy, both in comparative politics and international relations (IR). This is unfortunate because, due to Europeanization and globalization, the domain of foreign policy has expanded, making foreign policy increasingly a domestic concern and, most importantly, touching on major themes of PRR parties. Combining insights from comparative politics and IR, we theorize the mechanisms, which may facilitate the impact of such parties on foreign policy. Subsequently, we examine whether the Italian Northern League (LN), as a prime example of a PRR party participating in a coalition government, has had an impact on Italy’s foreign policy and, if so, what accounts for this (lack of) influence. This paper concludes that, unlike common understanding, the PRR is not persistently anti-internationalist/anti-EU; rather, its position depends on the extent to which international politics helps or hinders the promotion of ‘the people’. Second, despite the LN’s strong coalition position, it pursued an effective foreign policy mainly regarding immigration policy. Third, IR theories of junior coalition partners and foreign policy should address the nature of the party system and how inter-party electoral competition affects the strength of a junior coalition partner. Fourth, these theories need to acknowledge that party preferences are sometimes trumped by national concerns, as suggested by more systemic IR theories.

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