How Populism Impacts EU Foreign Policy

Publication date:
David Cadier and Christian Lequesne

Policy Paper nº 8 / 2020

The rise of populism in the European Union represents a key internal political development that is likely to have repercussions on its foreign policy. It is traditionally assumed that, when in the opposition, populist parties affect foreign policy debates though not foreign policy outcomes. But when they are elected into office, as happened in several EU member states, how do they shape policy decisions and processes in EU foreign policy? This policy paper argues that although populist actors can be vocal and conspicuous in aligning with external actors contesting the international liberal order, they rarely go as far as swaying or blocking EU foreign policy decisions and outputs. At the same time, however, populist governments’ domestic illiberal policies have the potential to undermine the EU’s legitimacy, structural power, and resilience-building endeavours.