• 2023

    Wunsch, Natasha & Marie-Eve Bélanger

    Radicalisation and discursive accommodation: Responses to rising Euroscepticism in the European Parliament

    West European Politics



    The rise of Euroscepticism has shifted the structure of political conflict in the European Parliament (EP) towards an increasingly dominant pro-/anti-EU divide. Focusing on the hard case of EU enlargement, this article examines changes in MEPs’ discursive and voting patterns over the past two EP mandates. It combines two original datasets containing MEP statements during plenary debates and subsequent roll-call votes to examine the polarisation, cohesion, and consistency of legislative behaviour across different European Political Groups. The findings show that soft Eurosceptics drive a deepening of the pro-/anti-EU divide by radicalising in both discourse and vote to join hard Eurosceptics in their firm rejection of further enlargement. Pro-European MEPs, in contrast, show discursive accommodation of Eurosceptic concerns, with a growing inconsistency between sceptical discourse and continued vote-based support for enlargement-related initiatives. A case study of Turkey illustrates these two mechanisms. The findings shed light on the changing dynamics of political competition in the EP and the impact of rising Euroscepticism upon MEPs’ legislative behaviour.


    Wunsch, Natasha & Theresa Gessler

    Who Tolerates Democratic Backsliding? A Mosaic Approach to Voters’ Responses to Authoritarian Leadership in Hungary




    In contexts of democratic backsliding, citizens represent the last bulwark against the systematic dismantling of checks and balances by overbearing executives. And yet, they repeatedly fail to punish authoritarian-leaning leaders at the ballot box, allowing them to consolidate their grip on power. Why is that so? We leverage a conjoint survey experiment in Hungary to probe competing mechanisms of citizen tolerance towards democratic violations in a context of severe backsliding. Our main contribution consists of demonstrating empirically the presence of a composite effect, whereby authoritarian-leaning elites succeed in offering targeted compensations to different groups, ultimately building a mosaic of support among voters to secure enduring electoral backing. We pinpoint trade-offs notably related to cultural conservatism and economic benefits among different subgroups of the population. At the same time, our empirical findings indicate surprisingly high levels of condemnation of undemocratic positions by Hungarian respondents. We discuss how this unexpected pattern points to the limitations of conjoint designs as well as the overlooked supply side of democratic backsliding. Our study feeds into broader debates about the unfolding and entrenchment of democratic backsliding and how we study these processes.


    Wunsch, Natasha & Philippe Blanchard (2023)

    Patterns of democratic backsliding in third-wave democracies: a sequence analysis perspective

    Democratization 30(2): 278-30



    Democracy has come under pressure worldwide, with growing concern over an apparent reverse wave of democratic backsliding at the global level. Bridging conceptual approaches and empirical research, this article investigates patterns of democratic backsliding in third-wave democracies. It applies a range of innovative sequence analysis techniques to the Varieties of Democracy dataset to provide a dynamic perspective on the evolution of different types of democratic safeguards against executive expansion. The resulting typology differentiates stable trajectories from different patterns of backsliding and sheds light on the diversity of backsliding processes that diverge in their shape, depth, and timing in respect to initial democratic transition. The findings contribute to broader debates on the nature of democratic backsliding and have important implications both for our theoretical understanding of the phenomenon and the practical responses devised to counter backsliding trends.


    Chiru, Mihail and Natasha Wunsch (2023)

    Democratic backsliding as a catalyst for polity-based contestation? Populist radical right cooperation in the European Parliament

    Journal of European Public Policy 30(1): 64-83



    The strengthening of the populist radical right poses an important challenge for European integration. This article explores whether democratic backsliding among member states has acted as a catalyst for broader PRR cooperation at the EU level. Studying the co-sponsorship and contents of parliamentary questions and roll-call vote cohesion of PRR representatives in the European Parliament from 2009 to 2019, we examine the extent and substance of their joint polity-based contestation of European integration. Our findings indicate that overall levels of PRR cooperation remain low and concentrated within European party groups, suggesting that ideological divergences between PRR actors and their institutional fragmentation within the EP still hamper their formal cooperation at the European level. These insights feed into debates on the potential and limitations of transnational cooperation of PRR actors.


  • 2022

    Wunsch, Natasha & Nicole Olszewska (2022)

    From projection to introspection: enlargement discourses since the ‘big bang’ accession

    Journal of European Integration 44(7): 919–939



    This article explores enlargement discourses as a way to gauge the broader dynamics of European integration since the historical Eastern accession round. Studying debates in the national parliaments of France, Germany, Hungary, and Poland between 2004 and 2017, we use qualitative frame analysis to discern three types of political discourse on EU widening: normative discourses stress the EU’s soft power and its moral obligation towards candidate countries; pragmatic discourses concentrate on conditionality and enlargement as a stabilisation tool; and institutional discourses emphasize efficiency and state capacity. Our findings point to a diminished relevance of the external projection of EU values and practices and instead a stronger introspective emphasis on democratic quality and internal consolidation. Overall, discourses on EU enlargement thus mirror a broader shift in the perceived nature and direction of European integration.


    Bélanger, Marie-Eve & Natasha Wunsch (2022)

    From cohesion to contagion? Populist radical right contestation of EU enlargement

    Journal of Common Market Studies 60(3): 653-672



    The rise of populist radical right parties (PRRPs) in a growing number of European Union (EU) member states and inside the European Parliament (EP) has triggered concern over their ability to drive further contestation of European integration. Using EU enlargement as a test case, we analyse an original dataset of over 2′700 hand-coded statements from the last three EP mandates (2004–19) to trace the emergence of an increasingly coherent, oppositional discourse by PRRPs towards a further widening of the EU. We show that PRRPs contribute to a generalized hardening of opposition towards enlargement, but fail to impose their identity-focused framing upon other parliamentary actors. Instead, we suggest that mainstream party groups accommodate PRRPs' essentialist discourse by shifting from technical, conditionality-based reasoning towards more political arguments articulated around human rights and democracy. Our findings feed into debates about the transnational cooperation of PRRPs and the political impact of Euroscepticism.