The Shrinking Of The European Union’s Borders: How Nationalism Has Risen, While Sovereignty Has Fallen, The British Perspective.

The re-emergence of European nationalism proves to be a much more dangerous concept for both the United Kingdom’s national security and European security. With extremist political movements, having “re-emerged in Europe” the risks to national security while not immediately apparent, could be significant (Davies and Lynch 2002:39). When the increasing levels of global immigration, international terrorism and national sovereignty are prominent topics of conversation both within society and within security literature it is unsurprising that nationalism within Europe has been seen to have spiked. The nationalist movement however, is not unique to Europe but due to recent political moves like the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU), we are to focus on the role that nationalism has played on the continent in recent decades.

While not all nationalist movements and parties adopt fascist or neo-fascist agendas, across Europe the rising of nationalist parties have been described as displaying “characteristics that are eerily reminiscent of fascism” (Davies and Lynch 2002:40). These concepts are based on expanded fears of the loss of national sovereignty and are often dramatised by media representations of violent political events. After the terrorist attacks in September 2001 known as 9/11 took place international fear spiked, while border and other security protocols increased accordingly. 

The rise of the far right has also been described as the product of rapid globalisation (Guibernau, 2010). Globalisation has been a key enabler in trade developments, manufacturing production and improvements in technology. It is argued in development literature that globalisation can cause “traditional social structures, especially those based on class and religion” to break down. As a result, those who have lost their place in society gain attraction to “ethnic nationalism” (Guibernau, 2010:6). This failure in a sense of belonging increases the connection to identity, which in its most basic form is nationality, which forms a “sense of belonging to a particular ‘nation’”, most often their home nation (Henk Dekker et al 2003: 347). 

With the rise in migration due to prosperity and the ever expanding scope and powers of the EU, these rapid changes have encouraged “feelings of insecurity and uncertainty” and enabled the ‘new radical right’ to relate their policies to the political climate (Guibernau, 2010:6). Guibernau (2010:6) argues that as a result of globalisation, the ‘new radical right’ has been able to draw a distinction and expand these dichotomies through politics in order to create a national agenda of those individuals “who belong and the others”. These parties have been able to tap into the recent growth of anti-European sentiment that has swept the continent. With the natural form of politics within European nations taking the form of primarily one party, sovereign governance systems, the role of the EU’s collaborative power has been difficult to swallow for some nations (2019:57). Taking the UK as an example, the rise of anti-EU feelings among UK citizens has seen the increase in nationalist groups like, the National Front, Britain First, the British National Party (2019:86). 

The Freedom Party in the Netherlands takes the topic of national identity one step further, with the promotion of a ‘pure’ national identity. The Netherlands not only restricts immigration from outside of Europe in accordance with national security protocols but they also restrict immigration from within the EU. Drastic actions like these are not uncommon, with more EU member states favouring protection and sovereignty over cooperation and freedom of movement, it is not surprising that political actions such as Brexit have taken place. Extremist groups such as the UK’s English Defence League (EDL) take ownership of anti-immigration and anti-international membership rhetoric, while promoting white supremacy. 

Anti-immigration movements and rhetoric have in recent years been primarily focused on migrants from newest EU member countries. The expansions in memberships in 2004 and 2007, the first expansion eastwards was seen, with countries such as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia joining the EU. These expansions were proposed in hope to “consolidate the democratic and economic reforms in post-communist countries” and to “spread security and prosperity eastwards” (Smith 2005:270). 

All within the Union however have not reiterated this prosperity. The rise of nationalist movements in Europe has not remained only part of the fringe movements that we would usually associate with the alt-right, but it has quickly bled into standard politics (2009:26-27). With the Freedom Party (FPÖ) in Austria, the Vox party in Spain and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Germany now playing a role in modern European politics, the rise of the nationalists is no longer a fringe issue, but a primary one (BBC News, November 2019). Once taboo topic areas in Germany, such as Naziism and neo-naziism have been given new platforms and supporters (BBC News, November 2019). Riding waves such as the anti-immigration trend seen in recent years, these movements and parties have now been able to play a role in everyday democracy. The rise of anti-European parties can also be seen to have correlation with the increasing powers of the EU (2007:245). As these powers continue to expand, the national sovereignty of individual member states decreases slightly in order to benefit the entire union. However, these far right groups utilise the EU’s expansion as evidence for their rhetoric and as the EU continues to gain power the amount of parties that will come to oppose the expansion and integration of Europe will only continue to rise (2007:246). 

As national sovereignty decreases most countries have gained a far right leading party or have at least endorsed the far right message into conventional politics. The UK however, has taken it a step further. With the severing of ties between the EU and the UK to take place in the coming years according to the progression of talks, the level of national sovereignty will increase exponentially. What will this mean for the UK’s security? The role of the EU will no longer be present in the UK and the UK will take on national security protocols such as border controls and immigration regulation, without the EU for the first time in decades. What this means for the security of the nation is unknown. But what is clear is that the far right has had a more significant effect on EU security than you would first assume. 

Image Credit: Illustration by Lincoln Agnew for TIME; Getty Images


BBC News, 13 November 2019 –

Davies, P. and Lynch, D. (2002), The Routledge Companion to Fascism and the Far Right (Routledge Companions to History) (Published: Routledge)

Dekker, H. and Malová, D. and Hoogendoorn, S. (2003), Nationalism and its explanations, Political Psychology 

FeischMidt, Margit, and Balázs Majtényi, editors. The Rise of Populist Nationalism: Social Resentments and Capturing the Constitution in Hungary. 1st ed., Central European University Press, 2019. 

Guibernau, Prof. M. (2010) Migration and the rise of the radical right: Social malaise and the failure of mainstream politics. (Published: Policy Network Paper)

Rydgren, Jens. “The Sociology of the Radical Right.” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 33, 2007, pp. 241–262.

Skenderovic, Damir. “The Concept of the Radical Right.” In The Radical Right in Switzerland: Continuity and Change, 1945-2000, 13-38. Berghahn Books, 2009. 

Smith, K. (2005) Enlargement and European Order, In: Hill, Christopher and Smith, Michael, (eds.) International Relations and the European Union New European Series. (Published: Oxford; Oxford University Press)


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