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Nordic EU scepticism is cultural not economic, webinar hears
Dr Helle Krunke

12 Oct 2021 / EU Print

Nordic EU-scepticism is cultural not economic, webinar hears

Nordic populism and EU-scepticism is based more on cultural values rather than economic factors, unlike in southern Europe, a DCU Brexit Institute webinar on differentiated governance in the EU heard this morning (12 October).

Helle Krunke, professor and director at the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for European and Comparative Legal Studies, told the webinar that her research suggested that more attention should be paid to the political, cultural and historical context of populism in different parts of the EU.

Populism in south Europe is understood in light of the economic crisis, and the impact of economic reforms,” she said, and was driven by undemocratic interventions.

“In my opinion, it’s much broader than the rule of law. It’s about EU-scepticism and undermining EU solidarity, and is linked to many other EU crises, such as the migration and economic crises,” she said.

Under radar

The academic believes that populism is present in most EU member states, but remains under the radar in Nordic countries.

“It’s understated populism in the Nordic countries, and it differs in context,” she said.

The research identified well-established Danish political parties which fulfil the characteristics of populism, and gain almost 20% of the vote.

They are against migration and globalisation, critical of human-rights abuse prevention, and have a strong urge to preserve national cultural differences, which is close to nativism.

“So they fit very well in the populist definition,” the academic said, though she described it as a less extreme type, and common to all Nordic countries.

But there are also specific Nordic characteristics, in that they focus strongly on preserving and protecting the welfare state, and also on democracy, liberty, a safe society, and gender equality. 

These Nordic values are not necessarily on the populist agenda in other parts of the EU, Dr Krunke noted.


“Not all of these values resemble the conservative nativist traditional form,” she added.

The term populist is very seldom applied to these parties, she said.

Such specific Nordic features are related to rich welfare states, financed by taxes and income redistribution, she said.

Equal access to education, and very high trust in public institutions, are other Nordic features.

“Values such as democracy and gender equality are viewed as very important by citizens,” she said.


Populism is driven by different factors in different contexts, and in the Nordic states it is value-driven, she said.

In northern Europe, a reaction to economic globalisation and to decades of progressive value-changes – such as multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and feminism – has also not been widely understood, she said.

The EU is more popular in large metropolitan areas, and less so in small cities and rural, areas, the academic also pointed out, and this division is closely related to populist opinion.

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