The Rise and Rise of Nationalism

Something of a controversy was stirred two weeks ago, when Charles Kupchan declared in a Washington Post editorial that Europe was ‘dying’ of nationalism. His argument earned a surprise rebuke from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who was speaking at the Ambrosetti Forum, but his evidence is not so easy to dismiss. From German reluctance to a eurozone ‘bail-out’ to French demands to renationalise migration policy, national governments seem more and more willing to challenge Brussels.  And if the exit polls are anything to go by, this weekend tolerant Sweden is about to join the list of EU member states with at least one radical right party in parliament.

But has nationalism actually been rising across the EU? The survey data would suggest that it has. Since the early 1980s, the World Values Survey has been asking respondents across Europe and the world how proud they are to be from their country. Since then, the proportion of respondents offering the maximum response, ‘very proud’, has been rising in most countries and sometimes rising quite sharply.

National Pride in Europe, 1981-2007

Given that the question is pride, rather than nationalism, perhaps the implications for European integration are fairly benign – after all, one can be a patriotic Swede and still believe in European solidarity. Yet a glance at the country ranking suggests a different conclusion. The countries at the core of the European project – France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux – are the least patriotic, and the ‘problem cases’ – such as Poland, Britain or Iceland – are where pride is strongest.

If there is a trend of rising nationalism, there is also a paradox. All the data show that Europeans travel more, work across borders, study abroad, and have more social contacts from other countries than was the case a generation ago. And yet, for all that, the borders in our minds are more firmly sealed than ever.

Posted in: EU