Eurosceptic attitudes are widespread but varied in the Nordic states

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Image by Dread Pirate Jeff

Throughout 2012, the growth of Euroscepticism was a persistent theme. Indeed in the latest Eurobarometer poll, only 31 to 33 per cent of respondents indicated that they tend to trust the European Union. Among those responses, it is possible to compare public support among the five Nordic States: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. While these countries are commonly considered as a bloc with similar socio-cultural and political values, they have all opted for a different level of European integration.


Denmark joined the European Community in 1973, and has had no less than six referendums on issues related to European integration since 1972, the last one being held in 2000 on adopting the single currency. Two out of those six referendums saw a victory for the “no” side (Maastricht and the adoption of the euro). Following the outcome of the Maastricht referendum, Denmark negotiated opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty through the Edinburgh Agreement.

Interestingly enough, recent Eurobarometer results show that Danes are not among the strongest Eurosceptics within the EU. Indeed, in November 2012, 48 per cent of respondents claimed that they tend to trust the European Union, which corresponds to 15 per cent more than the EU average. This trend is confirmed by previous Eurobarometer results, and in 2009, 65 per cent of the respondents said that Denmark’s membership to the EU is a good thing, ranking the country among the most positive EU member states.

However, Danes are much more critical regarding specific policy areas such as the EMU (30 per cent in favour, in comparison to 53 per cent in favour for the whole of the EU) and a common foreign policy (46 per cent, against 64 per cent for the whole of the EU). Contrary to Denmark’s political situation, 60 per cent of respondents are in favour of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) among EU member states, despite the country opting out of the CSDP through the Edinburgh Agreement.


Finland joined the European Union in 1995 after 56.9 per cent of the population voted in favour of EU membership. In contrast to Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Finland does not have a “referendum tradition”. The country is the most integrated Nordic state, and is thus considered as less resistant to European integration than its Scandinavian neighbours.

Eurobarometer results tend to show that the Finnish population is actually more Eurosceptic than those in Denmark. Indeed, in November 2012, 47 per cent of respondents said they tend to trust the EU, a trend that has remained quite stable for the past three years. Regarding the benefits of EU membership, the Finnish population is much more sceptical: between 2000 and 2009, 37 to 51 per cent of respondents believed that Finland’s membership is good for their country: results that were generally below Sweden, Denmark and the EU average throughout these years.

The Finnish population is currently the most positive towards Economic and Monetary Union, with 76 per cent of respondents being in favour of this policy area. As Finland is the only Nordic state which has adopted the single currency, it is no surprise to see such a difference from attitudes in the other Nordic EU states, Denmark and Sweden. Just as it is the case for Denmark and Sweden, the Finnish population is opposed to a common foreign policy (41 per cent are in favour). Finally, respondents seem more sceptical towards the development of a Common Security and Defence Policy (with 52 per cent in favour) than the EU average (73 per cent in favour).


Iceland applied for EU membership for the first time during its history in 2009, and accession negotiations are still underway. Currently, Iceland’s relationship with the European Union is mostly shaped through the European Economic Area (EEA) and Schengen agreements. As a non-member state, data available through Eurobarometer polling is less extensive; however, it is possible to analyse trends regarding public support for EU membership.

Recent opinion polls suggest that less than a third of the Icelandic population is in favour of EU membership. This trend is confirmed by data available in the latest Eurobarometer: 26 per cent of respondents believe that Iceland’s membership would be a good thing, 33 per cent believe that Iceland would benefit from joining the EU and 34 per cent trust the European Union. Since the Icelandic government submitted the application, public support has declined drastically and it is expected that the relationship with the European Union will be a major issue during the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will be held in April.


Similarly to Iceland, Norway is not a member of the European Union; however, the country has applied on three separate occasions for EU membership. In 1972 and 1994, the population rejected EC/EU membership with 53.5 and 52.2 per cent of the electorate voting ‘no’. Norway still remains a close partner of the European Union, mostly through the EEA and Schengen agreements. Since the 1994 referendum, the issue of EU membership has remained largely off the agenda. Public support for EU membership is very low: in July 2012, 17.2 per cent of respondents to a national survey said they would vote in favour of EU membership, with 74.8 per cent against. This illustrates why EU membership is not discussed in the political sphere: effectively, since 1994, government coalition agreements include a “suicide clause” on the EU question.


Sweden has been a member of the European Union since 1995: in the 1994 referendum on EU membership, 52.3 per cent of the population voted ‘yes’. The country has negotiated an informal opt-out of the Eurozone by not joining ERM II. In 2003, when the population was asked whether Sweden should join the Economic and Monetary Union, 55.9 per cent voted against. As a result, Sweden’s de facto opt-out remained in place.

The latest Eurobarometer poll suggests that 33 per cent of Swedes trust the European Union, which corresponds to the EU average. In 2009, 57 per cent of respondents said that Sweden’s membership is good for the country. As expected following the 2003 referendum, the most “Eurosceptic” result is related to Economic and Monetary Union: only 23 per cent of respondents are in favour of EMU. Recent national surveys show more critical results: 82.3 per cent of the population opposes EMU membership, while the situation was even more negative in 2009. Furthermore, only 37 per cent of respondents are in favour of a common foreign policy, and 54 per cent are in favour of the CSDP. Both results are largely below the EU average.


Euroscepticism is a highly complex concept, which covers many aspects that are not outlined in Eurobarometer polls or other surveys. In order to explain why mass Euroscepticism is higher in Norway or Iceland for instance, many factors should be considered such as economic incentives to join, socio-economic cleavages between the EU and the state, or cultural particularism.

Nevertheless, it is possible to draw some broad conclusions from the above discussion. First, issues of sovereignty and self-determination seem to shape public opinion on European issues. Eurobarometer results indicate that this is the case for the three EU Nordic states (e.g. public support for a common foreign policy and the CSDP), while several studies have shown that national sovereignty played a key role in the 1994 referendum in Norway. Second, Nordic populations seem to have critical views on policies they opted out from. The only exception to that rule would be the Danes’ perception of the CSDP. Third, even though Finland is the most integrated Nordic state, the Finnish population is more critical than its EU neighbours regarding the benefits of EU membership. Finally, current trends show that due to low levels of public support, Iceland’s accession to the EU is unlikely to happen in the short term.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and Policy, EUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Benjamin Leruth is a PhD student at the School of Politics and International Relations, at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the relations between the European Union and the Nordic States. He is a guest researcher at the ARENA Centre for European Studies (University of Oslo).

Anders Breivik and the Far Right

Last summer, 32 year-old Anders Behring Breivik committed the worst atrocity in post-war Norway when he murdered over 80 of his fellow Norwegians. Though Breivik was quickly branded a ‘lone wolf’, the reality was that he was well embedded within a much broader European far right milieu that spanned from his earlier participation in the radical right-wing Norwegian Progress Party, to his support for prominent far right blogs such as Gates of Vienna. Today, and having been declared sane, the trial of Breivik begins. To provide context for the trial, we are publishing an interview that the Economist held with Dr Matthew Goodwin shortly following the attacks last June.

What have we learned since Breivik?

One month from now, the trial of Anders Behring Breivik will begin. Aside from sparking a vigorous debate in Norway over the mental state of Breivik, the case has also prompted an upsurge of interest in the underlying causes and perpetrators of right-wing extremist violence. In the UK, the events on July 22 2011 prompted a Home Affairs Committee on the Roots of Violent Radicalisation to devote greater attention to a form of extremism that, as the Committee noted, has often only been paid ‘lip service’ . Elsewhere in Europe, commentators and policy makers have paused to ask whether governments have established the right balance in their approach to tackling violent extremisms.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, I contributed to various debates and workshops about the current ‘threat’ from right-wing extremist violence and terrorism. In fact, only one month prior to the attacks I had pointed to the growing significance of lone-wolf activism within the European extreme right, and warned of the potential for violence from within this movement (later elaborating on these thoughts in an interview with the Economist).

So, since Norway what have we learned about this particular form of violent extremism, and the accompanying evidence base? There are three pieces of work that I have been involved in since the attacks, and each speaks to this question.

First, as I explained to the Home Affairs Committee, for much of the past ten years we have focused mainly on addressing the challenge from al-Qaeda or ‘AQ’-inspired terrorism. This has spawned a rapidly expanding academic literature that has mainly sought to identify the factors that ‘push and pull’ some citizens (though mainly those within settled Muslim communities) into a spiral of violent radicalization. Yet in stark contrast, while our own studies have shed light on electoral support for right-wing extremist political parties, such as the British National Party (BNP), there remains a distinct lack of systematic, comparative and longitudinal research on the causes and perpetrators of right-wing extremist violence and/or terrorism.

Second, the inadequacy of this evidence base became further apparent when I was asked by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) to write a report on the state of knowledge across Europe more widely. The findings were later presented to an audience of policy makers and academics. As I concluded, while any form of clandestine activity is notoriously difficult to study with any degree of accuracy, we know relatively little about the causes and drivers of this form of violent extremism. While the evidence points toward some tentative conclusions (for example that most perpetrators tend to be young men with low education levels and who often lack a broader ideological worldview), much of this work has largely failed to provide a convincing account as to why some citizens engage in this form of exclusionary behaviour (or why other citizens with a similar profile and set of grievances do not).

Furthermore, beyond speculation and popular debate, the reality is that we actually know very little about the relationship (if one even exists) between violent and non-violent forms of right-wing extremism. Several important questions remain unanswered: is there a continuous spectrum from one to the other? Do violent movements rely on nonviolent groups to ‘set the scene’ for their actions? Or, does the presence of radical right political parties in power divert support from violent movements? Are there practical connections between them? And how do new technologies impact on the operations of both?

Third, against this backdrop and in collaboration with Professor Jocelyn Evans at the University of Salford, we launched an exploratory study into the views of far right supporters toward violence and armed conflict. In essence, this marks the ‘first step’ into a corner of right-wing extremism that has remained in the dark for too long. Drawing on a survey of over 2,000 citizens, we were able for the first time to probe the views of a large sample of far right supporters toward the perceived necessity and inevitability of violence. We found significant numbers of self-identified BNP supporters in our sample considered preparing for conflict and engaging in armed conflict to be justifiable courses of action. Moreover, significant numbers appeared committed to the view that violence will be needed to defend their wider group from threats, and that violence between different ethnic, racial or religious groups in Britain is largely inevitable. The results received widespread attention, appearing in the Guardian, Spectator, Channel 4 and New Statesman.

Clearly, in research terms we have only begun to shed light on this oft-neglected challenge. Comparing these responses to a wider nationally representative sample is the next step, while further quantitative and qualitative work will explore these attitudes more closely. Moreover, the factors that might ‘trip’ some of these supporters into actual violence are yet to be investigated.

Nonetheless, since the attacks in Norway last July, there appears to have emerged a consensus that more needs to be known about right-wing extremist violence and terrorism, and so there have emerged important questions. Over the next six months, and as the actions and trial of Anders Breivik begin to slip from public memory, it will be up to social scientists to begin providing answers to these questions.

Matthew Goodwin


Far Right Violence: What Do We Know?

In the aftermath of the attacks by a supposed ‘lone wolf’ in Norway, the discovery of a violent neo-Nazi cell in Germany and the murder of two Senegalese street traders in Florence, there has occurred an upsurge of interest in right-wing extremist violence: its current levels, its perpetrators, and the underlying causes. Against this backdrop, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) asked Dr Matt Goodwin to write a summary of the current evidence on far right violence. In short, the report sought to assess what we know and what we don’t about this particular form of violent extremism.

You can read the full report here (from page 36). But for now, let’s talk about the key findings. Specifically, there are four.

  1. In contrast to a rapidly growing evidence base on AQ-inspired terrorism and processes of radicalization, we know little about extreme right-wing violence, including its underlying causes and adherents. This owes much to a lack of reliable, systematic and comparative data, and the fact that there have been only a few studies of right-wing extremist violence and potential disengagement strategies.
  2. This means it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to identify the profile and motives of perpetrators, what factors render some citizens (or communities) more susceptible than others to this type of violence and, alternatively, what might increase their resilience (or the resilience of vulnerable communities) to this activity. Put simply, this particular and increasingly salient form of violent extremism remains under researched, and poorly understood.
  3. We also know little about the relationship between extreme right-wing violence and extreme right-wing political parties. Not every supporter of extreme right and populist radical right parties are necessarily violent, or even prone to violence. This is evident in states such as the UK, where surveys suggest that although large numbers of citizens are potentially responsive to these types of political parties, their support is conditional these parties rejecting violence. But to what extent is there a relationship between violence and voting, and what are the dynamics of this relationship? Is far right violence higher in states that lack successful far right parties, on the basis that those who would otherwise channel their grievances into the conventional political process instead choose to express these via violent acts? Or is violence higher in states with successful far right parties, on the basis that these movements contribute to a combative and exclusionary political climate that is conducive to violence?
  4. The current response to right-wing extremist violence is further weakened by the lack of consensus over an accepted and commonly adopted definition. Across Europe, this form of extremism is often defined in different ways. Furthermore, clarity over this activity is further muddied by a tendency for security agencies to record acts of violence in different ways. This makes it difficult to accurately compare overall trends in levels of violence, the actual ‘threat level’ and any geographical variations that exist across Europe.

In short, then, much work remains to be done.

Anders Behring Breivik: the ongoing debate

The recent attacks in Oslo and Utøya by ‘lone wolf’ Anders Behring Breivik have prompted a tidal wave of reaction and analysis in the international press and blogosphere.

Here, Ballots and Bullets gathers together five pieces of essential reading which get to the heart of events:

Our own Matthew Goodwin argues that the attacks are symptomatic of a rise in politically-motivating violence in Europe, and asks what we can do about ‘lone wolves’?

Sam Leith, of the Evening Standard, wonders whether the attacks were about madness or politics?

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen examines the ideological environment from which Anders Behring Breivik emerged.

Tea Party favourite Glenn Beck claims he saw it all coming.

Rob Ford wonders what we actually know about Anders Behring Breivik and concludes: not a lot.

And finally, Matthew Goodwin summaries five things we know about the attacks.

The Norwegian attacks: five things we know

Based on my expertise on the far-right in Britain and continental Europe it is safe to conclude the following:

1. The distinction between actions and attitudes is an important one. Large majorities of citizens in Europe reject violence, but large numbers are also concerned about the same issues that feature in the ‘Breivik manifesto’: concern over Islam, anxiety over immigration and rising diversity, and dissatisfaction with the mainstream parties. This does not equal a mass of would-be bombers, but it does mean that there is a pool of potential around the European far right.

2. We need to ask ourselves whether we have focused too heavily on one form of religiously-motivated extremism, at the expense of other (in this case political) forms of extremism. For example, in Britain we have spent much of our time talking about how best to counter radicalisation within Muslim communities, and prevent violent extremism. But what about other communities and forms of political action that might not be openly violent, but certainly contain a culture of violence?

3. This is a game-changer in how we approach the far right. This movement was often dismissed as the dog which doesn’t bark. Sadly, over the weekend, it barked. We need to get past the conventional wisdom that says  that far right groups and their followers are only a marginal, disorganized and weaker cousin to their al-Qaeda (or AQ) counterparts.

4. We need far more evidence on the far right. It has become pan-European in scope, developing new networks, both online and offline. This is not a problem only for Norway, for Scandinavia or Britain. This is a challenge for Europe and the responses from security services and policy-makers should reflect that.

5. Breivik will almost certainly become a heroic figure among some sections of the ultra right-wing in Europe, much in the same way that Timothy McVeigh was held up by sections of the American militia movement, or David Copeland was praised by British neo-Nazis. These are figures who cross the line that separates ideas from action. In this case, they have also left a detailed blueprint for how to act to any would-be copycat attacker. It is not alarmist or sensationalist to worry about this threat. Both American and British security services have warned about it for some time.

Matthew Goodwin

Norway: what motivates ‘lone wolves’?

While initially thought to be the work of Islamic fundamentalists, it now appears that the tragic events in Norway are the work of a far-right extremist.

Matthew Goodwin – an expert in the European far-right – provides analysis of the motivations of individuals like Anders Behring Breivik, a man widely described as a fundamentalist Christian with political views that leaned to the right.