Populists in the Shadow of Unanimity: Contestation of EU Foreign and Security Policy in the Council of the EU

Ana E Juncos, Karolina Pomorska

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


The arrival of populist political parties to power in several member states and the increasing politicisation of European Union (EU) foreign policy has made intra-European consensus more difficult to reach in the past decade. This article examines the impact of populist contestation on EU foreign policy negotiations in the Council, a policy area governed by unanimity. This decision-making mode makes the policy especially vulnerable to the impact of contestation and, at the same time, gives power to those willing to use their veto. Drawing on the idea of unpopulist politics, it shows how Hungary and, to a lesser degree, Poland have contested established formal and informal norms − such as consensus-building or reflex coordination − through discursive and behavioural non-compliance. The ‘domestication’ of EU foreign policy has meant that, in general, populist show less willingness to compromise and resort to non-decisions to show the EU is weak. However, there are exceptions, and it is possible to see variations in populist strategies when faced with similar challenges, as exemplified by the EU’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. By testing the scope conditions under which ‘unpolitics’ might be activated, we show that the same ‘crisis’ situation did not lead to a uniform response amongst populist governments. This is because both the nature of the crisis and perceptions of risk/gain were differently understood (and actively constructed as such) by populists in power. This finding emphasizes the social, relational and multi-level nature of unpolitics as a phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitics and Governance
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Apr 2024


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