Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



International Relations

First Advisor

Rajan Menon

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Kucik


Populism, Europe, Refugee crisis


In Europe’s biggest wave of refugees since World War II, over 1 million people fleeing protracted conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan crossed the Mediterranean on unseaworthy boats in 2015 in a desperate bid to reach the continent. Rather than uniting to deal with the humanitarian situation, the European Union (EU), the world’s wealthiest and most integrated bloc, struggled to effectively manage the flow of refugees. Amid rising anti-immigration sentiment and nascent Euroscepticism, EU governments employed unilateral and security-driven responses aimed at limiting the number of refugees that would enter Europe. Europe’s Refugee Crisis, as it came to be known, has unsettled the EU like no crisis ever before. This thesis demonstrates that populist right wing parties are responsible for the staunch anti-immigrant sentiment as well as the increasingly restrictive policies on asylum in Europe. By examining France and Germany, the EU’s two founding members, this thesis shows that populist right wing parties sowed political discontent by portraying migrants as a threat to jobs and to national identity. These messages achieved widespread acceptance, even mainstream status, in large part because establishment parties validated right wing discourse and demands in a desperate effort to retain their appeal to voters. The result was a marked shift to the right on immigration and asylum policies. That, in turn, has increased the suffering of thousands of people who have sought refuge in Europe. The rise of right-wing populist parties in Europe and the consequent resurgence of nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment also puts at risk the entire EU project: the creation of an integrated continent based on liberal values.



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