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The Vlaams Blok, its electorate, and the ideological articulation of 'Europe'

Johns, R.A. and Adamson, K. (2008) The Vlaams Blok, its electorate, and the ideological articulation of 'Europe'. Journal of Political Ideologies, 13 (2). pp. 133-156. ISSN 1356-9317

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In this article we analyse the Vlaams Blok's ideological production on the issue of 'Europe', identifying a rhetorical strategy of subverting the common equivalence between the 'EU' and 'Europe'. We then estimate the receptivity of Flemish voters to this strategy. Our study combines qualitative analysis of Vlaams Blok ideology with regard to 'Europe', the EU and immigration, and quantitative analysis of Flemish public attitudes towards those objects. Our research suggests that the party is applying a more 'cosmopolitan' veneer to its rhetoric on Europe, perhaps in a bid to win support from a wider pool of voters who identify as 'Europeans' and might recoil from overtly racist rhetoric. The ideological analysis shows that a positive image of Europe as a 'civilisation' is connected with the idea of Flanders as a 'European' nation, and the need to defend this civilisation provides the justification for rejecting 'non-European' immigration. Further, this positive outlook on 'Europe' is set in stark contrast to a negative portrayal of the EU, which is held responsible for the swamping of Europe under a tide of that 'non-European' immigration. Comparisons with public opinion show that Vlaams Blok ideological constructions find an echo in voter attitudes. When encouraged to evaluate 'Europe' independently of the EU, voters with extreme right attitudes are willing and able to do so, and many express a positive identification with 'Europe' while remaining strongly anti-EU. This applies especially to the party's target voters: those with anti-immigrant attitudes but who have not (yet) supported the Blok.