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Politicization of the refugee crisis?: a content analysis of parliamentary debates in Italy, the UK, and the EU

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 October 2017

Stella Gianfreda*
PhD Candidate, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Institute of Law, Politics and Development (DIRPOLIS), Pisa, Italy
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This paper draws on the literature on party competition and issue ownership to assess whether political membership on the right-left dimension explains party stances on migration. While some scholars argue that on this issue a clear distinction between left and right exists, some more recent quantitative and fine-grained analyses show a more nuanced picture. According to them, a clear difference in narratives exists only when the salience of the issue is high, under pressure of the electoral success of a far-right party or about specific policy issues. This paper further investigates this aspect in the context of the 2015 refugee crisis. It looks at the positions held by the main centre-left, centre-right, Radical Right, and Populist Parties in the Italian, British, and European Parliaments. The content analysis shows that centre-left parties frame the refugee crisis mainly as a humanitarian emergency and held pro-European Union (EU) positions, while centre-right parties differ substantially between Italy and the United Kingdom. Both radical right and Populist Parties exploit the political-opportunity offered by the refugee crisis to foster their anti-establishment claims. Moreover, Radical Right Populist Parties stress the need to secure external borders and restore national sovereignty, against further integration. At the EU level, left- and right-wing groups (Socialist and Democrats Party, European Conservatives and Reformists Party, and European People’s Party) are cohesive, while the populist group (European Freedom and Direct Democracy Party) is not. This paper adds on the academic debate on the refugee crisis, showing how the immigration issue can impact on domestic and European party politics, challenging party identities and alliances.

Research Article
© Società Italiana di Scienza Politica 2017 

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