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Photo: “Demonstration against Morten Kjærum in Vienna“, by Ataraxis1492 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Hue modified from the original


The European Union (EU) is increasingly contested. This paper explores the contestations of the EU by zooming in on the European migration crisis. Migration and asylum are at the core of the new cleavage, which counters liberal ideas of Europe embodied by the values of enlightenment, such as human rights, democracy, rule of law, and market economy, with nationalist and xenophobic ideas of Europe based on an essentialist interpretation of the continent’s Christian heritage. Eurosceptic populist forces on the radical right of the political spectrum have exploited this cleavage to challenge core principles of international refugee law, not only contesting the EU’s liberal authority, but a constitutive part of the liberal international order. At the same time, the paper shows that member states have chosen different strategies of contestation, depending on their preference regarding the EU’s liberal authority and the power they wield within the EU to shape its liberal authority.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.