The Rise of Populism Across Europe
On June 1, the German Marshall Fund’s Young Transatlantic Network (YTN) in Brussels hosted a roundtable discussion with GMF Transatlantic Fellow Timo Lochocki, on the current trends of populism in Europe and the transatlantic perspective on the issue.
In recent years, right-wing populist parties such as the French Front National (FN) or the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) have made remarkable gains in voter support in nearly all European countries. Their agenda appeals to a growing number (up to 30 percent) of the European electorates, and combines anti-elitist sentiment with a nostalgic nationalism. The right-wing populists’ winning formula blames established political forces for their handling of matters of immigration and European cooperation. In response, some political commentators have accused right-wing populists of xenophobia and racism, while others perceive them as a legitimate institutionalization of voters’ concerns that are no longer catered for by established political forces.
During the roundtable, it was argued that the public debate on party politics is very uninformed compared to the academic discussion, and that this has led to various public misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, right-wing populist parties do not rise as a result of economic hardship, but rise during economic stability, when public attention can shift from economic policymaking to other areas of government. They mainly flourish because established parties fail to follow through on certain election promises. Although right-wing populist parties are unlikely to actually rise to power in Western Europe, they do influence national policies, because established parties adjust their programs to them for electoral purposes.
A group of 18 young professionals posed a number of questions, mainly focused on the misconception of the rise of right-wing populist parties during dire economic times. It was noted that left-wing populist parties do flourish during economic downturns, but that data debunks the public narrative that right-wing populism thrives on this as well.