Populism is struggling to break through. Ever since the 2014 European Parliament elections, commentators have been talking about a rising tide of national populism sweeping away traditional European parties of the left and right. Brexit seemed to confirm this narrative, and for a time it looked liked the populists were poised to take control in elections in France, the Netherlands, and Austria.

That’s not what happened. The first wobble was in the Netherlands, when the Freedom Party of anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders was beaten soundly into second place by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Next came the defeat of the far-right Norbert Hofer in the Austrian Presidential poll by the Greens. Finally, and most recently, Marine Le Pen of the anti-immigrant Front National was sent packing in the French Presidential vote by a relative newcomer to politics, Emmanuel Macron.

Even more remarkably, Macron seems to have definitively crushed the attempt by the Front National to break through in legislative elections for the National Assembly. His En Marche! party is predicted to take more than two thirds of the seats in the second round on 18 June, leaving the centre-right trailling in second place, with only a handful of seats for the far-right Front National.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Georgia, who believes that Marine Le Pen will come back stronger in five years’ time. Sure, she didn’t win the most recent vote, but if Macron doesn’t deliver then she could win the next one in 2022.

To get a reaction, we took Georgia’s comment to Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission. How would he respond?

Curious to know more about populism in the EU? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

For another reaction to Georgia’s comment, we also took it to Anton Pelinka, Professor of Political Science and Nationalism Studies at the Central European University of Budapest. What did he think?

Well, I think in both the French and Austrian case, it’s obvious that there is a majority against right-wing populism. In both cases, Macron and Van der Bellen, were able to mobilise a majority of centrist and leftist voters against far-right populism. That means far-right populism is significant, but not the silent majority it sometimes claims to be. There is a majority against far-right populism; it’s important to unify this potential of anti-extremist sentiment, and this happened in France and in Austria.

Next up, we had a comment from João was 100% sure that populist parties would win the recent elections in France, the Netherlands, and Austria. Obviously, that didn’t happen. So, how did he get it so wrong? How would Frans Timmermans explain what happened?

Then we had a comment from Enric, who points out that the vote share for populist parties is still going up, even though there haven’t been major breakthroughs since Brexit. In other words, he thinks the ‘populist tide’ is still rising. What would Timmermans say?

Finally, we had a comment from Konstantinos, who believes that to win the Dutch election, Prime Minister Mark Rutte adopted Wilders’ nationalist-populist rhetoric and embraced most of Wilders’ political agenda. So, does that mean that Rutte is a populist now? How would Frans Timmermans respond?

To get another perspective, we also put Konstantinos’ comment to Philippe Legrain, a political economist and writer (and founder of the Open Political Economy Network) who has written about populism extensively. What would he say to Konstantinos?

Finally, we put the same comment to Professor Pelinka. How would he respond?

Well, I think the Dutch case underlines there is no clear borderline between populism and non-populism. To win elections, centrist parties can be tempted to take over some of the populist agenda. Though this is what we call ‘populism light’. It’s a difficult strategy because on the one hand it can prevent right-wing populism from winning, but on the other side it can mean that the agenda of right-wing populism in the guise of centrist parties in government is still victorious. So, yes, it is a danger. Populism light is, on the one hand, a possible strategy to succeed against right-wing popopulism, but on the other hand it could mean that the substance is almost the same.

Can the EU survive populism? Why did national populists fail to breakthrough in the recent French, Dutch, and Austrian elections? And can mainstream political movements defeat populism without becoming populist themselves? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts at the EESC Civil Society Days (#CSdays2017)!

IMAGE CREDITS – CC / Flickr – David B Young
EU_for_citizens

In partnership with the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) – Civil Society Days 2017 #CSdays2017.

For more information about the Civil Society Days 2017, please check: www.eesc.europa.eu/csdays2017



114 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Marko Martinović

    Why do you think populism is bad? EU cannot survive without populism. Populism is not bad
    populism
    ˈpɒpjʊlɪz(ə)m/
    noun
    noun: populism
    support for the concerns of ordinary people.
    “it is clear that your populism identifies with the folks on the bottom of the ladder”
    the quality of appealing to or being aimed at ordinary people.

    • Marko Martinović

      What is “tinfoil” about definition of populism?

    • Matthew Wolfbane

      Dictionary definitions = Tinfoil conspiracies

    • Kester Ratcliff

      Populism is inventing a myth of an Elite which is totally to blame for everything and a myth of ‘The People’ who are not responsible for anything but can authorise absolutely anything. It’s a perversion of democracy that inverts it into its opposite.

    • Marko Martinović

      Not really. Its not about putting blame. That is communism and socialism. People vs the 1% . Workers vs elites

  2. Rosy Forlenza

    if we can get a corbyn government in the uk and the snp are more appreciated in scotland again, then maybe we can have a stronger proper left, then populism will have to knuckle down.

    • Faddi Zsolt

      It is easy to see, who is ignorant

    • João Oliveira

      We are all ignorant… Even if we know a lot we still far from reality, far from what’s going on in the governors and elites back stage…

    • Paulius Paždagis

      People tend to delusionally speculate about the “Elite”, “Illuminati” and etc. what gives them false illusion that “Simple People”, like Trump will save them. This is tolerance for ignorance in action. The question is how do we prevent this?

    • Margarita

      Yes, I think so, but only with more political union and if starts showing more interes for the European citizens.

  3. Faddi Zsolt

    Populism is the only possible solution for EU. Wild capitalism is the grave of EU.

    • Paulius Paždagis

      Wow, how deluded. Let’s go back to the 20th century!

    • Faddi Zsolt

      No, let’s go ahead in the future with populism! It is time to change towards better and liveable world, it’s time to take care of people, of nature. It’s time to throw down the so called “elite” in the mud!!!

    • Róbert Bogdán

      Populism could be a solution for a better EU, I agree. But economically, I think socialism is the grave of EU, over-regulated capitalism or corporatism. Big corporations always prefer left wing politics, higher taxes, more regulations. It kills competition, which is the biggest threat for them. The bigger the government, the better for corporations.

    • João Oliveira

      Have a look to Scandinavian systems… Not perfect, but far more honest, and fair…

  4. Vytautas Vėžys

    Populism – promising people what they need
    Government – elected representatives to fulfill people needs
    Populist Government – elected representatives who promise people to fulfill those needs…

    Whats wrong with that?
    isn’t it what we call DEMOCRACY?

    • Ștefan Alexandru

      Technically, but the question refers to unrealistic promises that don’t always represent the best ideals to which EU adheres to. It’s tapping into people’s political knee jerk reaction for that campaign, enhancing and putting emphasis on social smoke screens instead of inviting countries to debate or forming more lines of communication with the public in order to find common ground and level headed progress.

    • Vytautas Vėžys

      So, you tell me that will of the people has no place in politics and only will of few not bureaucrats should decide how millions of people will live?
      Example:
      > Bureaucrats tell us that biggest problem in world in Climate Change and threat of Russia aggression.
      > Populist parties in Lithuania say that our biggest problems are 150 Euro//month basic pension, 350 euro/month minimal (~800 average) salary before taxes after 13 years of Single market in EU and mass Emigration that leave our country without working power.

      Now guess what people want more? Better life style today that our elders could eat something else than water today or forbidding all fuel powered cars older than 10 years making them expensive as duck and making it luxury?
      And solving which problem will make life better for people?

    • Alex Sekkpfb

      Vytautas Vėžys name one populist party that actually held their “economical” promises once elected. I will need facts and data. I will wait…

    • Ștefan Alexandru

      Well, I guess we got our marbles mixed up here. I thought the populists are saying russian threat is a thing. What Lithuania has is bad, arguably better than Romania, but end of day we’re brothers in suffering, we’re not even in Shengen or Eurozone although we do our best. Call me utopic, although if I dig enough I can bring up numbers and realistic projections on how it might be doable with the right policy. I don’t believe that banning 10 yo cars and/or making them expensive should be the only side of the deal. I am reasonably sure the government can set up auctions in attracting electric car companies or normal car companies that are leaning towards electric/hybrid line of production in Lithuania could create jobs and encourage the population to transition towards electric automotive power provided some sensible subsidies regarding recharging the batteries go (example Tesla who provides infinite electric recharge if you buy their car.). Is it the best option on the short run? Probably pesky for politicians to make auctions without sucking a bit of interest and olygarchic rubbish, sure. Are those cars objectively better, safe and enviromental friendly? Yeah. Unfortunately we can’t deny the existance and heaviness of claims regarding russian aggression in the baltic region and you don’t have to be too loud for the market to hear and lower investment and number of investors. I am sure, however, that it is possible to open lines of communication and request more european plans for getting on these lists of increasing industry, there’s a neat opening in lack of UK and I am pretty sure the countries or europarlimentars and their governments if they pay attention can gain from UK’s leaving in regards to better contracts with us in the single market.

      There needs to be a sustainable growth in pension and wages and if it doesn’t work we must see why and how. I am too ignorant to know the macro economics of Lithuania and wouldn’t give opinions on it, I am just advocating that I am against single-issue populist messages whether they come from various parties and groups or from political parties. Whether it’s “THE RUSSIANS” or “THE GAYS” or… get me? I’m not against any sort of party that has a political opinion that is arguably and objectively pro progress and economical growth in a country. But that’s what I meant by my position. Populist stance in Romania “Gays are unnatural sick people.”. Populist stance in Hungary “Transylvania should become autonomous.”. Like these knee jerk UKIP Nigel Farage finger up the butt then once the deed is done fuck all and leave the stage leaving other people to clean your populist mess. I am sure we agree on this point as you’ve made valid points in regard to serious issues that need addressed vs warmongering and alienating our eastern bear.

    • Vytautas Vėžys

      Alex Sekkpfb Well in my country they promised to rise minimal wage and pensions and they did, they promised stop wasting money on non necessary bureaucrat positions and they did, they promised to stop corrupt in government and now we have shitload of investigations on politicians who used their relatives and fake companies to steal money from budget.
      So as much as I see populists did more for country than average “carrier politician”.

      P.S. You do know that we delegate to European Parliament those, who were kicked out of our own Parliament cause they lost elections and don’t have people support?
      How can people like Vilija Blinkevičiūtė represent our people when she fcuked up our social system? She is the example of populist who wasted all social security budged and increased pensions by unmeasured amount just before elections to get more votes. That’s why her party sent her to EU, cause people would burn her at stake for what she did…

  5. Bart Van Damme

    Populism is about doing what the people want. If the EU cannot survive that then it absolutely needs to die.

  6. Zille Vuk

    There is NO populism, just incompetent,corrupt EU leaders !!! Especialy Liberals wich are destroying our way of life !!

  7. Debby Teusink

    Populism is more in danger than the EU. Wilders, Le Pen en Beppe Grillo down and the torries lost again. Great times we live in!

    • Stefano Cillo

      And what do you know of Grillo and italian politics exactly? :D

      The very fact you label it alongside lepen screams “I take my information from distorted international sources which just dismiss m5s as fascism”

    • Debby Teusink

      I did not say Grillo was a fascist, but a populist.

  8. Debby Teusink

    Populism is more in danger than the EU. Wilders, Le Pen en Beppe Grillo down and the torries lost again. Great times we live in!

  9. Debby Teusink

    Populism is more in danger than the EU. Wilders, Le Pen en Beppe Grillo down and the torries lost again. Great times we live in!

  10. catherine benning

    Can the EU survive populism?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYMWaBPLdrU

    There is no such thing as populism in politics. The masses moving in one direction is called, ‘the will of the people.’ And what is that? Its, name is Democracy.

  11. Bogdan Virtus

    Saying the truth is now labeld as…populism, racism, homophobic, nazi, fascists…bla bla bla

  12. David Moody

    On a long enough timeline, the Empire of the EU has only one destiny: termination.

  13. Frank Burgdörfer

    Sure it can. And will.

    The Union is in the best interest of us Europeans. And of our nations. As we need it in order to protect stability, security and the role of international law in our foreign relations. As it provides structures and institutions which help us govern the many interdependent peoples living on our continent. As it gives us the leverage to help create and defend global structures which enable us to stay competitive and wealthy – and to stick to our way of life.

    • catherine benning

      Frank Burgdörfer

      In fact is the Union is in the worst interests of the European people. And most especially of our nations. It is creating instability and chaos across Europe and between its peoples. Which is what is wanted by those at the back of the friction.

      International law is a nonsense. By whose practice is it based on and who are the people who backed it? Certainly not the Western tax payers who are expected to pay for this protection racket. The interdependent people are being robbed by a bunch of unelected politically frenzied group of individuals who have no authority to decide which laws should be upheld and which should not.

      The Global structures you speak of are banks and financial institutions set up to protect billionaire Globalists not to protect the man in the street paying for the con men who cheat them to carry on with the game. Look at Greece.

      Who is it you speak of that is staying wealthy and competitive? And which part of Europe is able to stick to its way of life? Please don’t make me laugh. Europeans are not close to being able to cling to their way of life. Their way of life has been sold down the river to assist a barrel full of Hedge Funders.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYBJDRmSMRY

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yD0MZMlMrFY

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM6VxhBvJhY

  14. Kester Ratcliff

    Populism is inventing a myth of an Elite which is totally to blame for everything and a myth of ‘The People’ who are not responsible for anything but can authorise absolutely anything.

    It’s a perversion of democracy that inverts it ultimately into its opposite, via ochlocracy or tyranny of the majority. It tends to become totalitarianism later, or be very amenable to manipulation into a totalitarian period.

    • Marko Martinović

      No it is not. You are talking about socialism and communism. Populism is listening to the common man, and they are not all agasinst elites

    • Kester Ratcliff

      Nope. Lame attempt at misinterpreting.

      Democracy means we are all responsible – populism says we’re not responsible for anything, the Elite is to blame for everything, but whatever popular opinion or majority will says is automatically authorised with no legitimate constraints -such as, objective facts, universal equal and inalienable human rights.

      Populism is an opportunistic political strategy to subvert democracy, which tends to lead to, or effectively aid through changing the social norms of public discourse, fascism.

  15. Yordan Vasilev

    The populism is founded on false promises. It is some political fashion only. The EU will survive the populism.

  16. Carmelita Caruana

    Answer: yes. If there are leaders worthy of respect speaking out against it and seriously addressing the grievances that drive people towards populist exploitative “politicians”.

  17. ironworker

    This actual model of Europe has been a failure from too many perspectives for too many people for far too long. There is a huge gap between idealistic dreams, promises and high expectations, and cruel reality. “Populism” is just the tip of the iceberg, the dissatisfaction level is huge and at the social level, there are way too many left behind. Good luck in not want to change the way EU is governed … :)

  18. Pete Griffiths

    If Macron got on with a huge popular vote, as described, does that mean he is a populist? Or is populism just a popular policy you disagree with, especially if you perceive that the people supporting it didn’t go to university or are working men and women.

    • Matias Melim

      Populism = the word most used in politics however nobody knows what it means….

    • Mirela Moldovan

      Populism is telling people what they want to hear, blaming always others for your mistakes and lack of transparency, that’s what populism is..

    • Pete Griffiths

      Mirela Moldovan I thought that was politics?

    • Mirela Moldovan

      Indeed about politics: “Political parties and politicians often use the terms populist and populism as pejoratives against their opponents. Such a view sees populism as demagogy, merely appearing to empathize with the public through rhetoric or unrealistic proposals in order to increase appeal across the political spectrum.[2]”

    • Ioan Mitiu

      Like blaming russians, pretending that everthing is OK în actual EU instititions?

    • Mirela Moldovan

      Ioan Mitiu, why don’t you just move there?

  19. Stefano Cillo

    If its plan for survival is dismissing the opposition as populism, then it won’t and it will be your fault.

    This aloof attitude is ignorant and intolerable. The kind of people who dismiss 5 star movement as some sort of fascist party without a hint of knowledge of italian politics.

  20. Enric Mestres Girbal

    Why do you call populism the speach of free people fed up with the corruption and misleading of the EU?. The sooner this band of thieves packs up the sooner Europe will regain greatness.

  21. Tarquin Farquhar

    French nationalism = RACISM!

  22. Nando Aidos

    It MUST! It must survive all those opportunistic ideas that are driven by opportunistic politicians for their own aggrandizement.
    If that is what you call “populism” so be it.
    And of this “populism” it is not a matter of CAN but a matter of MUST!

  23. nando

    It MUST! It must survive all those opportunistic ideas that are driven by opportunistic politicians for their own aggrandizement.
    If that is what you call “populism” so be it.
    And of this “populism” it is not a matter of CAN but a matter of MUST!

  24. Marko Martinović

    Populism is listening to the common man. Populism is democracy that does not forget the people. Media is trying to demonize that word as something ugly.

    • Mirela Moldovan

      Populism is telling people what they want to hear, blaming always others for your mistakes and lack of transparency, that’s what populism is..
      And from Wikipedia:
      “Political parties and politicians often use the terms populist and populism as pejoratives against their opponents. Such a view sees populism as demagogy, merely appearing to empathize with the public through rhetoric or unrealistic proposals in order to increase appeal across the political spectrum.[2]”

    • Marko Martinović

      If that is so …then all politics is populism. All of it. Also wikipedia was compromised politically.

  25. Suncica Cvitkovic Anderson

    We survived your communism and totalitarian radical liberalism, and we are stronger and stronger! Your political end is in sight! Stalinist monsters!

  26. Julia da Silva

    No… They are on a one way street to hell and gone soon there will be no control over anything, anywhere… Their dumb choices…

  27. Luísa Cunha Ventura Gagean

    The EU must learn there is also the left populism, this one is accepted by the mainstream and media. It is a shame. Populism from the right or left is always bad.

  28. Marco Peel

    If people trust their leaders, they will vote according to ideas and ideals. If people do not trust their leaders, they will vote according to fears and frustrations. Populism is a clear signal that something is wrong.
    Europe was built on shared founding principles, but austerity measures that increase inequality make a mockery of cohesion, international treaty negotiations behind closed doors thumb their nose at transparency, laws tailored to big business and large fortunes sell out our democracy… Hypocrisy is no basis for trust. The EU doesn’t even need to reform, all it has to do is act according to its own founding principles. Unless the EU is for all of us, don’t expect all of us to stand behind it.

    • Bert van Santen

      Yes, it survived all kind of “leaders” The continent Europe will also survive the EU

  29. catherine benning

    Can the EU survive populism?

    EU, populism is one man one vote. And that is called Democracy.

  30. Piedade Luisa Pinho

    you are making the wrong question!!! Can Europe survive without NACIONALISM??? If we don’t preserve ourselves, who’s going to do it??? The politicians who are selling us the stupid and suicidal idea of globalism, and multiculturalism??? if you don’t know who or what you are, you can no longer fight for it… OPEN YOUR EYES. Remember who you are… don’t let them take it from you…

  31. Mimi Voiculescu

    We are nations with history, culture , heritage customs that have to remain as they are . Nationalism means that we respect our land and love our nation and we want to pass it on to the next generation. We have to respect each other as we are without trying to change into something else. Its not going to work. We are beautiful as we are .

  32. Renos Venglis

    Well, both Wilders and Le Pen have become irrelevant and have crawled back to their nationalist hole. Same thing will happen in Germany in autumn. The Brits have always been different and it appears that they enjoy stewing in their own juice.

    • Bert van Santen

      Check Your facts, SIR.
      For the current French president`s program voted 16% of the French. The rest are protest votes.
      Wilders won 8 seats . The current “I -smile-away-all problems” Rutte lost 8 seats

      Therefor we desparatly need new faces in politics.
      New faces not afraid to call facts and DO something instead of blindfolded follow Berlin

  33. Bert van Santen

    It depends on how quickly the public realises they trusted these mainstream populists parties to long.
    Dicovering the standard EU promises are build on thin air.
    One -size-fits-none.
    Not even in the European Transferunion

  34. Karolina

    It already is. The UK does not seem to be…

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