Populism is a dirty word in EU capitals. It implies demagoguery, disrespect for constitutional arrangements, and shades of authoritarianism. The shadow of Europe’s long 20th century, when dictators justified their actions with appeals to the “will of the people”, still falls across the continent. Yet, in rejecting populism, has the EU fallen into the trap of appearing too distant and technocratic?

We had a comment from Craig arguing that the EU should “really embrace European identity, particularly concerning immigration”. In other words, if you want to beat the populists you have to become a populist.

Many would argue the EU is already embracing populism. Governments across the continent, for example, are keen to be seen to take a hard line on immigration. But will borrowing policies from so-called populist parties reassure people that public concerns are being taken seriously? Will it “neutralise extremism“? Or are politicians who embrace the populist agenda riding a tiger?

To get a response, we took Craig’s comment to some of the speakers at State of Europe 2017, the high level roundtable event in Brussels organised by our partner think tank, Friends of Europe. We put his question to Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden. Here’s what he had to say:

Should the EU embrace a more populist agenda? Is the European project too distant and technocratic? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Keith Ellwood

79 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Marko Martinović

    EU is working against its people. Its time to listen to its people and protect them. Also lock up all thos politicians that allowed terror in

    • Paweł Kunio

      Nah, protecting own people would be populist while protecting terrorists is democratic.

  2. Sabin Popescu

    the EU has been promoting a populist agenda for the past 30 years or so; it’s called socialism

    • Alex Sekkpfb

      You say socialism as if it were a bad thing. Were you born and raised in Europe?

    • Sabin Popescu

      Yes, I was, and stealing is a bad thing no matter what positive side effects it might have…

    • Andrea Scacchi

      Considering social policy “stealing” underline a profound ignorance of economics, politics and basic logic…
      How could be a mutual help considered stealing?
      According to this view all taxes are stealing. Which is bullshit. And i am not ok with that.
      Taxes exist to redistribute wealth, make gov work and create services..

      N.b. obviously i am not poundering if taxes are used well or not.

    • Bódis Kata

      Kindly look up *democracy* in an encyclopedia.

    • Matej Zaggy Zagorc

      Kindly think for yourself and think about what democracy was meant to be and what it is.
      There’s a fine line between an educated democracy and democracy as a birth right.

  3. Boyko Vesselinov

    In the sick minds of Brussels bureocrats, everything different from their neoliberal agenda is populism.

    • Paweł Kunio

      Please dont call them liberals. This term has been stolen by them. They are not much more than socialists. True liberals defend the freedoms whereas they keep freedom a slave of ideology.

  4. Bódis Kata

    More populist = for the people.
    Sure. Any day.

    I just hope it will not be some creeps who declare what’s “good for the people”.

  5. Ivan Burrows

    Populism = Nationalism so how can the EU adopt ‘Nationalism’ when its goal is to destroy it ?

    • Karolina

      I wonder what comrade Putin opines on the topic.

    • Karolina

      And btw, no two words have the exact meaning. Therefore, you cannot use an equation mark between them. I didn’t think you would know.

    • Ray GP

      Es el camino correcto. (…) “if you want to beat the populists you have to become a populist.”

  6. Luigi Monteferrante

    Populism could also mean giving people what they want. But people can also be educated, influenced, illuminated, inspired, guided towards concrete – and higher – goals. (My two cents.)

  7. Hitaj Iliev Nikola Sabina


    • Roel Ansems

      Thomas de Roeper fantastische argumenten dit dude!! Powar to te pepple!!

    • Paweł Kunio

      That summarizes it very well, Raul. Powar to the Peppa!

    • Hitaj Iliev Nikola Sabina

      Mostly hard and to linguistic to be explained ha ha ha. I write with the wrong heand

    • João Machado

      “support for the concerns of ordinary people.”

      Um cancro horrivel de facto….

    • Pedro Castro

      Please tell me of a populist leader that actualy cared about “the concerns of ordinary people”…

      I’ll wait.

    • Bart Van Damme

      Such a leader would then not be a populist now, would they?

  8. Stefano Nasini

    If you ask the question that way, nobody is going to say YES. Populist is a new word which has been adopted to label all the anti-establishment instances, ideas or movements. If you criticize the establishment, you become automatically a populist, even though your criticisms make perfectly sense. So, what does it mean adopting a populist agenda?

  9. catherine benning

    Should the EU embrace a more populist agenda?

    This line you chose here is a PC way of discrediting the citizens feelings and views on matters concerning them collectively. Are you suggesting that to disagree with EU officials on issues of any kind denotes ‘stupidity’ or some kind of mass mistake? Perhaps ideas they arrived at via some kind of deviant input.

    What a crock you do try to shove out.

    So called populist views are arrived at by the experience and knowledge of daily life in the EU which does not suit or come up to the expectations of civilised citizens in this continental land mass. To refer to them as populist is a put down and is meant to be.

    The EU cannot embrace a more suitable policy to satisfy the people it rules over because it has an agenda already in place. And to deviate from that agenda will not be tolerated.


    More Europe means more ruin. The leaders have led us down a path of deliberate mass destruction. They simply want to hasten their objective as they feel they have been rumbled and that the people will not go along with their demise any longer. .

  10. Tarquin Farquhar

    As long as the ‘populist agenda’ agrees with what Germany wants!

  11. João Machado

    “support for the concerns of ordinary people.”

    What’s wrong with that….

  12. Marc Hernández Capeta

    European countries extended social secutrity to counteract URSS, and I think most people like having it. So why no embrace some social policies to reduce social dissatisfaction and prevent the most extremist ideologies taking more power?

  13. Lino Galveias

    it’s populist, conservative, dictatorial, bureaucratic and far from citizens already. It’s time to make it more democratic

  14. Andrew Potts

    Populism is a word used when people reject the ideas of the inflate ruling class. Europeans like the idea of a collective of unique European Nations that co operate through the EU. The EU has been infected with a globalist agenda which flies in the face of that European sense of community. The EU should represent Europeans. The exit of GB is a symptom of their poor leadership, they caused it, just as they are causing a more ” popular” rejection of globalists business and non European interests. To many Europeans they do not seem to identify with Europe

  15. Simeon Milanov

    What is populism? Strict border control and limited immigration (based on merits)or protecting your culture and business interests is populism. In the same time unfeasable stuff like world peace, feeding everyone who doesnt want to work, a future without conflicts on Earth and a society where all are equal (if you ask the EU Commision everyone should be equally tall) is not populism, right? Well ladies and gentleman, I think we have different concepts of what populism is.

  16. EU Reform- Proactive

    The EU?? It can’t!

    It is bound by a cobweb of Treaties, Acts & Accords and drowning in a sea of present & ever newly made regulations, supported by an army of loyal bureaucrats embracing whatever is considered pc!

    One can’t even agree on a “harmonized meaning” what is “populist” is- without cooking up a hurricane of abuse and counter abuse- never mind changing anything!


    Nowadays a new human genome variety “populus eu-ropuli” seems to take great pleasure to “traumatize” the outdated vox populi with their elitist concepts- of eventual global governance & domination by a few.

    • Janko Köhler

      Which values??? The EU fucked up! once I loved the EU, now, well the sooner this sh*t ends, the better for all of us!

    • Donatas Dlugoborskis

      Europe was definitely not founded on liberal progressivism. Not some communist style global borderless utopia. You can find the values of European people and Europe only in it’s history. Especially prior to 20th century.

  17. Geoffrey Howard

    Say no to the Westphalian principle and mentally. Say no to NationStates!
    #OneEurope #Onepeople #ManyCultures #Onelove

    • Janko Köhler

      The EU fucked up! once I loved the EU, now, well the sooner this sh*t ends, the better for all of us!

    • Geoffrey Howard

      Then do something to change, what you do not like.

    • Paweł Kunio

      Geoffrey, Your line of say no to nation states is part of why everyone is fleeing from eu and things wont improve in any foreseeable future. Communists said the same of melting the borders. This ideology failed massively so will Yours/theirs.

  18. Peter Andrew Nolan

    The people of the EU should set up peoples courts for each country and prosecute the criminals in their governments…that would be a good start.

  19. Alain

    EU shall not move towards populism which at the end leads to nationalism and the dramas we have seen in the last centuries. Those who are pushing for that are either short sighted and lacking of political consciousness or just populist themselves. The arguments that people oppose to Europe is that it is too buraucratic. This is partly right but can be solved not jumping in the populism. We will stand up!

  20. kevin

    Well its a bit late for that . If the EU had been a bit more populist it may have got some more support . Its policies have created the populist movement across the continent ,people want small government and less being old what to do by unelected bureaucrats . Its failure to deal with any ‘crisis’ it has created has long confirmed to me that its days are numbered , it will fail as an political entity as sure as the USSR failed .
    There is nothing to fear from Nationalism if we all embrace it , it is only a problem if left to the extremists

  21. Emilien Trump

    Make Europe Great Again !!!!!!

  22. Karolina

    Absolutely now. The biggest threat to democracy is power ceding to the mob.

    • EU Reform- Proactive

      Hi Karolina, ………interesting notion! The fine dividing lines of words: “mob”= Mobsters= “Commissions”= Elites= Pretenders= Schemers= Dealers= Tax avoiders= Panama papers+++ or “the ordinary, dumb & uneducated ” vox populi of yesteryear? Interesting nuances- or an easy & simply choice- black or white?


    • Karolina

      I meant absolutely not! Your trail of thought is yours and subjective. It does not reflect actual meanings of words as defined in a dictionary and assigned to by the majority of users.

    • EU Reform- Proactive

      Karolina, I am glad you corrected what you actually meant! Thank you.

  23. Carlos Branco

    EU need to be democratic and stop been a Dictature. need to have election to elect the president of EU. if EU want to survive.

  24. Carlos Branco

    if EU want to Survive. make election to elect the president of EU, the bruxells dictature is afraid of the Vote, dictators in bruxells are afraid of democracy

  25. Boyan Taksirov

    It depends what is meant with the word “populism”.
    If this means nationalism, more power for the local governments and less power for the EU – definitely NO. Local governments and societies in Eastern Europe are more or less corrupted and controlled by the local criminal elites. They play with the masses with anti EU nationalistic and populistic rhetorics, addressed especially to the undereducated ones, in order to undermine the EU control over their affairs, their corruption and anti democratic means to shape the societies according their will.

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