A Populist Europe?
BSSB.BE IIEA1 31.01.2019
* There is too much government today. We’ve got to remember the government should be by the people, of the people, and for the people. Ray Bradbury
31/01/2019 ow 72, there is not much in politics he has not seen. “Populism of a kind,” he said, “has existed for as long as there have been politicians. It wins elections. But there’s populism and populism. And some of the ‘pure populism’ we see now … it didn’t exist here even 10 years ago.”At the turn of the century, populism was a blip on the horizon of European politics.
Since then, the number of Europeans voting for populist parties in national votes has surged from 7% to more than 25%, according to groundbreaking research by the Guardian. Back in 1998, only two small European countries – Switzerland and Slovakia – had populists in government.
Two decades later, another nine countries do.
The number of Europeans ruled by a government with at least one populist in cabinet has increased from 12.5 million to 170 million. This has been blamed on everything from recession to migration, social media to globalisation.
But the Czech experience shows it can be more complicated than that. Only 2.3% of the country’s workforce is out of a job, the lowest rate in the EU. Last year, its economy grew by 4.3%, well above the bloc’s average, and the country was untouched by the 2015 European refugee crisis. But in last year’s general election populist parties won just over 40%, a tenfold increase from 1998.
The Czech Republic demonstrates that the factors behind populism’s surge are both far more complex and infinitely more varied than first thought, and that a voter’s decision to cast their ballot for a populist party is just as often a reflection of psychological state as of circumstances and identity.
What is populism?
Populists tend to frame politics as a battle between the virtuous ‘ordinary’ masses and a nefarious or corrupt elite – and insist that the general will of the people must always triumph. The Guardian is adopting the classic definition of populism proposed by political scientist Cas Mudde. Populism, he says, is often combined with a ‘host’ ideology, which can either be on the left or right.
Against the backdrop of increasing populist vote share and influence, the Guardian is launching a six-month investigative series to explore who the new populists are, what factors brought them to power, and what they are doing once in office.
Postwar populists found an early toehold in Europe in Alpine countries with long histories of nationalist or far-right tendencies. The exclusionist, small-government Swiss People’s party (SVP), rooted in “authentic” rural resistance to urban and foreign influence, led a referendum defeat of Switzerland’s bid to join the EEA in 1992, and has swayed national policy since.
The Swiss party practically invented rightwing populism’s “winning formula”: nationalist demands on immigration, hostility towards neoliberalism and a fierce focus on preserving national traditions and sovereignty. It helps of course that Switzerland is also a magnet for the “international elite”, symbolised by Davos, banking secrecy and a spray of UN headquarters.
In neighbouring Austria, the Freedom party, a far more straightforward far-right movement founded by a former Nazi in 1956, won more than 20% of the vote for the first time in 1994 and is now in government, as junior coalition partner, for the fourth time.
Italy, another country with a history of radical rightwing politics, voted four times for the populist Silvio Berlusconi. But for the rest of the 1990s, the tendency remained confined to this central troika, each with their own political peculiarities.
The tide started to turn with the turn of the century. The political landscape in the Netherlands was shaken up in 2002 with the rapid rise of the populist Pim Fortuyn, and then by his assassination. That same year, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right Front National rocked France by reaching a presidential runoff vote. Twice in 2005, referendums in France and the Netherlands rejected a draft EU constitution, seen at the time as victories for the “ordinary people” against the European elite.
In 2008 came the financial crisis and recession. As many people, particularly in southern Europe, saw living standards shrink, the centrist parties that had governed hitherto – and the Eurocrats in Brussels with their clipboard austerity – became an obvious target.
Hit hardest of all by the crisis, the Greeks gave 27% of their votes to the radical leftwing populists of Syriza in 2012, electing them to government three years later with a score nearly 10 points higher. In Spain, the anti-austerity Podemos took 21% in 2015 just a year after the party was founded.
In Italy, decades of corruption, mismanagement and the impact of the 2015 refugee crisis resulted in the anti-establishment, tax-and-spend Five Star Movement sweeping to power last year in an unlikely coalition with the far-right, anti-immigration League.
Youtube: how strong the populist governments are and examine their influence. Is Populist Europe possible ?
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