Marine Le Pen, from the Front National, a national-conservative political party in France in meeting for the presidential election of 2017 at the Zenith of Paris on April 17, 2017. Photo: Frederic Legrand.

Report on Panel #4 / Mapping European Populism: Populist Radical Right in Europe’s Heartland and the UK

Blink, Melissa & Robinson, Tom. (2022). “Report on Panel #4 / Mapping European Populism: Populist Radical Right in Europe’s Heartland and the UK.” European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). June 9, 2022. https://doi.org/10.55271/rp0005

 

This report is based on the fourth panel of ECPS’s monthly panel series called “Mapping European Populism” which was held online in Brussels on May 26, 2022. The panel brought together top-notch populism scholars from three countries in Europe’s heartland, namely Germany, Austria, France, and the UK. As a by-product of this fruitful panel the report consists of brief summaries of the speeches delivered by the speakers.

ECPS organizes a panel series composed of 10 monthly sessions to map European populism, bringing scholars together every month to discuss the state of political populism in a different region of Europe. This report is prepared based on the fourth panel of the series focusing on heartland Europe and the UK, on the theme of “Populist radical right in Europe’s heartland (Germany, Austria, France) and the UK,” which was held online on May 26, 2022.

The panel is moderated by Dr Luke Cooper, Member of the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit at LSE, and included the following speakers; Dr Ralf Havertz, Associate Professor of International Relations at Keimyung University in South Korea; Dr Karin Liebhart, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, the University of Vienna; Dr Gilles Ivaldi, CNRS Researcher in Political Science at the Centre for Political Research at Sciences-Po, Paris; Dr William Allchorn, Postdoctoral Researcher and Associate Director at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right, University of Leeds.

Dr Cooper, in his introductory remarks, noted that the case studies of the panel demonstrate the unevenness of the rise of the radical right in this century, which Cas Mudde has referred to as the fourth, and arguably most successful wave of the post-WW2 radical right. What distinguishes this wave, he says, is the degree of convergence between the mainstream centre-right and the new radical right. Also notable is the radical right’s success in taking over governments around the world and emerging as a formidable political force. Dr Cooper explained that he would be employing Cas Mudde’s distinction between the radical right and the extreme right. The former accepts the basic principles of democracy but launches a slow, steady incursion on its basic foundations, like the rule of law and constitutionalism. The extreme right rejects democratic principles altogether.

According to Dr. Cooper, one of the countries under discussion in this panel plays a special role in Mudde’s account of the fourth wave: Austria. After all, it was the rise of the Austrian Freedom Party (the FPÖ) and its entry into Austrian government that was met by diplomatic sanctions in the EU at the time. The attempted but failed cordon sanitaire was accompanied by sustained protests and demonstrations within Austria itself. It was, in other words, the moment the dam burst. Over the next two decades, we witnessed a gradual but uneven centre-right and radical right convergence. Mudde’s characterization is also valuable, according to Dr Cooper, because it avoids excessive focus on the 2008 financial crisis, reminding us that the origins of the rise of the radical right in this century extend further back than just 2008.

Germany’s radical right populism, in contrast, may look like a rapid response to the financial crisis. The AfD burst onto the scene, initially, as a Eurosceptic party, becoming increasingly extremist and white nationalist through gradual purges of its more moderate members. In many current discussions, Dr Cooper notes, the fall of the AfD is emphasized. After all, the story goes, Germany has demonstrated the strength and reserves of its democratic character, as well as the societal depth underlying its democratic institutions. He wonders how this prospect is seen by the panellists, especially in the context of the global shocks we might soon expect to see; inflation, for example, is a phenomenon often identified with the previous collapse of German democracy. That historic episode naturally haunts discussions of the far-right in Germany today, he notes.

The other two cases, Britain and France, also reflect the unevenness and complexity of the rise of the European radical right. Dr Cooper in his account of Britain’s current government, highlighted that the government is increasingly authoritarian but also appears to be in a state of genuine subjective confusion, he says. It sees itself as continuous with Thatcherism, although its main pitch to the electorate underlined the damage her government did to Britain and the damage that regional deindustrialization left behind. It has also committed to sharing Britain’s wealth across towns and regions more evenly. Dr Cooper points out another contradiction: the government sees itself as part of a great British tradition of liberty but has launched an attack on the human rights agenda, including, most prominently, the Human Rights Act, which brings the European Convention of Human Rights into British law. Furthermore, he notes, the British government seems to reject the foundational elements of international refugee law. Its most recent piece of legislation, the Nationality and Borders Bill, and the high-profile proposal to summarily deport refugees who arrive in the UK by irregular or informal means to Rwanda are both examples of this attitude. The current British government has, in sum, a “viciously authoritarian, very ethno-nationalist agenda”, although its political elites are nevertheless confused.

In his remarks on France, Dr Cooper pointed at Marine Le Pen and the Front National National Rally as the central focus of those studying French populism. However, he thinks the Macron project is also a curious case for students of populism and authoritarianism. After all, he says, Macron’s initial pitch to the French electorate had many elements, in terms of style, language, and appeal, of a ‘populist insurgency’ in the first round of 2017’s French presidential elections. Macron adjusted his language quite significantly in the second round, making a more unifying pitch to the electorate instead. Another interesting subject is the way that the radical right’s key priority, namely the alleged ‘Islamization’ of Western societies by non-white Muslim immigrants, is taken in France’s national political debate. French centrists, as well as France’s left and centre-left, seem to pitch themselves in very uncertain times when confronted with the topic. The French state has also recently been accused of repressing human rights organizations advocating for the rights of the French Muslim community, by levying defamation laws against them in an attempt to close them down.

Dr Cooper concludes the opening remarks by highlighting that in each of the cases, a series of ‘meanings and un-meanings’ seem to complicate the already complex and uneven picture of the radical right’s rise in Europe. 

Reported by Melissa Blink

 

Dr Ralf Havertz: “The Rise of Radical Right Populism in Germany”

Dr Havertz describes Germany as a latecomer regarding the development of radical right populism. When the AfD was founded in 2013, most neighbouring countries had already had some experience with such parties, where they had already participated in government or been tolerated or supported by minority governments. It is now firmly established as a radical right populist party in Germany’s party system. It poses a challenge to Germany’s democratic system because it is located somewhere between right-wing populism and right-wing extremism, and it will remain an opposition party for the foreseeable future.

Dr Ralf Havertz detailed the rise of radical right populism in Germany in his lecture at the panel. He starts by describing Germany as a latecomer regarding the development of radical right populism. When the AfD was founded in 2013, most neighbouring countries had already had some experience with such parties, where they had already participated in government (as in Austria) or been tolerated or supported by minority governments (as was the case with the Danish People’s Party in Denmark). This has not, to date, happened in Germany: no party on this side of the political spectrum has participated in government, nor has it supported governments so far. The cordon sanitaire had held up so far, although, Dr Havertz notes, talks take place behind the scenes between the CDU (Christian Democrats), the Free Democrats, and the AfD – especially in the east of Germany.

Currently, the AfD is a strong opposition party in Germany’s Bundestag, and movements such as Pegida and the Identitarian Movement have attracted many participants with their various organized activities. Dr Havertz notes one might almost speak of a division of labour between these groups: Pegida and the Identitarians are the organized movement side, whereas the AfD supports the radical-right populist agenda in the parliament. The current state of affairs shows that something in Germany has changed – for a long time voting and expressing support for the populist radical right (PRR) was stigmatized due to Germany’s experiences with the Nazi regime and its atrocities. It has, however, become much more common to voice radical right opinions in public, and people are less inhibited in voicing their rage against governments, policies, and ‘othered’ groups. So, it is more common to vote for radical right parties, and the AfD especially.

What has driven this change? Dr Havertz points to three broad changes that occurred in Germany, which were related to economics, culture, and media. The first was the economic transformation; a shift from Fordism to neoliberalism brought about higher competitive pressures, which created insecurities and uncertainties for workers, as well as changes to Germany’s social welfare system. The PRR instrumentalized the rage and resentment borne of these changes and channelled it against “the elite” or “the establishment” as it is sometimes called.

The second change Dr Havertz described occurred in the aftermath of the Student Movement of 1968, which triggered a phase of modernization and liberalization in German society, bringing about improvements for minority groups and those who were subject to discrimination, including refugees, and immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community. The PRR again instrumentalized dissatisfaction with these changes and organized a cultural backlash, again directed at “the elite”, whose cosmopolitan character was the focus of populist ire. It was also directed at the minorities who were the beneficiaries of the changes described.

The third change occurred in the media environment with the emergence of the internet and social media, which have changed the way citizens communicate. Radical and extreme messages are much easier to express and disseminate broadly while simultaneously targeting specific recipients. The AfD and Pegida, especially, make use of this, whereby they have certainly contributed to the polarization of German society. All these developments converged roughly at the same time.

On this note, Dr Havertz mentions the AfD’s precursors. There were other radical right populist parties in Germany before the AfD; when they dissolved, they recommended their members to join the AfD instead, which is true for Pro Deutschland, for example. Some of these parties still exist on the regional level, though no longer on a national level. The same is true for Die Freiheit, Die Republikaner, the Bund Freier Bürger, and the Schill-Party. The AfD, on the other hand, can be considered the most successful radical right party in German post-war history, having reached the 5 percent threshold for parliamentary representation in every election since 2014, on regional, national, and the European level. This means, also, that they earn money and can provide employment opportunities, not just for party members, but also for members of Pegida and the Identitarian Movement.

Then there were the crises: the global financial crisis, and the Euro crisis. The latter was particularly salient for the AfD, as it was initially primarily a Eurosceptic party. Its founders were dissatisfied with the German centre-right approach to European integration, and strongly opposed the ‘rescue package’ with which the EU responded to the Euro crisis and Greece’s fiscal problems. Angela Merkel’s support for this policy made her a central hate figure in the radical right’s protest marches. The AfD could, to some extent, even be considered an anti-Merkel party. Having now lost this hate figure, the AfD and German radical right more generally will need to find a replacement.

In its first two years, Dr Havertz says, the AfD’s orientation was primarily driven by the party’s ordoliberal leadership. Though there were other wings, including a national-conservatism group, it was initially described as a “party of professors.” It was considered a party with considerable competence in the area of economics, which is also how they portrayed themselves. In the party’s first years, its face was Bernd Lucke, one of its first three speakers (chairpersons) – an economics professor at the University of Hamburg. He was often on TV, discussing economic issues based on his credentials. But right from the start, there were also some conservative members and others from the new-right and radical right. Some right-wing extremists also joined the party, and 2015 marked a strong turn to the right when Lucke and several other economic-liberal members left the party. Frauke Petry challenged Lucke’s position as speaker and prevailed. This meant a strengthening of the party’s national-conservative wing and also brought about a power shift within the party, from West to East German members. Soon, the Eastern states’ party associations gained a dominant position in the AfD.

Relatedly, the AfD has performed much better in the East Germany than in the West Germany, on both federal and sub-national levels. Also notable is that the party has attracted significantly more male than female voters. The party’s gender gap is very wide and has increased in national elections over time.

Another important development in the party was the development of “Der Flügel (the Wing)” – a right-wing extremist party faction under Björn Höcke’s leadership – which resulted in deeper internal division into a mostly Western economic-liberal faction and a mostly Eastern national-conservative/right-wing extremist wing. After its classification as a certain case of right-wing extremism by the Federal Agency of the Protection of the Constitution (the domestic intelligence service), Der Flügel was forced to dissolve.

Dr Havertz then provided an overview of the AfD’s programmatic orientation and ideological features, namely populism, nationalism/nativism/anti-immigrant positions, Islamophobia, authoritarianism, antisemitism/historical revisionism, Euroscepticism, anti-feminism/anti-genderism, ordoliberalism/social populism as well as welfare chauvinism (which Dr Havertz notes as a contradiction), and Covid-scepticism.

He concludes that the AfD is now firmly established as a radical right populist party in Germany’s party system. It poses a challenge to Germany’s democratic system because it is located somewhere between right-wing populism and right-wing extremism (meaning that its populism has anti-democratic implications) and it will remain an opposition party for the foreseeable future.

Reported by Melissa Blink

 

Dr Karin Liebhart: “Right-wing Populism and the New Right in Austria –– Recent Trends and Manifestations”

The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) can be considered a right-wing populist party since 2017. Under its then-chairman, Sebastian Kurz, it took on several main characteristics of right-wing populist parties, for example, its strong focus on its political leader, its support of strong controls on immigration, a welfare chauvinist rhetoric, and so on. However, radical right populist Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) has been the main representative of right-wing populism in Austria for decades and is known for its considerable political success since the 1980s.

Dr Karin Liebhart, in her lecture, outlined the history and current circumstances of Austria’s populist radical right. To begin with, she discussed the labels she finds appropriate for each of the players in Austria’s radical or extreme right parties. The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) can be considered a right-wing populist party since 2017. Under its then-chairman, Sebastian Kurz, it took on several main characteristics of right-wing populist parties, for example, its strong focus on its political leader, its support of strong controls on immigration, a welfare chauvinist rhetoric, and so on. Radical right populist Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) has been the main representative of right-wing populism in Austria for decades and is known for its considerable political success since the 1980s.

The new extremist right is a label Dr Liebhart recommends for the Identitarian Movement, which is extreme right, racist, nationalist, anti-pluralist, and sees itself as a part of the global alt-right. It declared war on 1968’s cultural liberalization, which took place in Austria as well as in Germany. Its prime political aim is to fight the so-called “great exchange” and Islamization of Europe. The Austrian branch, founded in 2012, is a stronghold of the Generation Identity group, which seeks not electoral results, but rather seeks to influence wider public debate. They closely cooperate and collaborate with parties in parliament, like the FPÖ, and with student fraternities.

Dr Liebhart continued by discussing the more moderate side of Austria’s right-wing populist spectrum. In October 2017 the ÖVP, led by Sebastian Kurz, won the general elections. Journalists at the time noted that Austria was quite a curious case of populism; just months earlier Kurz had taken leadership of the centre-right ÖVP and rebranded the party as a political movement, “the Movement for Austria.” The movement focused entirely on Kurz’s personality, and he simultaneously directed the People’s Party sharply to the right. Votes saw a dramatic increase, from approximately 20 percent to approx. 30 percent. The elections ended in a right-wing populist coalition government; upon coming first place in the national elections, Kurz invited the radical right FPÖ to join as the junior partner in a coalition. Unlike in the years 1999 and 2000, when the FPÖ’s ascent to parliament was met with protests and diplomatic sanctions, 2017’s election outcomes were not met by significant protests from abroad.

Both parties, Dr Liebhart says, focused their election campaigns on anti-immigration policies and rhetoric. This strategy had been pursued by the FPÖ since the late 1980s but was fairly new for the ÖVP. Kurz essentially managed to occupy a political space until then monopolized by the FPÖ and soon made immigration his signature. The 2017 general election was incredibly significant, Dr Liebhart noted because it showed that right-wing populist attitudes were no longer limited to the fringes of the political landscape, becoming instead a mainstay of Austrian political culture. She says, in 2019 Cas Mudde said that the ÖVP has become “one of the most right-wing of Europe’s conservative parties,” while the FPÖ successfully shifted Austria’s political discourse firmly to the right.

Dr Liebhart then provided a brief history of the FPÖ. After Jörg Haider was elected chairman in 1986, the party became an explicitly radical right populist and Austrian nationalist party. Since it has direct roots in nationalist socialist ideology, Dr Liebhart feels that it does not belong to the ‘new’ type of radical right parties. Until Haider’s takeover, the FPÖ only played a very minor role in Austrian politics. Once in power, Haider focused on criticizing the political establishment, foregrounded immigration and integration issues, and rejected the idea of Austria as a subordinate subject of a larger German nation, promoting, instead, an ethnically defined Austrian national identity. Haider’s demagogic politics and focus on ethnonationalism did very well at the polls. He also ensured that the ‘Islamic threat’ became a particularly salient topic in Austria, which he combined with Eurocepticism and hostility towards the EU.

In 1999, the FPÖ joined the ÖVP as a junior partner in a coalition government for the first time. This was short-lived due to internal conflict, leading Haider and the FPÖ’s ministers to leave the party and found the “Alliance for the Future of Austria.” After Haider’s unexpected death in 2008, the Alliance lost significant electorate support and failed to reach the 4 percent threshold in the 2013 general elections. Haider was succeeded by Heinz Christian Strache, who further radicalized the party’s ideology, communication, and campaign strategies. This led to some renewed electoral success; the Alliance made it a junior partner to regional governments in upper Austria, for example. In 2006, 2008, and 2013, the party’s campaign posters were very racist, xenophobic, and focused on the construction of ethnic Austrian identity.

Returning to the 2017 coalition government between the FPÖ and ÖVP, Dr Liebhart noted that it operated harmoniously for more than a year, which was facilitated by the ÖVP’s shift to the right under Kurz’s leadership. Their policies were virtually identical regarding such as family politics or the restriction of asylum policies. Another example that demonstrates the parties’ convergence is the fact that both used the same slogan in the 2019 elections: “Someone who speaks our language.”

In any event, the coalition turned Austria into a Eurosceptic and outspokenly anti-immigration country, aligning it more closely with Poland and Hungary than with other Western European countries. The “Ibiza affair” of May 2019 – during which a secretly recorded video showing Strache and Gudenus of the FPÖ discussing illegal practices was made public – blew up the coalition. Interestingly, Dr Liebhart notes, the FPÖ lost significant votes but the ÖVP did not. The ÖVP’s slogan, “our way has just begun,” was widely successful. In the subsequent snap elections, the ÖVP gained 37.5 percent of the other share and joined a coalition with the Green Party. However, Kurz, Austria’s “most charismatic and successful politician” in decades, eventually had to resign in 2021 following bribery investigations.

Under Herbert Kickl, the FPÖ’s chairman since 2021, the party has managed to regain support amongst potential voters. This is partially because Kickl presents himself as the only representative of the opposition to the government’s COVID-19 measures, and the main politician trying to defend the people’s democratic rights against supposed incursions by the government. The FPÖ is very active in organizing anti-Corona-measure rallies. In this vein, it closely collaborates with right-wing extremist groups like Generation Identity, and even Neo-Nazis. Importantly, Dr Liebhart says, the Coronavirus and related rallies have offered the radical right a new stage. Speaking specifically on the Identitarian Movement, Dr Liebhart says that it has, especially in Vienna, taken over and appropriated the anti-Corona-measure demonstrations. One slogan often touted at the rallies reads “the government should control the borders, not the people.”

Dr Liebhart concludes her lecture by saying that “the lasting impact of the transformation of the ÖVP into a right-wing political force on Austria’s political landscape and culture should not be underestimated.”

Reported by Melissa Blink

 

Dr Gilles Ivaldi: “The Populist Radical Right in the 2022 French Presidential Election: Party Fragmentation and Electoral Outcome”

Marine Le Pen presented a two-fold strategy; she simultaneously detoxified her and her party and hid her more radical policies, such as anti-immigration and EU scepticism, which Dr Ivaldi calls “de-demonization strategy.” She also presented a left-wing social populist set of economic policies to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, which is the number one issue for voters. While Le Pen tried to downplay her populist political tendencies, Eric Zemmour embraced them and forwarded a hard-line campaign that helped to portray Le Pen as more of a moderate.

Dr Gilles Ivaldi, in his presentation, provided an overview of the performances of the two populist politicians in the French Presidential election, Marine Le Pen (National Rally) and Eric Zemmour (Reconquête!) and the factors that contributed to their success and failures.

Dr Ivaldi began his speech by highlighting that Le Pen and Zemmour appeared in election champaigns in very different, divergent stances and platforms. On the one hand, Zemmour mixed populism, nativism, and authoritarianism and could comprise a very classical populist platform and manifesto. On the other hand, Le Pen, as Dr Ivaldi argues, presented a two-fold strategy; she simultaneously detoxified her and her party and hid her more radical policies, such as anti-immigration and EU scepticism, which Dr Ivaldi calls “de-demonization strategy.” She also presented a left-wing social populist set of economic policies to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, which is the number one issue for voters. While Le Pen tried to downplay her populist political tendencies, Zemmour embraced them and forwarded a hard-line campaign that helped to portray Le Pen as more of a moderate.

The two candidates also diverged in the issues they attempted to tackle during the election. Le Pen focused, as stated previously, on the cost-of-living crisis currently impacting Europe and the rest of the world. Zemmour, instead, focused his attention on immigration, and law and order. This benefitted Le Pen because she was seen to take the reins on cultural and socioeconomic issues that voters prioritised.

When the results were declared, Le Pen came second to Emmanuel Macron, collecting 23 percent, with Zemmour falling short at the end of his campaign due to his close alliance with Putin on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Dr Ivaldi summarised, “Altogether, Marine Le Pen checked many important boxes in this election – she responded to the traditional issues of the populist radical right agenda, she established a more respectable image for her party, and she checked the boxes of the cost-of-living issues for voters.” She also, importantly, narrowed the gender gap for populist parties historically in France – mostly men favoured Zemmour, whereas, both women and men voted for Le Pen through the election rounds. Similarly, where the young and old favoured Zemmour, Le Pen appealed to every age demographic.

When the election reached the second round of voting, this is where Macron prevailed. However, Le Pen did manage to earn the votes of around 13 million French citizens, most surprisingly, with many of those coming from traditionally left-wing voters. As Dr Ivaldi summarised, “In this election, there were two fronts working against each other – the traditional Republican front and the anti-Macron front.” Although the former ended up winning, the latter provided a substantial threat to this ‘tradition.’

At the end of his speech, Dr Ivaldi provided very valuable insights into the future of French politics in the years to come. Firstly, he predicts that Le Pen will still be the dominant radical right party leader in France. Zemmour, however, will likely fade with political marginalisation. Lastly, French politics will continue to be polarised on three main fronts – the radical right and left and with Macron holding the centre-ground.

Reported by Tom Robinsons

 

Dr William Allchorn “From the Margins to the Mainstream: The UK Populist Radical Right at a Time of Transition”

Dr Allchorn offers three key takeaways from the journey of right-wing extremism to the radicalisation of the mainstream in UK party politics. Firstly, British exceptionalism thesis (that the UK is the ‘ugly duckling of the European radical right’) is historically true but became increasingly problematic in the 21st century. Secondly, since the demise of UKIP, the UK extreme right has become even more marginal, fragmented and violent. And finally, the contemporary UK radical right are organisationally marginal but pursues anti-immigrant socio-economic frames which are increasingly mainstream post-Brexit.

Dr William Allchorn began his presentation by introducing a conception of UK radical right politics by Roger Griffin – the idea that the UK is still the “ugly duckling” of the European radical right (Griffin, 1996). By interrogating this claim with specific examples of electoral performance, Dr Allchorn provided a clear picture of radical right politics in the UK previously and in contemporary politics today.

Beginning with the British National Party (BNP) in the 1990s, the party rose to prominence due to its stances toward immigration and Muslim communities (demand-side) and its organisational moderation and ideological moderation (supply-side). The party peaked at the 2009 general election with 52 counsellors across the UK being elected but still without parliamentary representation. With the reduced salience of immigration as a political topic coupled with a neo-fascist legacy commanded by the divisive leadership of Nick Griffith, party popularity subsequently fell.

Following on from the BNP were the extremist radical right parties that were significantly fragmented. Parties included the English Defence League (EDL), National Action (NA) and National Front (NF). This extremist anti-establishment collective represented, what Dr. Allchorn labels, “a move towards a post-organisational space of anti-Islamic protest” in UK politics without much electoral representation or recognition.

With the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the UK saw a move towards classical populism and the prevalence of the ‘corrupt elite’ versus ‘the real people.’ On the demand-side, anti-immigration and anti-establishment viewpoints went arm in arm with a charismatic leader in Nigel Farage, on the supply side, a neo-fascist past and a strong rejection of Prime Minister David Cameron’s liberal-conservative coalition government. Its popularity initially spiked in the 2009 European Elections and with notable successes in subsequent European Elections and various local and by-elections. At its height, they fielded 22 MEPs, 2 MPs and notable Conservative Party defectors such as Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell. In the 2014 European Parliament Elections, UKIP won with its populist stance and platform which contributed to the Brexit referendum.

The 2015 general election saw the fall of the UKIP party domestically without them winning a seat leading to Farage’s resignation and subsequent party infighting. Although they claimed victory following the outcome of the Brexit vote, the 2017 general election compounded their demise and UKIP was labelled radical with Theresa May’s Conservative Party consolidating right-wing, especially working-class voters. The 2019 general election further oversaw the radicalisation and mainstreaming of the extreme right in its support of the conservatives.

Dr Allchorn concluded his presentation with three key takeaways from this journey of right-wing extremism to the radicalisation of the mainstream in UK party politics. Firstly, referring back to Griffin in the introduction, he stated, “We can suggest that the British exceptionalism thesis (that the UK is the ‘ugly duckling of the European radical right’) is historically true, but became increasingly problematic in the 21st century.” Secondly, “Since the demise of UKIP, the UK extreme right has become even more marginal, fragmented and violent.” And finally, “The contemporary UK radical right are organisationally marginal but pursues anti-immigrant socio-economic frames which are increasingly mainstream post-Brexit.”

Reported by Tom Robinson

Marine Le Pen, from the Front National, a national-conservative political party in France in meeting for the presidential election of 2017 at the Zenith of Paris on April 17, 2017. Photo: Frederic Legrand.

Mapping European Populism – Panel #4: Populist radical right in Europe’s heartland (Germany, Austria, France) and the UK (May 26, 2022)

Date/Time: Thursday, May 26, 2022 / 15:00-17:00 CET

Click here to register!

Moderator

Dr. Luke Cooper (Member of the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit at the LSE).

Speakers

“The Rise of Radical Right Populism in Germany,” by Dr. Ralf Havertz (Associate Professor of International Relations at Keimyung University in South Korea). 

Right-wing Populism and the New Right in Austria – Recent Trends and Manifestations,” by Dr. Karin Liebhart (Senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science, the University of Vienna). 

“The Populist Radical Right in the 2022 French Presidential Election: Party Fragmentation and Electoral Outcomes,” by Dr. Gilles Ivaldi (CNRS researcher in political science at the Centre for Political Research at Sciences-Po, Paris). 

“From the Margins to the Mainstream: The UK Populist Radical Right at a Time of Transition,” by Dr. William Allchorn (Postdoctoral Researcher and Associate Director at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right at the University of Leeds). 

Q&A Session

Click here to register!

A general view of the hemicycle during of a plenary session on BREXIT vote of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on January 29, 2020. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

On Chantal Mouffe’s ‘Democratic Agonism’ and EU Democratic Deficit

Conflict constitutes an essential part of a healthy democratic society and should not be eradicated from it. Nevertheless, the “others” must not be intended as enemies to destroy but as adversaries whose ideas can be fought – even with ferocity – without ever questioning their right to defend them. Adopting a “competitive struggle” – as Chantal Mouffe calls it – implies mutual consensus towards institutions and socio-political values, even if it allows political actors to disagree on them, in the light of a “conflicting consensus.”

By Luca Mancin

According to social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), societal and political environments are characterized by contentions and intra-groups relations. Politics does not make an exception with its long tradition of struggles and conflicts that gave birth to the so-called antagonistic paradigm (Schmitt, 1996), namely a political hostility that cannot be solved but through a mortal dispute. Though antagonism it can be softened and transformed into what Chantal Mouffe (2013) calls democratic agonism, where dissensus is present but the opposition occurs within shared values and pluralism is safeguarded.

By applying democratic agonism to the integration of the European Union (EU), focusing specifically on post-functionalism, it is unavoidable to deal with the broad concept of Euroscepticism, namely a critical and opposing attitude toward the EU’s economic and political integration. More specifically, this commentary investigates how a democratic agonism among softened Eurosceptic parties within the European Parliament can represent a remedy to the EU democratic deficit. Post-functionalism, indeed, tackles European integration from a national outlook. Hence it is a pluralistic and variegated approach to the EU affected by cultural and socio-political differences by mirroring potential incompatibilities of European politics. Might Mouffe’s democratic agonism precisely offer a solution to overcome such obstacles by promoting a pluralistic image of European politics through a pluralism of peoples and cultures within shared socioeconomic and political values?

The Democratic Agonism Paradigm

‘Why do you kill me?’ 

‘What! Do you not live on the other side of the water? If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin, and it would be unjust to slay you in this manner. But since you live on the other side, I am a hero, and it is just.’

This sentence, contained in Blaise Pascal’s Thoughts (2011: 51), perfectly describes the human attitude to categorizing the social world in a dichotomic manner. After all, Sigmund Freud as well, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930: 114), wrote that “It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.” A claim that recalls what Carl Schmitt (1996) argued about the Manichean structure of politics that relies on the contraposition between “friend” and “enemy.” Such behavior is also observable in the social identity theory elaborated by Tajfel & Turner (1986). According to this model, people create us/them divisions in their social environment and behave in the function of their membership group. 

Social identity theory relies on three steps. First, people categorize themselves and identify two parties – the in-group (“us”) and the out-group (“them”); secondly, the in-group’s members adopt the features that are believed to characterize that group; finally, the in-group compares itself with the out-group by exalting themself and belittling the other.

As anticipated above, the Manichean division between “us” and “them” is central in Schmitt’s (1996) work. The German philosopher maintained the crucial political distinction between “friend” (Freund) and “enemy” (Feind). Therefore, for him, the political enemy is “the other” or “the stranger” (der Fremde). The concept of enemy regards a group of people fighting and opposing – it is the Greek πόλεμος (pόlemos) or the Latin hostis (the public enemy). According to Schmitt, then, “the political” has two characteristics: 1) a polemical component embodied by a concrete conflict, and 2) the identification of “politician” in the sense of a political party.

The “us” versus “them” dichotomy is one of the main features of Eurosceptic and populist parties – as suggested by Cas Mudde (2004), who described populism as an opposition between “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite.” Manichean rhetoric polarizes citizenship and orients it towards a common enemy by finding a suitable scapegoat for each problem (Banning, 2006). We often notice this strategy investigating Eurosceptic and populist vocabulary and discourses, which propose an undetermined people opposed to a vague elite – the EU, the establishment, the bankers. So, an antagonistic approach allows citizens to identify a common enemy, but it denies any chance of constructive criticism and political compromise since it does not consent to establishing a fruitful political debate. Then, it is essential to find an agonistic alternative that permits dialogue and institutionalization of the conflict.

With this in mind, we draw on Chantal Mouffe’s (2013) work, which produces sublimation and institutionalization of Schmitt’s antagonism – which does not allow space for a confrontation between the two contenders that is not deadly. By contrast, Mouffe’s solution aims to overcome the limitations of a mortal political conflict by moving it into a political arena regulated by shared values and principles within institutions. By doing this, Mouffe proposes an agonistic model of democracy, whose purpose does not consist of reaching a consensus without exclusion because that would involve a “we” without a “them” – which is impossible. Mouffe recalls the idea of “radical negativity” – a form of negativity impossible to overcome and that prevents the full achievement of objectivity. Such radical negativity leaves open the possibility of an antagonism: recognizing the existence of radical negativity means recognizing the multiplicity and the divisions of the people. Societies cannot overcome such divisions but only institutionalize them.

Mouffe’s model of political society has its roots in the concepts of “antagonism” and “hegemony.” Antagonism indicates a conflict with no rational solution, while hegemony describes every society’s constitutive and ineliminable negativity. The hegemonic feature of human communities involves that every social order relies on a contingent articulation of power relations without an ultimate rational foundation. Consequently, societies are always the product of a series of practices attempting to establish a determined order in a contingent context. Hence, Mouffe declares that the central political issue consists of establishing an oppositional us/them compatibly with a pluralistic acceptance. The conflict constitutes an essential part of a healthy democratic society and should not be eradicated from it. Nevertheless, the “others” must not be approached as enemies to destroy but as adversaries whose ideas can be fought – even with ferocity – without ever questioning the right to defend. Adopting a “competitive struggle” – as Mouffe calls it – implies mutual consensus towards institutions and socio-political values, even if it allows political actors to disagree, in the light of a “conflicting consensus.”

But what happens if we apply Mouffe’s democratic agonism to European integration theories?

European Integration and Democratic Deficit

Integration theories analyze how to increase political cooperation within the EU by dealing with the EU integration results and the development of its institutions (Diez & Wiener, 2018). Among the several diversified EU integration theories, the post-functionalist outlook is relevant for this commentary. Such a theory, elaborated by Hooghe & Marks (2009), tackles the European Union from the national level of member states by stating that their domestic level politics shapes and affects EU integration and politicizes EU policies. The focus, the authors argue, is precisely on the conflicts at the level of the national citizenry, which constitute the driving forces of European integration.

Indeed, post-functionalism has spread after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and runs parallel to the shift from a “permissive consensus” to a “constraining dissensus” (Hooghe & Marks, 2009). By this term, scholars mean the greater awareness of citizens concerning European issues in the post-Maastricht Treaty period, followed by a broader politicization of the EU’s matters. Such a mutation has been a critical turning point for the European integration process, coinciding with the normalization of Eurosceptic parties (Bijsmans, 2020; Brack & Startin, 2015), which exploited the decrease of EU support and the increase of room for manifesting such a discontent (de Vries & Edwards, 2009). Besides, the diffusion of post-functionalism highlights the growing issue of the EU democratic deficit by making popular discontent concerning EU-related issues heard through national politics.

Whether the European Union is democratic or not raises broad debates (Beetham & Lord, 1998; Schmidt, 2006). The democratic deficit is the idea that “EU institutions and their decision-making procedures suffer from a lack of democracy and seem inaccessible to the ordinary citizen due to their complexity” (EUR-Lex)[1]. Such a democratic deficit might have different causes (the lack of genuine representative democracy in the EU, the absence of a common European demos, and the democratic deficit at the national level). Some scholars argue that the EU needs more profound politicization to create political debate to overcome the democratic deficit (Bellamy & Kroger, 2013; Føllesdal & Hix, 2006). These suggestions might entail pan-European elections, the President of the European Commission elected by the European Parliament, or a broader Europeanization of the public sphere. By contrast, other scholars maintain that the EU is as democratic as it could/should be because it aims to produce Pareto-efficient outcomes (Majone, 1994; Moravcsik, 2008). Namely, the EU creates a situation where the allocation of resources is such that improvements cannot be made to the system (i.e., the condition of one person cannot be improved without worsening the condition of another).

A general image of the EU’s democratic deficit, its causes, and potential remedies allows us to investigate whether the increasing number of softened Eurosceptic parties improved the democratic environment of the European Parliament – in terms of debates and participation – by producing a “democratic agonism.” Indeed, Chantal Mouffe (2013) considers it one of the possible solutions for the future of the EU integration since it would preserve the pluralism of identities and allow a “conflicting consensus” within the shared and common values of the Union.

Softened Euroscepticism as a Remedy to EU Democratic Deficit

Addressing the EU democratic deficit through Euroscepticism requires orientating within the complex and vague field of this topic (Szczerbiak & Taggart, 2017). Taggart has generally defined Euroscepticism as “the idea of contingent or qualified opposition, as well as incorporating outright and unqualified opposition to the process of European integration” (1998: 366). Taggart & Szczerbiak (2002) elaborate a further differentiation between “hard” and “soft” Euroscepticism. The first term indicates an opposition per se to the EU, while the second one depicts a qualified opposition to the EU – namely, a rejection of specific integration fields. However, as Kopecky and Mudde (2002) point out, it is still a too broad definition.

While these two broad categories represent necessary starting points, it is crucial to offer more specific definitions of the soft version to tackle this issue properly. Hence, I argue we should consider the category of “Eurorealizm” or softened Euroscepticism by referring to a political position that has been named in two different ways within the literature of this field. One is the term “Europragmatizm” (Kopecky & Mudde, 2002), which depicts a positive attitude towards the ideological image of the EU, but also an opposition to the principles of the European integration process. Similarly, such a political habit recalls the term “revisionist” (Flood & Usherwood, 2005), namely the desire to return to earlier stages of the EU. Finally, concerning Vasilopoulou’s (2011) work, we can consider such a position as a “conditional Euroscepticism” since it accepts a cultural definition of Europe and is aware of the importance of multilateral cooperation at the EU level but rejects the current EU’s political practice and future integrational steps.

Once we have defined what we mean here by softened Euroscepticism, we can examine how these stances can represent a (partial) remedy to the EU democratic deficit. It is essential to draw on Milner (2000), who talks about “healthy scepticism,” considering Euroscepticism as a litmus test for the awareness of critical citizenry concerning the EU’s issues. More recently, De Wilde & Trenz (2012) reconduct Euroscepticism to the EU’s integration process by stating that it is a natural element of the opposition to the European political project. Besides, it embodies a contestation of the European polity, and it might help address problems about sovereignty, democratic deficit, and responsiveness by being part of the more extensive process of legitimation and democratization of the Union. For this reason, Brack & Startin (2015), analyzing how Euroscepticism is currently a mainstream aspect of European politics, ask whether it can help in terms of a remedy to the EU democratic deficit. The literature offers two answers to this question. Firstly, Brack & Costa (2017) maintains that Eurosceptic conflicting opinions inside the European Parliament show the high degree of democratic pluralism of the Union itself. Secondly, Krouwel & Abst (2007) underline the positive aspect of populist Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament since these actors represent a stimulus for an active citizenry. After all, a healthy democracy relies on political contestation and critics, and, to a certain extent, Euroscepticism triggering political discontent can reveal itself as a positive aspect of a democratic regime.

Such theoretical statements find a practical realization in contemporary general Eurosceptic parties’ tendency to soften their position and take up a position of what we defined above as “Eurorealism” (Balfour et al., 2019; Taggart, 2019). In other words, nowadays, Eurosceptic parties are still critics of the European Union but do not assess the exit from the EU as a feasible solution. Here, looking at the question of Eurorealism and examining whether it can fuel democratization of the EU through Mouffe’s (2013) democratic agonistic paradigm implies a European Parliament with a pluralistic trim, where conflicts are present and essential but regulated within shared values and principles. The transposition into the European Studies literature of Mouffe’s approach can be traced in Nicolaïdis’ (2004) concept of “demoi-cracy.” By this term, he means a combination of pluralistic nations and peoples working together to overcome the democratic problems in the EU but maintaining their essential socio-cultural differences and ideological divergences. Only through the maintenance of these unavoidable and natural “geo-philosophical faults” – as the Italian philosopher Massimo Cacciari calls them (1994 & 1997) – it is possible to safeguard the “field of conflicting forces”, as the Polish philosopher Krzysztof Pomian once described Europe.

Conclusion

This commentary applied Mouffe’s theory on democratic agonism (2013) to post-functional theories of European integration. It argued that approaching Euroscepticism through the lens of democratic agonism rather than antagonism shows how pluralism and shared values can address the EU democratic deficit. In particular, it was argued that democratic agonism would allow the increasing number of softened Eurosceptic parties to elaborate constructive criticism toward the Union’s trim without menacing an exit of their member states from the EU. Such a solution would safeguard cultures and peoples’ pluralism in what Nicolaïdis (2004) called “demoi-cracy” and constitute a compromise for the “conflicting forces” featuring the European Union politics. In the EU, then, there would still be a “competitive struggle,” not between “friends” and “enemies,” but between adversaries whose positions can be fought but must be respected in the light of a “conflicting consensus.”

References

Balfour, R.; Basagni, L.; Flotho-Liersch, A.; Fusaro, P.; Gelhaus, L.; Groenendaal, L.; Hegedus, D.; Von Homeyer, H.; Kausch, K.; Kutschka, T.; Matrakova, M.; Rempala, J.; & Tani, K. (2019). Divide and Obstruct: Populist Parties and EU Foreign Policy. German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Banning, M. E. (2006). “The Politics of Resentment.” JAC, 26(1/2), 67–101. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20866722 

Beetham, D., & Lord, C. (1998). Legitimacy and the European Union. London: Longman.

Bellamy, R., & Kröger, S. (2013). “Representation Deficits and Surpluses in EU Policy-making.” Journal of European Integration35(5), 477-497.

Bijsmans, P. (2020). “Euroskepticism, a multifaceted phenomenon.” In: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Oxford University Press.

Brack, N., & Costa, O. (2017). “Transnational and Pan-European Euroscepticism.” In: B. Leruth, N. Startin & S. Usherwood (Eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Euroscepticism (pp. 551-569). Routledge.

Brack, N, & Startin, N. (2015). “Introduction: Euroscepticism, from the margins to the mainstream.” International Political Science Review36(3), 239–249.

Cacciari, M. (1994). Geofilosofia dell’Europa [Geo-philosophy of Europe]. Adelphi.

Cacciari, M. (1997). Arcipelago [Archipelago]. Adelphi.

De Vries, C. E. & Edwards, E. E. (2009). “Taking Europe to Its Extremes: Extremist Parties and Public Euroscepticism.” Party Politics. 15(1), 5–28.

de Wilde, P. & Trenz, H.J. (2012). “Denouncing European integration: Euroscepticism as polity contestation.” European Journal of Social Theory15(4): 537–554.

Diez, T. & Wiener, A. (2018). “Introducing the Mosaic of Integration Theory.” In: A. Wiener & T. Diez (Eds.), European Integration Theory (pp. 1-24). Oxford University Press.

Flood, C. & Usherwood, S. (2005). Positions, Dispositions, Transitions: A model of Group Alignment on EU Integration. Paper presented at the 55th Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association University of Leeds, 5-7 April 2005.

Føllesdal, A. & Hix, S. (2006). “Why There is a Democratic Deficit in the EU: A Response to Majone and Moravcsik.” Journal of Common Market Studies, 44(33), 533–562 

Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its DiscontentsThe Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI (1927-1931). The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Other Works, 57-146. Available at: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Freud_SE_Civ_and_Dis_complete.pdf

Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2009). “A Post-functionalist Theory of European Integration: From Permissive Consensus to Constraining Dissensus.” British Journal of Political Science, 39(1), 1–23.

Kopecky, P. & Mudde, C. (2002). “The Two Sides of Euroscepticism. Party Positions on European Integration in East Central Europe.” European Union Politics3(3), 297-326.

Krouwel, A. & Abts, K. (2007). “Varieties of Euroscepticism and Populist Mobilization: Transforming Attitudes from Mild Euroscepticism to Harsh Eurocynicism.” Acta Politica42, 252–270.

Majone, G. (1994). “The Rise of the Regulatory State in Europe.” West European Politics, 17(3), 77–101.

Milner, S. (2000). “Introduction: A Healthy Scepticism?” Journal of European Integration22(1), 1-13.

Moravcsik, A. (2008). “The Myth of Europe’s ‘Democratic Deficit’.” Intereconomics, 43(6): 331–340.

Mouffe, C. (2013). Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically. Verso.

Mudde, C. (2004). “The Populist Zeitgeist.” Government and Opposition39(4), 541–563. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-7053.2004.00135.x  

Nicolaïdis, K. (2004). “The new constitution as european “demoi‐cracy”?” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy7(1), 76-93.

Pascal, B. [(2011) 1669]. The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal. The Online Library of Liberty. Available at: https://oll-resources.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/oll3/store/titles/2407/Pascal_1409_EBk_v6.0.pdf

Schmidt, V. A. (2006). Democracy in Europe. Oxford University Press.

Schmitt, C. (1996). The Concept of the Political [1932]. Chicago University Press.

Szczerbiak, A. & Taggart, P. (2017). “Contemporary Research on Euroscepticism.” In: B. Leruth, N. Startin, & S. Usherwood (Eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Euroscepticism (pp. 45-60). Routledge.

Taggart, P. (1998). “A Touchstone of Dissent: Euroscepticism in Contemporary Western European Party Systems.” European Journal of Political Research, 33, 363-388.

Taggart, P. (2019). “Party-based hard Euroscepticism in the 2019 European parliament elections.” In: N. Bolin, K. Falasca, M. Grusel, et alEuroflections: Leading academics on the European elections 2019 (p. 26). Demicom report no. 40. Sundsval: Mittuniversitetet.

Taggart, P. & Szczerbiak, A. (2002). Crossing Europe: Patterns of Contemporary Party-Based Euroscepticism in EU Member States and the Candidate States of Central and Eastern Europe. Paper prepared for presentation at the European Consortium for Political Research Joint Workshops, Turin, March 21-27, 2002.

Tajfel, H. & Turner, J.C. (1986). “The social identity theory of intergroup behavior.” In: S. Worchel & W.G. Austin (Eds). Psychology of intergroup relations. Nelson-Hall.

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[1] The definition is available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/democratic_deficit.html.

MEP-Panel3

Mapping European Populism: Panel III — Scandinavia under magnifier: Populist radical right parties and the end of Nordic exceptionalism?

Moderator

Dr. Liv Sunnercrantz
(Department of Media and Social Sciences, University of Stavanger, Norway)

Speakers

“The Sweden Democrats in Swedish politics – the mainstreaming of extremism,”
by Dr. Anders Hellström (Department of Global Political Studies, Malmö University, Sweden).

“From rural to radical right: a brief perspective on Finnish populism,” by Marie Cazes (Doctoral Researcher, University of Jyväskylä, Finland).

“Public perceptions of the populist radical right in Norway,” by Dr. Lise Lund Bjånesøy (Department of Administration and Organization Theory, University of Bergen, Norway).

“From success to failure? The recent developments of the radical and populist right in Denmark,” by Dr. Susi Meret (Department of Politics and Society, University of Aalborg, Denmark).

Gerbadaou

The Great Recoil: Politics after Populism and Pandemic

Author Dr. Paolo Gerbaudo will discuss his book The Great Recoil: Politics after Populism and Pandemic (Verso, 2021) with Dr. Anton Jäger of KU Leuven.

The Great Recoil focusses on the political and ideological transformations of the last two decades that have seen a turn away from the triumphalist, universalist attitudes towards globalisation and free trade, fuelled by a shift towards nationalist and nativist attitudes in a number of Western democracies, often called the ‘populist moment’ of the 2010s. Gerbaudo’s contention is that, while the appeal of such inward-focussed discourses was growing for over a decade, the Covid-19 crisis produced the perfect storm for what he terms the exopolitics of globalisation; in his eyes, the coming decades will be dominated, instead, by the endopolitics of a new ‘neo-statist’ impulse.

Examining the origin and changes in the three ‘master signifiers’ of this Great Recoil, sovereignty, protection and control, he argues that the success of populist radical right parties over the past decade was due to their recognition of the growing salience for this endopolitical discourse, fuelled by what he calls a ‘global agoraphobia.’ Gerbaudo then, in the final part of the book, argues for a strategy of progressive contention, re-capture and re-articulation of the signifiers of sovereignty, protection and control, arguing for a ‘progressive nationalism’ that re-engages the nation and its signifiers external both to nativist impulses and its ‘withering away’ amid a globalised cosmopolitanism. Instead, the nation must become a ‘protective structure’ that actively combats agoraphobia and drives reinstates feelings of control among the population.

Participants of nationalist and anti-Islamic demonstration organized by far-right organisations use smoke races, hold banners in Warsaw, Poland on April 10, 2016. Photo: Wiola Wiaderek.

Report on Panel #1 / Mapping European Populism: Populist  Authoritarian  Tendencies in  Central  and  Eastern  Europe, and  Challenges to the EU 

Lordkipanidze, Mariam & Albrecht, Héloïse (2022). “Report on Panel #1 / Mapping European Populism: Populist  Authoritarian  Tendencies in  Central  and  Eastern  Europe, and  Challenges to the EU.” European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). April 26, 2022. https://doi.org/10.55271/rp0004

 

This report is based on the first panel of ECPS’s monthly panel series called “Mapping European Populism” which was held online in Brussels on February 24, 2022. The panel brought together top-notch populism scholars who are experts on populist politics in CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) countries, namely Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Serbia. As a by-product of this fruitful panel the report consists of brief summaries of the speeches delivered by the speakers.

ECPS organizes a panel series to map European populism, bringing scholars together every month to discuss the state of political populism in a different region of Europe. This report is prepared based on the first panel of the series focusing on Central and Eastern Europe, on the theme of “Populist Authoritarian Tendencies in Central and Eastern Europe, and Challenges to the EU,” which was held online on February 24, 2022.  

The panel is moderated by Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism, the Institute of Political Science, University of Wrocław, and included the following speakers: Dominika Kasprowicz, Professor of Political Science, the Institute of Journalism, Media and Social Communication, Jagiellonian University, Poland; Zoltan Adam, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Economic Policy and Labour Economics, Institute of Economic and Public Policy, Corvinus University of Budapest; Dr Vassilis Petsinis, University of Tartu, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies); and Miroslav Mareš, Professor,  Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University. 

Prof Dobek-Ostrowska opened the panel by defining ‘authoritarian populism’ as a political ideology whose beliefs include cynicism about human rights and hostility to the state, opposition to immigration, and an enthusiasm for a strong defense and foreign policy. Prof Dobek-Ostrowska continued her introduction by reminding attendees of the geographical scope of the ‘Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)’ which comprises 11 EU members (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Croatia), 6 Balkan states (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania), and 4 post-Soviet Union states (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova). The moderator pointed out two overarching issues addressed by the speakers of the panel in the context of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Serbia; 1) the analysis of authoritarian populism in connection with the question of the quality of democracy in CEE, 2) mass media freedom in the region which sheds light on the questions whether populist authoritarian tendencies exist in CEE and If so, how strong they are.

 

Prof Dominika Kasprowicz: “Populism in Poland 2015-2021: A short journey from theory to praxis”

According to Professor Kasprowicz, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), as a typical populist power, is characterized by anti-elite rhetoric and targeted the previous ruling elites and the EU establishment. This is part of the usual populist strategy: the creation of ‘the Other,’ as the enemy of the currently governing political elite and its own ‘people.’ In Poland, this list of enemies is long, and migrants, particularly those who do not come from culturally close countries, are included.  

Professor Dominika Kasprowicz presented the case of Poland, seeking to understand the populism phenomenon through the framework of Communication and Media studies. In this regard, she particularly highlighted the impact of populist communication on social media and concluded that the tendencies of mass communication go in favour of the populists in the office. 

Since 2015, Poland, among other countries in the region, is experiencing a progressing and very radical political and social change that has been dictated and designed by a mindset that we can easily define as ‘populist,’ as all the characteristics that normally distinguish the populist phenomenon are present: the appeal to ‘the people,’ the anti-elitist rhetoric, and the radical tactics in terms of pursuing political change. Prof Kasprowicz suggested that the process of radical political change started by the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in the country is now almost concluded, containing all three features of populist ideology. Contrary to what scholars might have expected, the Law and Justice Party is now still in power, and its popularity is not decreasing. Prof Kasprowicz cited two main reasons for this; first, the Law and Justice Party’s populist ‘appeal to ‘the people’ has proven to be extremely efficient, as their rhetoric was filling the void left by neoliberal centrist parties and they capitalised on the so-called ‘losers of transformation.’ Second, their political praxis of ‘welfare chauvinism,’ a very selective and ‘picky’ understanding of who is considered ‘good enough’ to be subsidised by public money, was proven to be very efficient in the Polish scenario and happens in all aspects of the important spheres of domestic life. Thus, the ruling party is biased and selective in funding the media, NGOs, and different social groups (e.g., cutting off subsidies to NGOs that are not close enough to the populist power and its goals, only subsidising citizens that belong to the target groups and social stronghold of the party in power). The reforms made by the party are designed and oriented to benefit particular groups considered to be allies of the ruling party. 

According to Kasprowicz, the Law and Justice Party, as a typical populist power, is characterized by anti-elite rhetoric and targeted the previous ruling elites and the EU establishment. This is part of the usual populist strategy: the creation of ‘the Other,’ as the enemy of the currently governing political elite and its own ‘people.’ In Poland, this list of enemies is long, and migrants, particularly those who do not come from culturally close countries, are included. Therefore, anti-migrant rhetoric is also a typical feature of the ruling party, and in the past 5 years, the artificial fears that were fuelled by the messages of the ruling party regarding, for instance, the Polish-Byelorussian border, have motivated pro-governmental sentiments. 

The authoritarian tendencies in the country cannot be overlooked either, as the so-called ‘charismatic leadership and the ‘non-democratic praxis’ that is happening in the country, for Kasprowicz, have already “caused a radical and irreversible social change.” The lecturer concluded her presentation by expressing concern over this change, the state of democracy and civil liberties in Poland, as well as the diminishing balance of powers in the country. Finally, Prof Kasprowicz, expressed the challenge that scholars, practitioners, and citizens faces: How to handle the mainstream politics in para-democratic systems that have been invaded by the populist radical right? 

Reported by Mariam Lordkipanidze 

 

 

Prof Zoltán Ádám: “The Orbán regime after 12 years, before the April 2022 general elections”  

“Hungary’s EU membership does pose some institutional constraints on the government, but apart from that, there is no domestic authority that is not controlled by the government of the majority. This has become the perfect soil for the totalitarian approach to power which populists tend to exhibit. Therefore, Hungarian democratic standards have been steadily declining for the past decade, democratically underperforming relative to its level of economic development.” 

Professor Zoltán Ádám presented the case of Hungary as a prominent example of populism. He emphasised the importance of the Hungarian case and its populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a world-stage political actor who often meets with other autocratic leaders and likes to associate with leaders of the European far-right, as having an impact on surrounding Central European fellow populists and the wider context. 

As Prof Ádám reminded us, there are many definitions of populism, but he opted to focus on historian Federico Finchelstein’s definition, which describes populism as a “form of authoritarian democracy for the post-War world,” finding a link between fascism and populism, in the sense that populism, Finchelstein argues, can be seen as a “democratic reincarnation of fascism,” as it exhibits the same majoritarian or totalitarian approach to power. One of the key characteristics of populism is the diminishment of liberal democratic institutions that could defend social and political minorities; therefore, in this definition, populism is a political system in which the liberties provided for minorities in a democratic society are increasingly endangered or eliminated. For Prof Ádám, this elimination of liberties, sometimes to an extreme extent, is what we are now witnessing in the world: an originally popularly and democratically elected political figure thus becomes an autocratic dictator, e.g., through the incarceration of their political opponents. Populism, then, is characterised, according to Finchelstein, by the cultivation of highly personalised political leadership, with charismatic leaders who dominate the political system, and tend to extend social rights, while eliminating political rights and freedoms. 

Viktor Orbán’s Hungary since 2010 is a prime example of that what Finchelstein describes. Orbán (from the Fidesz party) had been in power before between 1998 and 2002, but he did not have then what he has had since 2010:  a two-term majority in the parliament. Indeed, when a coalition of parties control two-thirds of the Hungarian parliament, that coalition has very little to no constitutional constraints on its power. Hungary’s EU membership does pose some institutional constraints on the government—as a consequence, the conflicts between the Hungarian government and the EU Commission and other bodies of the EU have been a recurring phenomenon in the past decade—but apart from that, there is no domestic authority that is not controlled by the government of the majority. This has become the perfect soil for the totalitarian approach to power which populists tend to exhibit. Therefore, Hungarian democratic standards have been steadily declining for the past decade, democratically underperforming relative to its level of economic development (see Freedom House and V-Dem indexes).

Prof Ádám suggested that one of the potential explanatory factors behind this democratic underperformance is the ‘exclusive’ nature of the Hungarian political system: without strong opponents, Fidesz received 53 percent of the overall vote in 2010, 46 percent in 2014, and a little under 50 percent in 2018, which all three times translated into a two-thirds majority of the seats in the parliament. The Gallagher Index, which measures the discrepancy between votes received and parliamentary seats controlled by political parties, shows that Hungary exhibits a very high degree of discrepancy between the two, having a more distortionary electoral system than any other country.  

The lecturer concluded his presentation with the perspectives of future Hungarian elections and the increased chances of the opposition. Indeed, an interesting political situation is now unfolding among Fidesz’s political opposition: the six major opposition parties, realising the distortionary nature of the country’s political system, started to coordinate. They fielded joint candidates at the 2019 local elections, winning a number of major cities, including Budapest, and held primaries for the 2022 parliamentary elections, even picking a joint prime minister candidate, Péter Márki-Zay. The polls showed that this time, the race between Fidesz and the united opposition was much tighter than in the past. (However, Orbán and his nationalist-populist Fidesz party won a landslide victory for the fourth time on April 3, 2022.)

Reported by Mariam Lordkipanidze 

Dr Vassilis Petsinis: “Scanning the far right in Croatia and Serbia” 

Dr Petsinis pointed out that “de-radicalisation” in the case of Serbia, or the “long-term transformation processes” of larger conservative right-wing parties in the case of Croatia, side-lined the radical and extremist right-wing parties in both contexts. In Croatia in particular, the Homeland Movement has been emerging as a “formidable contender” with the “potential of both antagonising HDZ and additionally side-lining the political forces of the radical and extremist right.” 

 

Turning to the post-Yugoslavian region, Dr Vassilis Petsinis talked about far-right politics in Croatia and Serbia, focusing on the following questions: Why are the radical and extremist right-wing parties in Serbia and Croatia weak? How has the engagement of the governing parties (the SNS in Serbia and the HDZ in Croatia) impacted the weak performance of the radical and extremist right?  

Dr Petsinis started by making a tentative distinction between ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ right-wing parties on the basis of their political origins and active political engagement. He sketched out two categories: radical right-wing parties andextremist right-wing parties. According to him, radical right-wing parties were, in a lot of cases, the result of mergers between existing established parties, and so, are by-products of top-level formation processes and strive to promote their political causes through parliamentary and democratic institutions and procedures, having sometimes participated in coalition governments in their respective countries (e.g., Estonia’s EKRE, Latvia’s National Alliance, Sweden’s SD). In comparison, extremist right-wing parties often represent the culmination of bottom-up formation processes led by a political (occasionally semi-paramilitary) core, and so, they are more prone to a militant engagement in politics through systematic mass-mobilisation and patterns of policy-making that often harbour anti-democratic implications (e.g., early Jobbik in Hungary, ‘Our Slovakia,’ Bulgaria’s Ataka and Greece’s Golden Dawn).

Most importantly, the parties of the radical right ‘scrutinise’ the liberal democratic constitutional order, but formally respect democratic institutions and procedures. In contrast, the parties of the extremist right ‘antagonise’ the liberal democratic constitutional order, and often multiply attempts to subvert—or substitute—democratic institutions and procedures. However, this distinction became very ‘idiosyncratic’ within the party politics of Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s and 2000s, largely due to the protracted warfare and the wars of secession of the 1990s. 

On the one hand, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), one of the oldest political parties in Serbia, oscillated, in the 1990s and 2000s, between the categories of radical and extremist right-wing party. It endorsed ‘Greater Serbia’ and even sent a paramilitary unit to the Croatian and Bosnian fronts, with recurring phases of partnership and tension with Slobodan Milošević’s Socialist Party (SPS). Between 2000 and 2007, the SRS bound together anti-Western nationalists, former SPSvoters, and various ‘losers’ of the transition, and so it became Serbia’s strongest opposition party. The turning point came in February 2003, when the leader Vojislav Šešelj voluntarily surrendered himself to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and Tomislav Nikolić and Aleksandar Vučić became the leading figures within the party. However, Nikolić and Vučić soon departed from the SRS and set up the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which putlower stress on nationalism, formally endorsed the EU accession process, and took advantage of the fragmentation of the centre and centre-right political parties in the country (DS, DSS, SPO, etc.).

The SNS overwhelmingly won the parliamentary (2016) and presidential (2017) elections, whereas the SRS started to become marginalised (with a mere 8.8 percent in the 2016 parliamentary elections). The SNS consolidated its grip onpower in the 2020 parliamentary elections (61.60 percent of the vote), dominating a continuum that stretches from the liberal centre to the conservative right, relying on the pattern of political clientelism to secure support and on the opposition’s persistent fragmentation. The ‘deradicalisation’ of this segment that originated in the SRS and then evolved into the SNS led to the marginalisation of the SRS, which is not even currently represented in the Serbian parliament. There are, however, some extra-parliamentary parties and groupings of the more radical and extremist right in Serbia: the ‘traditional’ Serbian nationalism of Dveri, the National-Socialist fascist platform of Srbska Akcija, and peculiar cases like Levijatan, which combines elements of National-Socialism with animal rights and ‘anti-vax’ conspiracies. 

On the other hand, in Croatia, a party comparable to Serbia’s Radical Party is the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), a party accused of historical revisionism, which in the 1990s endorsed ‘Greater Croatia’ and dispatched a paramilitary unit (HOS) to the Yugoslavian wars of secession. In contrast to the SRS, this party gradually lost popularity and became fragmented during the 2000s, and, despite its efforts to come back into political relevancy, it has not been represented in the Croatian parliament for years. As happened in Serbia, there was a process of reformation, as the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) consolidated its public appeal between 2012 and 2016, and a right-wing faction emerged within it. This factionslowly capitalised on the ‘socio-cultural Euroscepticism’ among certain segments of the electorate, focusing on the opposition to the rights of LGBTQ+ people, abortion, and EU refugee quotas. Thus, it has decisively marginalised the forces of the Croatian radical and extremist right.

Like the SNS in Serbia, HDZ consolidated its grip on power following the Croatian parliamentary elections of July 2020, relying on political clientelism. But there has also been a new party that emerged to the right of the HDZ: the Homeland Movement (Domovinski Pokret), currently the third-largest party in the Croatian parliament, led by Miroslav Škoro, a former singer and TV host. It presents a national-conservative program similar to the one supported by the right-wing faction of the HDZ: seeking to safeguard ‘Catholic values,’ wants to strengthen ‘law and order,’ and seeks to revise national legislation on minority rights. The gradual emergence of this party poses a challenge to the endeavours of PM (and leader of HDZ) Andrej Plenković to shift the party narrative of HDZ more firmly towards the centre, and it further marginalises the older and more traditional parties of the Croatian radical and extremist right. 

To conclude, Dr Petsinis pointed out that “de-radicalisation” in the case of Serbia, or the “long-term transformation processes” of larger conservative right-wing parties in the case of Croatia, side-lined the radical and extremist right-wing parties in both contexts. In Croatia in particular, the Homeland Movement has been emerging as a “formidable contender”with the “potential of both antagonising HDZ and additionally side-lining the political forces of the radical and extremist right.” 

Reported by Héloïse Albrecht 

  

Prof Miroslav Mareš: “Comparison of authoritarian and populist tendencies in the Czech Republic and Slovakia”  

Prof Miroslav Mareš argues that there has been a shift from parties linked to the totalitarian past (KSČM, K–LSNS), which have now declined, to rising modern populism. The populist and extremist spectrum in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia is relatively unstable: new issues for these parties to appropriate and rally around keep arising (e.g., the anti-vax movement, the war in Ukraine and the refugee crisis that is likely to emerge), which opens the future to populism and authoritarianism in the post-Covid era.

Prof Miroslav Mareš, in his speech, compared the authoritarian and populist trends in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.Even though the Czech Republic and Slovakia’s democracies may fare relatively well compared to other Eastern European countries, both countries face the challenge of the populist wave. Professor Mareš highlighted, moreover, that the right-wing populist parties in both countries have deep connections with the larger European populist right. 

Prof. Mareš explained that he used a relatively broad concept of populism for his analysis because, while the impact of the populist far-right is strongly felt in both countries, other forms of populism (centrist and leftist populism) also play a role that needs to be considered to truly understand the populist tendencies in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He highlighted the fact that in both countries, the various currents of populism have developed with significant overlaps. Populism, identifiable as the “struggle for the unity of people against an alleged ‘establishment’,” has been dynamicallydeveloping in these countries in the post-1989 era. The partisan strain of populism has been the most dominant, but individual actors (e.g., Czech President Miloš Zeman, other non-partisan actors in the public space like the ‘anti-vax’ movement), as well as some media (the so-called ‘disinformation scene’), have also played a role in the spread of populism. Both countries present the basic division into right-wing extremism, right-wing populism, centrist populism, left-wing populism, and left-wing extremism. 

The lecturer then presented a brief overview of the trend toward populism and authoritarianism in the Czech Republic. At the moment, it is important to mention that right-wing extremism in the country is relatively weak, if we look at the partisan level, without parliamentary or regional/local representation, and only some small hard-liner groupings linked to the anti-vax movement, partly pro-Kremlin and with a pan-Slavic orientation. However, the country now has a relatively strong right-wing populism, thanks to the parliamentary representation (9.56 percent in 2021) of the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) movement, led by Tomio Okamura. Most importantly, centrist populism in the country is strong and has a strong presence in major newspapers; it is especially represented by the ANO (‘Yes’) party, which is currently the strongest party in the Czech parliament, a member of liberal structures at the European level, but which has been labelled as an ‘entrepreneurial party’ (term used by Hloušek, Kopeček, and Vodová, 2020) because it largely depends on one entrepreneur, its leader (and previous president of the country, now in the opposition) Andrej Babiš, who is the owner of important newspapers. On the other hand, left-wing populism is relatively weak in the political spectrum, but has some impact on the media. Finally, left-wing extremism (largely associated with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia[KSČM]), only has one member in the European Parliament after the 2021 elections, and no domestic national representation (3.60 percent). 

In contrast to the Czech Republic, Slovakia has a relatively strong right-wing extremism, with the so-called ‘hard-liners’ of Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS)—rooted in the neo-fascist movement, despite some slight attempts at moderation in the last few years; it received 7.97 percent of votes in 2020, but some members of the party split from it in 2021 (distancing themselves from the strong ties to historical fascism of LSNS). Likewise, right-wing populism finds relatively strong representation in the country, with the national-conservative, “We Are Family (Sme Rodina)” party—which is a governmental party since 2020 (8.4 percent of the votes that year), strongly associated with the figure of its leader, businessman Boris Kollár—as well as the extra-parliamentary Slovak National Party (3.16 percent in 2020). The impact of centrist populism in the country is questionable. Left-wing populism in the country is strong, represented by the Smer–SD (Orientation – Social Democracy) party, a member of socialist international structures and of the Party of European Socialists, which received 18.29 percent of the vote in 2020, and is currently in the opposition. Left-wing extremism is still weak in Slovakia and mostly confined to the non-partisan scene, but important Smer–SD deputy LubošBlaha and his followers are well-known for their sympathies to some left-wing extremist entities.  

Finally, Prof. Mareš, drawing a comparison between the two countries, concluded that: the strongest position comparatively is that of centrist populism in the Czech Republic, and that of left-wing populism in Slovakia; on the other hand, right-wing populism is strong in both countries, even though the ideological positioning of the parties on the ground (SPD and Sme Rodina) is different. There has been a shift from parties linked to the totalitarian past (KSČM, K–LSNS), which have now declined, to rising modern populism. The populist and extremist spectrum in both countries is relatively unstable: new issues for these parties to appropriate and rally around keep arising (e.g., the anti-vax movement, the war in Ukraine and the refugee crisis that is likely to emerge), which opens the future to populism and authoritarianism in the post-Covid era. 

Reported by Héloïse Albrecht

Photo: Matej Kastelic.

ECPS Academy Future Leaders Program (July 4-8, 2022)   

Euroscepticism and far-right politics: The populist challenge to EU norms, institutions and values 

Are you an early-career academic researcher in the social sciences or humanities at Bachelor’s or Master’s level? Are you passionate about European politics and understanding the dynamics that shape it? Are you looking for a way to expand your knowledge under the supervision of leading experts, seeking options to have your work published by a European research institute, or simply in need of a few extra ECTS credits for your studies? Then consider applying to ECPS Academy Future Leaders Program! The European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) is looking to select a handful of outstanding young researchers for a unique opportunity to assess the populist challenge to European politics in a five-day, interactive Summer course led by global experts from a variety of backgrounds. This rigorous program will provide a state-of-the-art introduction to a number of key issues in the field of populism studies and enable successful candidates to explore their own ideas under the supervision of our experts. You gain not only an opportunity to have your work published and a handful of ECTS points but also a unique opportunity to broaden your horizons and deepen your understanding of the challenges facing European politics in the 21st century.  

Overview  

European politics have witnessed, over the last 20 years, a subversive wave of Eurosceptic, nativist, populist far-right politics. Beginning as a phenomenon on the socio-political fringes, populism has found fertile ground in the post-industrial economies of the West, attaching itself to nationalist and de-modernising movements threatening core European values of democracy, openness, tolerance and non-discrimination – and, in the process, taking many democracies by storm. In Donald Trump and the successful ‘Brexit’ campaign in the United Kingdom, many saw right-wing populism reaching its political apex and the 2010s to be the ‘populist decade’, marking populism’s entry into the political mainstream; today, although Covid-19, in a sense, undermined support for right-wing populist governance, the economic and social uncertainties that remain mean the spectre of exclusionary populism is never far.  

This trend threatens the European Union on both the institutional and the normative level. EU values such as democracy, freedom, human rights, justice, and equality are under greater threat today than perhaps at any point in the Union’s 50 years of history. Understanding the drivers and the impact of populist right politics on liberal democracy is key to tackling the most critical challenges facing European identity, institutions and values. The ECPS Academy Future Leaders Program seeks to empower future generations by helping the exceling young scholars of tomorrow to understand the nature and dynamics of the populist moment, and thereby facilitate the development of constructive and effective responses. As Europe celebrates the EU Year of Youth in 2022, our five-day Future Leaders Program offers young people a dynamic, engaging and interdisciplinary learning environment with an intellectually challenging program presented by world class scholars of populism, allowing them to grow as future academic, intellectual, activist and public leaders. 

Over the course of five days, interactive lectures by world-leading practitioners and experts from a number of backgrounds will introduce populism from a variety of angles and explore the fundamental questions and potent tensions its popularity raises. The lectures are complemented by discussions, group interactions and assignments on selected key issues to develop critical and openminded engagement with some of the most pressing questions of European politics, and to introduce participants to cutting-edge qualitative and quantitative approaches to populism reflective of the state of social science research today. Participants have the opportunity to collaborate with those from different socio-political contexts, developing invaluable cross-cultural perspectives and facilitating a knowledge exchange that goes beyond European borders.  

Who should apply? 

This unique course is addressed to outstanding candidates interested in gaining a more comprehensive and critical understanding of how the rise of far-right populism, and related trends like Euroscepticism, nativism, authoritarianism and exclusionary politics subvert the European Union’s basic pillars and essential European values. A select group of participants will be chosen based on merit, with applications welcomed from students pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees of any discipline, as well as early career professionals between the ages of 18 and 30. You will be selected on the basis of a letter of motivation, a CV and a research proposal of between 500 and 1000 words. The proposal should give a brief analysis of populism’s relationship to one or more core European value, and ideally outline a plan to investigate this relationship further. Drawing upon and correctly citing academic sources is desirable.  

We value the high level of diversity on our courses, welcoming applications from people of all backgrounds. The deadline for submitting applications is June 20, 2022. Reflecting the properly pan-European character of the ECPS Academy Future Leaders Program – but unfortunately also the difficulties of organising in-person events in times of pandemic – the 2022 Program will take place on Zoom, consisting of two sessions each day.  

Topics and Lecturers

  • “Populism in Europe: Origins and causes of the populist moment,” by Paul Taggart, Professor of Politics, University of Sussex.
  • “Nativist Populism: Political discourse between othering and inclusion,” by Ruth Wodak, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Discourse Studies, Lancaster University.
  • “Populism and nationalism: Challenges to the idea of European Union,” by Daphne Halikiopoulou, Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Reading.
  • “Populism and the rule of law,” by Bojan Bugarič, Professor of Law, University of Scheffield.
  • “Populism and economic performance: Implications on institutions and good governance,” by Ibrahim Ozturk, Professor of Economics, University of Duisburg-Essen.
  • “Russia’s populist discourse and its invasion of Ukraine: Challenges for the EU,” by Neil Robinson, Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Limmerick.
  • “Populism and participation: Democracy by the People, for the People? by Susana Salgado, Professor of Political Communication, Principal Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon
  • “Populism and new media: Understanding challenges online and offline,” by Dr Eviane Leidig, Research Fellow, International Center for Counter-Terrorism.
  • “Populism and gender: Gender identity in populist discourse,” by Dr Haley McEwen, Researcher, Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand.

Evaluation Criteria 

Meeting the assessment criteria is required from all participants aiming to successfully complete the program and receive a certificate of attendance in the end. These evaluation criteria include full attendance, active participation in lectures, and the successful completion of an individual written assignment, ideally (but not necessarily) linked to your research proposal.  

Participants are expected to write an article or essay on a topic of their choice based on one of the themes discussed during the program. They are expected to plan and produce original work that presents arguments in a clear and balanced way drawing on multiple sources and incorporating and citing them consistent with academic standards. For this process, they will be supervised by one of our in-house experts to complete this assignment successfully. The articles will be between 2,000 and 3,000 words and need to be submitted within a month from the end of the program; selected papers will be considered for publication on the ECPS website and ECPS Youth blog. 

Credit 

This course is worth 5 ECTS in the European system. If you intend to transfer credit to your home institution, please check the requirements with them before you apply. We will be happy to assist you in any way we can, however, please be aware that the decision to transfer credit rests with your home institution. 

Certificate of Attendance 

Awarded after program to all participants based on the satisfactory participation in, and completion of, the course assignments. Certificates are sent to students only by email.

Please submit your application: ecps@populismstudies.org 

ECPSYouthSeminar2

ECPS Youth Seminars #2 —Political Psychology of Populism: Groups, Hierarchies and Emotions 

At this ECPS Youth Seminar, Dr. Sandra Obradovic presents the findings of a research paper titled “Understanding the psychological appeal of populism” which is jointly written by Obradovic, Séamus A. Power and Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington. According to the paper, psychology can play an important role in expanding our understanding of the demand-side of populism by revealing its underlying relational logic. Social psychological perspectives on populism are beginning to show how: 1) the division between us (‘the good people’) and them (‘the corrupt elites’/ ‘foreign others’) taps into core intergroup dynamics, 2) economic and cultural processes are construed in terms of basic status concerns, and 3) collective emotions become mobilised through political communication. Taking these insights into consideration, the authors reflect on psychology’s contribution to the study of populism thus far and chart out an ambitious role for it at the heart of this interdisciplinary field.

Dr. Sandra Obradovic is a social and political psychologist in the UK. She is a lecturer in Psychology at the Open University and a researcher at the Electoral Psychology Observatory at the London School of Economics. Her work examines how group boundaries are constructed and defined, and their impact on identities, intergroup relations, and political attitudes. In bringing this focus to research on populism she works with colleagues in Denmark and the UK, examining and comparing populist and mainstream rhetoric and highlighting the role of hierarchies, emotions, and temporalities in constructing the common people as under threat. At the Electoral Psychology Observatory, she works with colleagues on research on electoral atmosphere and hostility: how voters experience elections and its impact on interpersonal relationships and overall satisfaction with democracy.

Celia Miray Yesil (Moderator) is a master’s student of International Political Economy at the Warwick University. She gained her undergraduate degree in European Politics at King’s College London, studying the historical background of European nations and its relationships with the rest of the world. Miray is considering focussing more on the impact of far-right populism in foreign policy, particularly looking at the political language and communication of populist leaders in the international political economy.

MEP-Panel2

Mapping European Populism: Panel II — The peculiarities and commonalities of the populist politics in Southern Europe: The cases of Greece, Italy, Spain & Portugal

Moderator

Daphne Halikiopoulou (Professor of Comparative Politics, the University of Reading).

Speakers

“Greece: A case of populism in decline?” by Sofia Vasilopoulou (Professor of Politics, the University of York).

“Multiple populism in Italy between opposition and government,” by Oscar Mazzoleni (Professor of Political Science, Institute of Political, Historical and International Studies, University of Lausanne).

“Podemos and Vox: Opportunities and challenges posed by left- and right-wing populism in Spain,” by Andrés Santana (Professor of Political Science, Autonomous University of Madrid).

“Support for Right-Wing Populism in Portugal: Protest or Deep-Rooted Attitudes?” by Susana Salgado (Professor of Political Communication, Principal Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon).

Casa Pound, an Italian neo-fascist extreme right-wing political association, held a manifestation in honor of fallen comrades in Milan on April 29, 2012. Photo: Eugenio Marongiu.

Report on Panel #2 / Mapping European Populism: The Peculiarities and Commonalities of the Populist Politics in Southern Europe

Schütz, Imke & Wolf, Maximilian. (2022). “Report on Panel #2 / Mapping European Populism: The Peculiarities and Commonalities of the Populist Politics in Southern Europe.” European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). April 14, 2022. https://doi.org/10.55271/rp0003

 

This report is based on the second panel of ECPS’s monthly panel series called “Mapping European Populism” which was held online in Brussels on March 31, 2022. The panel brought together top-notch populism scholars from four south European countries, namely Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, which have many similarities and varieties in terms of right- and left-wing populist parties, groups and movements. As a by-product of this fruitful panel the report consists of brief summaries of the speeches delivered by the speakers.

This report is based on the second panel of ECPS’s monthly panel series called “Mapping European Populism” which was held online in Brussels on March 31, 2022. The panel brought together top-notch populism scholars from four south European countries, namely Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, which have many similarities and varieties in terms of right- and left-wing populist parties, groups and movements. 

The panel, which opened by Dr. Erkan Toguslu’s welcome speech on behalf of European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), was continued with the overall assessments of Dr Daphne Halikiopoulou who is a Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Reading over the populist politics and tendencies in these countries. Then, 2-hour panel went on with the striking presentations made by Professor Sofia Vasilopoulou on populism in Greece, Professor Oscar Mazzoleni on Italy, Professor Andrés Santana on Spain and Professor Susana Salgado on Portugal. Each presentation was followed by a Q&A session. The panel was moderated by Professor Halikiopoulou.

This report is a by-product of this fruitful panel and intended to keep the record of this successful scholarly gathering. The report includes brief summaries of the speeches delivered by our panelists and, also, links to the full video of the panel. ECPS thanks Imke Schütz and Maximilian Wolf for writing the report. 

 

Prof Sofia Vasilopoulou: “Greece: A Case of Populism in Decline?” 

Prof Vasilopoulou argued that the 10 years of populist success in Greece were not as straightforward as they may at first appear. While, in opposition, SYRIZA ran on a “radical left ticket” of anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal and anti-imperial discourse, their stint in government from 2015 to 2019 was instead marked by fiscal consolidation and a significant reduction of their anti-capitalist discourse.

Professor Sofia Vasilopoulou, Professor of Politics at the University of York, sought to shed some light on the unique populist conjuncture in Greece, almost exactly 10 years after the “seismic” 2012 elections that saw the far-left and far-right reshuffle the playing field amid an ailing Greek economic situation marked by unmanageable debt, huge unemployment, and a war of words with the European Central Bank (ECB). She argued that it was that election — indeed two elections in rapid succession, in May and June respectively — that lastingly changed the party landscape in the country. The center-left PASOK, until that point one of Greece’s two main parties, came in third, ceding much ground to the more radical left SYRIZA, which became the largest opposition party. On the right, meanwhile, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, running on an anti-democratic platform, managed to gain some 7 percent and almost 20 parliamentary seats in the process. By the time of the next round of elections in 2015, SYRIZA became the largest party, gaining over 35 percent of the vote as PASOK essentially vanished from the political scene, while Golden Dawn was able to solidify its hold in Greek politics. More surprisingly, SYRIZA finally formed an unexpected coalition with the radical-right ANEL, an unusual bedfellow for the left-wing SYRIZA in a country that historically has struggled with coalition governments.

Following this historic overview, Prof Vasilopoulou argued, however, that these 10 years of populist success in Greece were not as straightforward as they may at first appear. While, in opposition, SYRIZA ran on a “radical left ticket” of anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal and anti-imperial discourse, their stint in government from 2015 to 2019 was instead marked by fiscal consolidation and a significant reduction of their anti-capitalist discourse. Despite the discord between the party’s pre-electoral promises and its governmental record, Prof Vasilopoulou noted, they were able to consolidate their status as a major player in the Greek system, coming second in the 2019 elections. The story of Golden Dawn is even more complex: after their dramatic rise to the Greek parliament, a number of legal issues, including a five-year-long trial around the murder of an anti-fascist rapper in Greece and a number of violent attacks on migrants and political opponents, finally led to the imprisonment of a number of its leaders and the designation of the party as a ‘criminal organization.’ 

So how are we to interpret these developments? Prof Vasilopoulou’s work focused on the demand side of Greek politics, specifically voter attitudes around the values of liberal democracy. Data from the European Election Study 2019 indicated that significant portions of the Greek electorate held illiberal opinions. On the question of the value of a judiciary independent of political influence, some 10 percent were opposed while another 20 percent saw themselves as ‘on the fence.’ On whether a government should be able to prohibit a peaceful protest under certain circumstances, approximately a quarter of respondents ‘agreed’ or ‘agreed fully.’ On a more positive note, freedom of public media free from political influence scored better, with only 5 percent disagreeing. Approximately a quarter of Greek respondents felt that ‘having a strong leader that bends the rules to get things done’ is a good thing, while, reflecting populist attitudes in the country, over half of respondents agreed with the statement that ‘the people and not politicians should make the most important policy decisions.’ 

Prof Vasilopoulou linked these sentiments to another important statistic which indicated that some 75 percent of the Greek population felt dissatisfaction with the Greek political system. In all, she argued that these persistent illiberal attitudes provide fertile ground for threats to Greek democracy in the future, particularly if they will again be able to find concrete political expression in anti-democratic movements like Golden Dawn.

Reported by Maximilian Wolf

 

Prof Oscar Mazzoleni: “Italian Multiple Populism: Evidence, Causes and Impacts”

Prof Mazzoleni argues that Italy’s political system provides a structural gateway for populist parties. Three structural features, in particular, enable populist parties’ continuity. First, the political system is characterized by low legitimation and low stability. Low public trust in politics and parties is the second contributing factor. Anti-politics and anti-elite discourses flourish in Italy’s public spheres as a result and enjoy both legitimation and momentum. Lastly, Italian MPs have some of the highest salaries among European politicians, so there are strong financial incentives for new actors to enter Italy’s political arena.

Professor Oscar Mazzoleni, Professor of Political Science at the University of Lausanne, reflected on Italy’s status as a ‘laboratory of populism.’ To begin, he explained why Italy can be considered a case of ‘multiple populism’ – Italian populism is not limited to the radical right; there exists a multiplicity amongst Italian populists. For one, populist parties have been persistently present in Italian politics since the 1990s. Second, both cooperative and competitive patterns evolved between populist parties as they competed in the country’s electoral arenas, for both parliament and government. Third, Italy’s populist parties espouse various ideologies: there are regionalist, radical-right, nationalist, left-wing, moderate, and syncretic populist parties. This highlights the ideological flexibility and the complexity of Italian populism. 

So why does populism thrive in so many forms in Italy, despite parties’ diverse ideological and organizational features? Prof Mazzoleni argues that Italy’s political system provides a structural gateway for populist parties. Three structural features, in particular, enable populist parties’ continuity. First, the political system is characterized by low legitimation and low stability. Not only has the system shifted from proportional to majoritarian, but changing parliamentary coalitions exacerbate instability. Low public trust in politics and parties is the second contributing factor. Anti-politics and anti-elite discourses flourish in Italy’s public spheres as a result and enjoy both legitimation and momentum, especially when connected with anti-corruption stances. Lastly, Italian MPs have some of the highest salaries among European politicians, so there are strong financial incentives for new actors to enter Italy’s political arena. 

Since the 1990s, populist trends in Italy have foreshadowed trends in other Western European democracies. According to Prof Mazzoleni, two of the most notable trends are the breakdown of the traditional party system with its mass party organizations after World War II and the permanent redefinition of the relationship between politics and the media. The former led to an unprecedented openness of the political system to new parties, while the latter introduced a strong media logic into politics. One well-known case combining these two trends is Berlusconi, who switched from the media to politics. For these reasons, Prof Mazzoleni argues, it is reasonable to label Italy as a ‘laboratory of populism.’ Another factor that contributes to Italy’s ‘multiple populism’ is the populist actors themselves. Living up to populism’s chameleon reputation, Italian populists stand out for their entrepreneurship and flexibility; both the political system’s insiders, like Salvini, Meloni or Bossie, and its outsiders, like Berlusconi, Grillo or Conte, are confronted not only with the uncertainty of their parties’ electoral success but must also deal with the challenges of managing their authority both inside and outside their parties. Furthermore, they have had to develop strong political marketing skills – when in government positions, populists tend to tone down their agendas and discourse, to ensure the party’s continued political success and authority. 

Prof Mazzoleni recommends, then, that the study of populism focus on populism’s impact on policy and changes in the polity. Observing these dimensions, one might investigate the reciprocity of populist and mainstream parties’ performative styles. Changes in the latter’s performative style set the context in which populists must act and influence the framing opportunities they can take advantage of. This is particularly visible in Italy, where the populist performative style connects with anti-party attitudes. Slowly transforming democratic communication and reshaping constitutional and judicial rules, populists reshape their structural opportunities over time. Thus, it is important to connect the dimensions of polity, policy, and politics when examining populists’ success.

In sum, the case of Italy as a ‘laboratory for populism’ sheds light on populist actors’ myriad forms and paths. The openness of Italy’s political system to anti-establishment actors leads to the continuous presence of a multitude of populist actors. Extending the scope of populism research to include populism’s effects on the polity dimension could yield valuable insights and greatly improve our understanding of populism. 

Reported by Imke Schütz

 

Prof Andres Santana: “Podemos and Vox: Opportunities and Challenges Posed by Left- and Right-wing Populism in Spain”

Similar to the Greek case, Prof Santana argued that the opening for (right- and left-wing) populist movements in Spain was caused, primarily, by the dysfunction within the political system and the deadlock amongst the traditional Spanish political elite. As long as there is dissatisfaction with the political status quo, there will always be a gap for what he termed “political entrepreneurs” to profit. Furthermore, as populist support in Spain tends to be urban and young, the problem looks set to persist.

Professor Santana, Professor of Political Science at the Autonomous University of Madrid turned the spotlight on the populist battleground of Spain. By way of introduction, he noted that Spain was not always a populist battleground: until 10 years ago there were two relevant parties in Spain, the centre-left PSOE and the centre-right PP; much like in the Greek case, however, the mid-2010s proved a fruitful conjuncture for populist movements on the right and left to gain and consolidate some ground. For a long time, Spain had considered itself “immune” to populist challenges. 

All of this changed, however, in 2014 when — almost simultaneously — Podemos on the left and Vox on the right threw the “Iberian exception,” and Spanish democracy into disarray. Vox, born in late 2013, was initially as unsuccessful as many other small right-wing movements vying for influence in Spain, gaining a few percentage points here and there; however, Vox did not follow those others to what Santana called the “graveyard of small right-wing parties,” instead, becoming, some years later, a serious player in Spanish politics and polling as high as second in recent polls. Podemos, led by a university professor and born out of the ‘Indignados’ protest movement, came into being around the same time and, much more immediately than Vox, made an immediate impact on the Spanish political scene, winning some 1.2 million votes in the 2014 European Parliament elections. 

Despite both movements coming into being in the ‘populist moment’ of the mid-2010s that spawned many similar movements on the right and left throughout Europe, Prof Santana argued that, while many such movements have since faded into irrelevance again, this is unlikely to occur with Podemos and Vox. He noted that the Spanish electoral system generally rewards larger parties, meaning the barrier for new challengers is relatively high; this very mechanism, intended to strengthen and stabilize the winners of elections, has had the unintended consequence of generating a significant turnaround for medium-size parties: while, in 2015 and 2016, Podemos was able to secure some 20-25 percent of the vote, behind PP and PSOE, the next election in April 2019 saw their support crater to 14 percent and a new movement, Ciudadanos, taking third place; this was only to last until an election re-run in November of the same year, where Ciudadanos dropped to 6th place, while Vox — led by the enigmatic Santiago Abascal, leapfrogged the field to come third with 15 percent of the vote. This “dance,” as Prof Santana called it, attests to the fact that the Spanish electoral system is not built for five major parties; indeed, he argued, it struggles to accommodate three. In his estimation, Vox looks most likely to secure that coveted third spot in the political space, with Podemos relegated once again to a fringe movement. 

Similar to the Greek case, Prof Santana argued that the opening for both populist movements in Spain was caused, primarily, by the dysfunction within the political system and the deadlock amongst the traditional Spanish political elite. As long as there is dissatisfaction with the political status quo, there will always be a gap for what he termed “political entrepreneurs” to profit. Furthermore, as populist support in Spain tends to be urban and young, the problem looks set to persist. 

Reported by Maximilian Wolf

 

Prof Susana Salgado: “Support for Right-wing Populism in Portugal: Protest or Deep-rooted Attitudes”

Some believed that Portugal’s history under the Salazar regime would deter right-wing populism. Indeed, support for right-wing parties was negligible for a long time, Chega’s success, however, has undermined Portugal’s long-standing reputation as immune to populism. As Chega crushes this long-held view, Prof Susana Salgado urges us to keep an eye on Portugal’s youths.

In the last contribution, Professor Susana Salgado, Principal Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon, investigates whether support for right-wing populism in Portugal is a manifestation of deep-rooted attitudes or if it is merely a protest phenomenon. To begin, Prof Salgado points to the nationalist and populist party Chega as a case study of Portugal’s right-wing populism. The party was founded a few months before the 2019 parliamentary election. As expected, Chega’s obtained vote share of 1.3 percent was insignificant. Despite this initially poor vote share, public support has been growing exponentially. In the same year, Andre Ventura, the leader of Chega, ran for president and increased the party’s publicity. He surprisingly received 11.9 percent of the vote, placing him close to the 2nd runner-up. The snap election in 2022 confirmed the trend of electoral support: Chega increased its number of MPs from 1 to 12 as the party with the third-most votes. 

Some believed that Portugal’s history under the Salazar regime would deter right-wing populism. Indeed, support for right-wing parties was negligible for a long time, Chega’s success, however, has undermined Portugal’s long-standing reputation as immune to populism. To explore whether latent populist sentiments existed prior to Chega’s emergence, Prof Salgado tested for latent populist sentiments amongst various Portuguese population groups in 2017. Her data revealed that Portuguese politicians, as a group, are most negatively regarded and blamed for many of the country’s issues, followed by the wealthy, then immigrants. These results suggested that an attitude of blame towards politicians could be a structural characteristic of the Portuguese population. Moreover, it appears that news items containing anti-elitist and right-wing populist content had a greater influence on the study’s participants than left-wing populist news items. Thus, Prof Salgado suggests that respondents were more susceptible to right-wing claims and potentially more prone to right-wing populism. She also found that anti-immigrant discourse activated more populist sentiments than anti-elitism discourses. Prof Salgado furthermore noted that Chega’s voters do not, according to self-assessments, consider themselves right-wing, and refuse the radical-right label. Moreover, they consider themselves less right-wing than voters of the Conservative party. Correspondingly, Chega integrates its supporters’ self-perception into its image as a conservative, nationalist, liberal and anti-establishment party.

To further explain Chega’s attractiveness to Portuguese voters, Prof Salgado turns to Ventura’s tactics and political discourse. Prof Salgado’s work reveals that voters’ main motive to vote for Chega was a desire for change. Chega voters evaluate Portugal’s state of affairs and economic problems more negatively than other voter groups. These attitudes correspond with the geographical distribution of Chega voters; districts with relatively high numbers of immigrants and few hospitals and schools showed the highest electoral support for Chega. Accordingly, Chega voters’ testimonies emphasize their desire for improving their regional situation, and for someone who cares about them. To gain popularity, Ventura taps into these desires; he promotes Chega as an anti-system party and uses typical populist discourses, such as exclusionary ideas, calculated ambivalence, provocation, appeals to a national identity, an ideal nation, and historical and religious symbols. While Ventura paints other parties as a syndicate apathetic towards the ‘authentic people,’ he presents himself as the people’s ‘true representative’ – a typical populist tactic.

Finally, Prof Salgado notes three interesting demographic characteristics of Chega’s voters. First, men tend to vote for Chega, while women tend to vote for left-wing parties. Second, voters with higher education tend to vote for right-wing parties; contrary to the belief that the uneducated are particularly susceptible to populism and right-wing parties, Chega’s voters are not the least educated. Finally, Portugal’s young voters tend to vote for new parties such as Chega. In conclusion, Chega crushes the long-held view that the Portuguese are immune to right-wing populism. Furthermore, Prof Salgado urges us to keep an eye on Portugal’s youths. 

Reported by Imke Schütz