Prime Minister Narendra Modi is showing victory sign with both hand to supporters at Bharatiya Janata Party office amid the results of the Indian General Elections 2024 in New Delhi, India on June 4 2024. Photo: PradeepGaurs.

The 2024 General Election and the Future of Authoritarian Populism in India 

The 2024 election was the least free and fair election in India’s history. Just days after India’s nationalist-populist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed a government for the third time, Delhi’s BJP Lieutenant Governor, V.K. Saxena, proceeded to charge the writer Arundhati Roy, a fierce critic of Modi, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) 2019 for a speech she gave in 2010. The already draconian law was amended in 2019 to allow the government more extraordinary powers to designate individuals and organizations as terrorists without a formal judicial process. BJP leaders accused Roy of being a traitor backed by the Congress party. This strongly indicates that some version of authoritarian populism, with its attacks on dissent, undermining of institutions, and social polarization, will likely continue to shape governance under the new government.

By Priya Chacko* and Kanchan Panday** 

Introduction: India’s Unfree and Unfair 2024 Election 

India’s nationalist-populist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has formed government for the third time. The 2024 election was the least free and fair election in India’s history. For much of its history as an independent state, India has been an electoral democracy, defying the ‘Lipset hypothesis’ that democratic institutions and cultures usually only thrive in affluent societies. Barring a period of Emergency rule in the 1970s when elections were suspended, India has met the threshold for free and fair elections. Its voter turnout has typically been high at around 70%, and a complex electoral structure involving phased voting, a Model Code of Conduct (MCC), travelling electoral and security officials seek to reach all voters, and electronic voting has been put in place to prevent fraud. Since 2018, however, there has been a steep decline in the quality of India’s electoral democracy. The V-Dem Institute now regards India as an electoral autocracywithout sufficient freedoms and safeguards to ensure free and fair elections. 

The BJP went to the polls supported by a pro-government mainstream media and with vastly more resources than other parties. This was thanks to an opaque electoral financing system it introduced, which was belatedly declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in February. Opposition leaders allege the Modi government is misusing state agencies to target them on charges of money laundering and tax violations. Before the election, two prominent opposition Chief Ministers, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), were arrested on charges of corruption.

However, even though Modi is embarking upon a third term, and despite the lack of a level electoral playing field, his party has been denied a majority for the first time in a decade. To continue to govern, he must rely on two veteran regional leaders who are a part of the NDA, Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) (JD) and Chandrababu Naidu of the Telegu Desam Party (TDP). 

In this article, we discuss India’s decade-long descent into authoritarian populism – following its praxis and its traces in the 2024 campaign discourse. We probe into the increasingly authoritarian character of India’s state under Modi, which includes the growing prevalence of Islamophobic rhetoric, the suffocation of dissent, the curbing of critical spaces, and the capture of institutions by the Sangh Parivar or Hindutva movement. We conclude with a discussion on the limits and the future of India’s authoritarian populism following the election results.

Decade of Authoritarian Populist Rule 

In the last decade, the Modi government has used nationalist-populist discourses and strategies to legitimise and facilitate increasingly authoritarian and exclusionary forms of governance. The government has promoted discourses and policies aimed at marginalising and stigmatising India’s Muslim population and propagating Hindu upper-caste social norms, exposing the most vulnerable groups, Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis, to vigilante violence. Its economic policies favoured the private sector and trickle-down economic growth, increasing economic inequality. It has enabled institutional disintermediation, concentrating power in the executive and eroding institutional independence and federalism. It grew increasingly intolerant of dissent, using laws against sedition, defamation and anti-terrorism as well as tax and corruption investigations to jail and intimidate journalists, activists and political opponents. India was always a flawed democracywith draconian laws applied particularly to restive regions with large numbers of minorities, inadequate public goods, overly centralised governance structures and a Hindu bias in its Constitution. However, the Modi government’s inherently authoritarian nationalist-populist politics of Hindutva has intensified these pre-existing illiberal and anti-democratic features of governance.

Hindutva is an organicist nationalism that draws on religious concepts from ancient texts from the Vedic era (1500-500 BCE) to construct India as a living organism. Hindutva ideologues like Deendayal Upadhyaya and M.S. Golwalkar conceptualised India as Virat Purusha (Cosmic Man) –  with a Hindu soul (chitti) and limbs that are analogous to the caste order of Brahmins (head), Kshatriyas (arms), Vaishyas (abdomen) and Shudras (legs). This organic national unity underpinned by the caste order is seen as threatened by religious, political, caste and class conflict. To create a unified Hindu nation and stigmatise dissent, Hindutva leaders have utilised populist political strategies to construct an aspirational Hindu people, privileging upper caste forms of Hinduism while encouraging caste pride to secure acceptance for an unequal status quo. These Hindu ‘people’ were pitted against ‘anti-national’ secular, liberal-left elite and religious minorities, particularly Muslims, who are characterised as dangerous and disloyal because they adhere to foreign religions and ideologies. In the past decade, so-called elites – opposition leaders, university students, activists, intellectuals, bureaucrats, independent journalists – were accused of being anti-national, corrupt and ‘appeasing’ Muslims who were posed as threats to the Hindu people in various ways. Modi fashioned himself as a representative of God with divine origins who embodied the common people and was sent to rescue the poor and restore India’s (Hindu) civilisational greatness.

Such discourses framed the government’s policies and its institutional capture. For instance, the government’s welfare policies, consisting of small cash transfers, small loans, food rations, and subsidies for private goods like toilets and insurance, have been communicated as superior to previous programs, which were constrained in their delivery by elite corruption and as  ‘guarantees’ of a better life from Modi. Yet their limited nature means the considerable onus is placed on personal duty to pursue ‘empowerment’ through market participation, which is consistent with Hindutva’s emphasis on swadharma (own duty) for the upholding of social order rather than transformation. Nationalist-populist discourses underpinned the introduction of policies targeting and stigmatising Muslims, such as curtailing interreligious marriage –  on the grounds they often involve religious conversion and the coercion or tricking of Hindu women by Muslim men – and the promotion of Hindu upper caste behavioural norms, for instance, banning beef production and consumption. Both religious conversion (termed ‘love jihad’) and beef production, the BJP claimed, permitted establishment elites to cultivate Muslim ‘vote banks.’ Liberal universities were targeted as full of ‘anti-national’ elites, and their administrations were filled with pro-government leaders. Courts increasingly favoured the executive, including by adopting its rhetoric. The mainstream media became increasingly uncritical of the government, while the independent media were subject to censorship, defamation charges and tax investigations to stifle their dissent.

Authoritarian Populism and the 2024 Election Campaign

People wait in queues to cast votes at a polling station during the 3rd phase of Lok Sabha polls, in Guwahati, India on May 7, 2024. Photo: Hafiz Ahmed.

Authoritarian populism also framed the 2024 election campaign. In the lead-up to the election, the largest party of INDIA block, the Congress, which the BJP alleges is led by corrupt elites, accused the government of instigating the income tax department to freeze its accounts for late tax filings, leaving it unable to effectively campaign.

Modi’s initial campaigning revolved around his welfare ‘guarantees’ for improving the lives of the poor and the building of a temple marking the birthplace of the god Rama on the site of a mosque demolished by Hindutva activists in 1992. This campaigning emphasised aspirational nationalist-populism, tinged with anti-Muslim resentment. Modi has sought to represent himself as an aspirational leader, leaving the espousal of anti-Muslim rhetoric to colleagues like Amit Shah, vigilante groups and his supporters. During the inauguration of the Ram Temple in January, for instance, while Modi declared the temple a symbol of religious unity, his supporters filled public spaces, both virtual and physical, with anti-Muslim rhetoric

As the campaign wore on, however – perhaps due to low voter turnout and negative internal polling – Modi resorted to explicitly Islamophobic and anti-elite rhetoric. Modi declared the Congress Party manifesto as having an “imprint of Muslim League” (The party often blamed for the partition of India in 1947). He also accused the Congress Party, which pledged to of wanting to snatch away affirmative action benefits of lower castes to satisfy the ‘Muslim vote bank.’ In the state of Bengal, ruled by prominent regional party and Congress ally Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee, the Prime Minister evoked the fears of infiltrators (implicitly Muslims) snatching away resources of the Hindu people of Bengal. He also alleged the Congress’s emphasis on redistribution meant that it wanted to snatch away the mangal sutras  (an ornament worn by married Hindu women) and buffalos of Hindus to give to Muslims. The Election Commission failed to adequately enforce the Model Code of Conduct with respect to these comments.

In several fawning interviews with pro-government legacy media channels, Modi sought to respond to charges that he is cultivating a dictatorship by invoking a victimised ‘common man’ persona. In one such interview, he said, “People used to slap me if they feel they have been given cold tea, so I am accustomed to accusations and harassments. As I am a common man, I know these people in higher echelons of society abuse the common man.” Though social media and especially YouTube emerged as a site of alternative and critical news coverage, it was also targeted with censorship

During the long seven phases of polling, numerous reports of voter suppression and intimidation emerged. In Uttar Pradesh’s Muslim-dominated constituency of Sambhal, Muslim voters were beaten up, their voter IDs snatched, effectively barred from voting. BJP officials were caught on camera bribing the polling officials to intimidate Muslim voters. The election commission stayed silent on most accounts of polling irregularities, and also delayed voter turnout data for first two phases of polling raising questions on the sanctity of voting process. 

The Limits of Authoritarian Populism

Modi had begun his election campaign proclaiming his intention to win more than 400 seats and media pollsters predicted him to win by a substantial margin. However, signs of discontent were visible. A pre-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) from mid-March to early April showed significant voter discontent about inflation and unemployment. While 44% of respondents want the government to return to power, a sizeable 39% did not want the government to be re-elected. Interviews by independent media organisations with voters during the campaign reflected this discontent. There is visible distress in India’s rural economy, where wages have been stagnant for the past ten years. Rural growth rates were on the decline even before Modi took office, but they have only worsened since then, contrary to his promises. The “Ache Din (Good days)” rhetoric has fallen deaf after ten years. Reports also indicated a lack of enthusiasm among BJP party workers, who have been important vote mobilisers in previous elections and strong campaigning by the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). 

Taking advantage of repeated claims by BJP leaders about needing to change the Constitution, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s speeches highlighted a commitment to protecting the Constitution, addressing caste-based injustice by undertaking a caste census to reveal the extent of disadvantage and the concentration of wealth. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s Lalu Prasad Yadav, an important ally of the INDIA block, warned the BJP intended to change the Constitution to end caste-based affirmative action. Though this was denied by Modi, the allegation was plausible given that BJP leadersoften spoke of the need to change the Constitution and seemed to strike a chord with voters. Caste presents a dilemma for Modi’s Hindutva politics, which is dominated by upper-caste leaders and valorises upper-caste Hindu practices and behaviour while relying on support from the lower-caste majority to win elections. The BJP has sought to ameliorate this tension by promoting welfare schemes. In the lead-up to the election, Modi, who often emphasises his lower caste background, claimed to have replaced traditional forms of caste stratification with four castes of welfare ‘beneficiaries’ – women, farmers, youth and the poor. However, the government’s welfare schemes only compensate for the stagnation of incomes and the lack of jobs. Its spending on health and education, which could have transformative effects on social mobility, has languished

Ultimately, the BJP was reduced to 240 seats, the NDA won 293 seats, and INDIA performed much better than pollsters had predicted, winning 232 seats. Modi’s victory margin in his seat of Varanasi dropped to about 150,000 votes from 500,000 in 2019, and a post-poll survey indicated stagnation in his popularity. The BJP lost one-third of its rural seats. The Congress Party almost doubled its tally, winning 99 seats and made gains in Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra, taking advantage of discontent among rural voters and particular caste communities like Jats and Rajputs. The Samajwadi Party (SP), a regional party, won 37 seats and made a comeback in Uttar Pradesh. The SP previously dominated Uttar Pradesh politics by fashioning a voter base of lower caste ‘Other Backward Class’ (OBC) Yadavs and Muslims. This politics, however, generated resentment among non-Yadav and Dalit voters, which the BJP exploited to make gains in the state in the 2014 national election and win the state election in 2017. In this election, the SP fashioned a new broader caste coalition, including Dalit and non-Yadav OBC candidates. Other important parties in the INDIA bloc, including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)  as well as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), also made sweeping regional gains in their respective states of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, respectively. 

The euphoria over the Ram temple did not result in votes, with the BJP even losing the seat of Faizabad, where the Ram temple is located, to a Dalit candidate, Awadhesh Prasad, of the SP, who may have benefitted from discontent over the construction process which displaced and dispossessed poor residents and the failure of promised jobs to materialise. 

The CSDS post-poll survey revealed that 69% of voters decided who to vote for during the campaign or shortly before voting. Hence, Modi’s anti-Muslim campaign statements may have backfired, encouraging a consolidation of Muslim voters (92%) for INDIA in Uttar Pradesh, where they constitute 20% of the population, and increasing concerns among voters about communal conflict. Modi lost in 20 of the 22 constituencies where he made anti-Muslim speeches. While in the CSDS pre-poll survey, 3% of voters listed communalism and religious conflict as the most disliked aspect of the government’s performance issues, in its post-poll survey, this rose to a total of 9% of voters.

The lessons from the 2024 election are that regional political parties and caste politics remain potent forces in Indian politics and that even when elections are unfree and unfair, opposition parties can dent the dominance of ruling parties by presenting a united front and sticking to a consistent message reflecting specific issues of voter discontent. 

Conclusion: The Future of Authoritarian Populism 

Mira Bortakhur Goswami congress party candidate of Guwahati constituency during door to door election campaign ahead of Lok Sabha Election 2024 in Guwahati, India on April 7, 2024. Photo: Dasarath Deka.

While the BJP now needs coalition partners to govern, it remains India’s dominant political party, losing only one per centof its vote share. Moreover, it has made inroads in new regions and retains its broad-based caste and class voter coalition. It swept the state of Odisha, taking advantage of high anti-incumbency against the 20-year-old state government of the regional Biju Janata Dal led by Naveen Patnaik. It consolidated its presence in Madya Pradesh and Gujarat, where no strong regional opposition exists. It increased its vote share in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and won its first seat in Kerala, where it won support from upper caste and OBC voters in particular. 

While there was a significant rise in the youth vote share for the Congress’s allies, and the BJP’s support has declined among the older voters, it has kept its lure among young voters (below 25 years), with 39% of young voters supporting it, despite high unemployment and irregularities in the selection process of public sector jobs. Modi’s ‘development man’ image, associated with a higher standard of living and its social media outreach, might be the reason for the voting pattern among youngsters. 

Among women voters, we see a marginal increase in the vote share of Congress and allies, with a 2% increase for Congress and a 5% increase for its allies. Both the INDIA bloc and NDA centred their campaign on wooing women voters through welfare schemes. Meanwhile, the women’s vote share has remained stagnant for NDA. While the BJP claimed that the Lakhpati Didi scheme has successfully curbed unemployment by creating 10 million Lakhpati Didi, grounds reports by independent media organisations showed a rather grim image of the implementation. Survey trends suggest that women vote for immediate improvement in household conditions, which has been showing stagnation in recent years. In states such as Odisha and Chhattisgarh, a reverse trend has also been observed, where women voters have pushed the BJP’s victory, though this may reflect broader factors like high anti-incumbency in the former and a lack of regional party alternatives in the latter.

Upper castes remain a reliable vote bank for the BJP. It has also made noticeable inroads among the Adivasi voters, broadening its caste network of voters with few deviations. It is the other backward castes (OBC) and Dalits who more significantly stand opposed to BJP’s financial and political governance. It also needs to be mentioned that though the Muslim vote has aggregated against the BJP, 10% of Muslims voted for BJP in 2024. 

Recent allotments of portfolios show that ministers and officials at the forefront of the authoritarian populist agenda, such as Amit Shah, whose Home Affairs ministry is responsible for discriminatory citizenship laws and drives the intimidation of civil society, continue to occupy positions of power. Only 26 Muslim legislators are part of the 18th Lok Sabha, the second lowest ever in the lower house. For the first time, the Indian cabinet does not have any Muslim representatives. 

Moreover, in the past ten years, many aspects of the Hindutva agenda have become mainstream. Opposition parties have been shying away from openly appealing to Muslims for fear of being labelled appeasers and anti-Hindu. Both pre-poll and post-poll surveys show that the building of the Ram temple, a core Hindutva issue, has been popular with voters and that Modi still remains India’s most popular leader. 

Much focus has been given to the coalition aspect of the new government, but it remains to be seen whether regional parties in the NDA will hinder the BJP’s governance. Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar consider Muslim voters partof their electoral coalition; both have previously criticised the BJP for its authoritarian governance. However, both also have their own agendas that require support from the BJP and the central government. Naidu intends to revive his Amravati capital city project for Andhra Pradesh, which has been a long-standing issue since the state’s bifurcation in 2014. The cost of building a smart city has been increasing, and it will need the central government’s financial support. Although the NDA won the most seats in the state of Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s party, the JD(U), lost its vote share to the Rashtriya Janata Dal, a regional caste-based party, which commanded the highest vote share as a single party. Nitish Kumar needs greater national government assistance to appeal to voters for the upcoming 2025 state legislative election and may downplay issues on which he diverges from the BJP. Additionally, both Naidu and Kumar want special category status for their respective states, which will perhaps make them more amenable to the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. 

Just days after the new government was sworn in, Delhi’s BJP Lieutenant Governor, V.K. Saxena, proceeded to charge the writer Arundhati Roy, Modi’s fierce critic, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) 2019 for a speech she gave in 2010. The already draconian law was amended in 2019 to allow the government more extraordinary powers to designate individuals/organisations as terrorists without a formal judicial process. BJP leaders accused Roy of being a traitor backed by the Congress party. This is a strong indication that some version of authoritarian populism, with its attacks on dissent, undermining institutions and social polarisation, will likely continue to shape governance under the new government.


 

(*) Dr. Priya Chacko is an Associate Professor of International Politics | Department of Politics and International Relations, School of Social Sciences at the Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Economics at the University of Adelaide. She is also co-editor of South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies and Steering Committee Member of Open Society University Network Forum on Democracy and Development.

(**) Kanchan Panday is a PhD student at Deakin University.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meet in Brussels, Belgium on November 03, 2022. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

Professor Wiesner: Von Der Leyen and EPP Are Playing a Dangerous Game by Preferring Far-right to Greens

Professor Claudia Wiesner voices her concerns regarding the troubling trend of the European People’s Party (EPP) and Ursula von der Leyen, showing a preference for collaborating with populist far-right groups over the Greens. Professor Wiesner argues that this strategy is fraught with risks for the European Union. She questions the strategic interest behind such alliances, emphasizing, “These parties would not support strong European integration. They favor a weaker Europe, whereas the Greens support a stronger Europe. It would be in the interest of a strong European Commission to align with parties favoring a stronger European Union.” Wiesner further highlights the potential legitimacy crisis the EU might face if it continues down this path.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

In an intriguing interview with the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), Dr. Claudia Wiesner, Jean Monnet Chair and Professor for Political Science at Fulda University of Applied Sciences, discussed the concerning trend of the European People’s Party (EPP) and its leader, Ursula von der Leyen, showing a preference for collaborating with far-right groups such as Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia over the Greens. Professor Wiesner argued that this strategy is fraught with risks for the European Union. She questioned the strategic interest behind such alliances, emphasizing, “These parties would not support strong European integration. They favor a weaker Europe, whereas the Greens support a stronger Europe. It would be in the interest of a strong European Commission to align with parties favoring a stronger European Union.”

Wiesner further highlighted the potential legitimacy crisis the EU might face if it continues down this path. “If the major faction in the European Parliament collaborates with groups that have previously acted against these principles and the rule of law, it will create a legitimacy problem for the EU,” she warned. She raised critical concerns about how citizens could trust von der Leyen’s commitment to defending democracy when she collaborates with leaders like Meloni, who has been accused of undermining media liberty in Italy, or the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS), known for driving democratic backsliding in Poland.

The issue of coalition-building in the European Parliament is another significant challenge. According to Wiesner, the volatility of majorities necessitates a coalition of at least four political groups, including Conservatives, Social Democrats, Liberals, and Greens, to achieve consensus. However, current debates suggest the possibility of excluding the Greens in favor of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which could further complicate efforts to foster a unified and strong European Union.

Professor Wiesner’s insights underscore the complexities and potential pitfalls of current political maneuvers within the EU. Her critique serves as a stark reminder of the importance of adhering to the EU’s foundational values and the risks involved in straying from these principles for short-term political gains. “If the European Union wants to be credible in defending its values, it needs to defend these values internally as well,” she concluded, highlighting the need for consistency and integrity in EU governance and policymaking.

Dr. Claudia Wiesner, Jean Monnet Chair and Professor for Political Science at Fulda University of Applied Sciences.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Professor Claudia Wiesner with some edits.

Rising Populist Parties Seek to Redefine European Identity or Values

How do you define European identity? Is there a European identity? What are the problems and contradictions when we try to define a European identity? Has the EU been successful in constructing a European identity?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: This is a difficult question to answer briefly. So, let me start with a yes or no. The answer isn’t strictly no, but it does resemble the “glass half full or half empty” perspective. 

There are elements of European identity. For instance, people identify with the European Union (EU) as a polity, participate in European elections, and the relatively high turnout in the last European Parliament (EP) elections shows that people find the EU politically relevant. Additionally, events like the current football competition in Germany, with participants from all over Europe and coverage by the German tabloid Bild calling Europe a great country, indicate elements and dimensions of European identity. Eurobarometer data shows that EU citizens feel European and believe that membership in the EU is beneficial. These indicators suggest there is something to this concept of European identity.

Early research on European identity often compared it to national identity, a comparison I believe is unattainable. The question isn’t whether people would die for the European Union, as they might for a nation-state. We must recognize that identification with the EU differs from identification with a nation-state. European identity is a dual identity; people might say, “I’m a German and a European,” or even, “I’m from Frankfurt, I’m German, and I’m European.”

In conclusion, the answer is complex. Despite this complexity, there is a certain degree of European identity.

How does the rise of populist movements within the EU challenge the formation of a cohesive European identity, and what strategies can be employed to mitigate these challenges while promoting democratic values?

Row of EU Flags in front of the European Union Commission building in Brussels. Photo: VanderWolf Images.

Professor Claudia Wiesner: You mentioned three key points here: the rise of populism, European identity and the defense of democratic values. The rise of populism has multiple causes and is a significant field of research, with contributions from many colleagues. There are various triggers for the rise of populism, including social inequality, dissatisfaction with the government, a surge of nationalism and an anti-migration stance.

The success of populist parties and actors generally mobilizes a feeling of “us versus them,” often articulated in nationalist terms. I am currently leading a work package in a Horizon project on resilient social contracts and we recently finished data collection on the European elections. We collected TikTok videos, revealing how populist arguments work. In Germany, a strong right-wing extremist/populist party uses mobilization to emphasize this “us versus them” narrative. In their rhetoric, “us” represents the hardworking German citizens, the taxpayers, and the average citizen, while “them” includes governmental allies portrayed as incompetent or corrupt, and sometimes the European Union.

Interestingly, the “others” are no longer other nations, like the French, the Greeks, or the Belgians, but everyone who doesn’t fit into a right-wing populist worldview. This conflict is not necessarily against European identity but is about defining a different European identity. This is where values come into play. The European Union’s values, outlined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, include liberal representative democracy, freedom, the rule of law, human rights and equality between men and women.

Right-wing extremists or populists criticize these values to some extent but mainly attempt to reformulate them. They might say, for instance, that they support democracy, but it should be democracy as they define it. Or they might claim to support equality between men and women but insist on traditional gender roles, arguing that women staying at home to care for children is natural and doesn’t mean inequality.

Therefore, rising populist parties do not necessarily oppose European identity or values but seek to redefine them, arguing that current practices are not in favor of the good citizens or hardworking people and need reformation.

They would add that this perspective doesn’t mean treating women and men unequally but recognizing their differences. So, rising populist parties wouldn’t explicitly state that they are against European identity or values. Instead, they would seek to redefine these values, arguing that their current enactment is not beneficial for good citizens or hardworking people and thus needs reformation.

Viktor Orban Engages in Conceptual Politics

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission arrives for a EU Summit, at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on June 30, 2023. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

In the light of your article titled “Actors, concepts, controversies: the conceptual politics of European integration,” how do the conceptual politics of European integration influence the formation of a European identity, especially in the context of increasing populism across member states?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: Conceptual politics is a well-established concept and a significant research focus. It provides a way of looking at and analyzing phenomena in the political realm. Conceptual politics involves being sensitive to how people frame, use, describe and contest political concepts.

For example, the reinterpretation of European values, such as democracy within the European Union, is a case of conceptual politics. It involves the EU claiming certain meanings for concepts like democracy, while others, such as Victor Orban, argue that these concepts should mean something else.

Orban is a case in point. The European Court of Justice has numerous rule of law cases and infringement procedures against Hungary based on the values outlined in Article 2 of the EU Treaty. The Court has ruled against Hungary in many of these cases, questioning Hungary’s adherence to these values.

Orban engages in conceptual politics by claiming he is not against democracy but upholds it more robustly than the EU bureaucrats. He redefines democracy, coining the term “illiberal democracy,” suggesting this is the true form of democracy. Whether he personally believes this or not, his actions exemplify conceptual politics by presenting an alternative idea of democracy. This contestation around the concept of democracy is a common feature in current populism.

In what ways do populist movements challenge the existing conceptual frameworks of EU integration, and how does this affect the EU’s ability to foster a cohesive European identity? Could you please elaborate on the role historical narratives and past conceptual controversies play in shaping current debates on identity and populism within the EU?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: I think it’s okay if we leave out the historical context for a moment and start with a concrete example. I just read about the debate regarding the alignments and collaborations in the next European Parliament. Specifically, there is a discussion on whether the European People’s Party (EPP), the classical Conservatives, will collaborate with the right-wing populists or the very conservative fringe of the Conservatives, such as the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which includes the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) and Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia. Broadly speaking, they can be classified somewhere between very conservative and right-wing populist.

The European Conservatives and Reformists, along with the even more right-wing Identity and Democracy (ID) group, have voted jointly with the European People’s Party on issues like the NextGenerationEU and REPowerEU, the two main policy packages currently in focus. This suggests the emergence of a de facto coalition between the classical conservatives and right-wing populists when it comes to energy policy. They have voted against harsh climate conditions and measures for energy transformation.

There is also a debate on whether all these measures against climate change are necessary. Right-wing populists often argue against climate change measures, pointing out the economic challenges of restructuring industries. These arguments are evident in the ongoing debates.

The challenge for the European Union is clear: the Commission, led prominently by Ursula von der Leyen, has put forward the idea that the EU needs to become the leading world region in climate protection. To achieve this, the EU must change the way its economy is organized, promoting more green industries. This approach faces opposition, especially from the German car industry, which will need to undergo significant changes. Interestingly, this opposition comes from within von der Leyen’s own camp. The European People’s Party wants to dilute this goal, mixing classical populist arguments against climate protection.

I would say it’s a very new cleavage around climate change and climate protection that we see at work here. This cleavage and the debates around it obviously impact the EU and its policies because the EU has promoted this goal and it has been concluded. However, when it comes to the nitty-gritty details, the laws that follow from it, we see a watering down in the European Parliament.

No Tension between National and European Identities

How do the conceptual politics of EU integration address the issues raised by populist rhetoric, especially regarding sovereignty and national identity and what role do these politics play in either exacerbating or alleviating the tensions between national and European identities?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: The interesting thing is that I don’t see many tensions between national and European identities at the moment. Interestingly, not even Marine Le Pen or Giorgia Meloni want to leave the European Union. Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to leave the European Union either, as it is too beneficial.

What we see is that political actors like these tend to say “Hungary first,” “France first,” or “Italy first.” It’s not exactly placing national identity against European identity but rather establishing a priority, saying “Italy first” and then the European Union or “Italy first” meaning Italy needs to lead the European Union.

For instance, Giorgia Meloni would make strong claims for a restrictive migration policy, advocating that the European Union should adopt a policy modeled after Italy’s approach. This is essentially an Italian model, driven by Meloni as the current leader of Italy, suggesting the EU should adopt policies reflecting Italy’s stance.

So, the conceptual politics here don’t create an opposition but rather establish priorities, implying that national identity and interests come first, followed by European interests.

Regarding historical parallels, this prioritization of national identity over European interests is not new. It has been a recurring theme ever since European integration began.

If the EU Wants to Be Credible, It Should Defend Its Values Internally as Well

How would you assess the recent European Parliament elections compared to former elections of EP? Do the results of the EP elections point to a serious crisis of the EU in terms of legitimation?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: Yes and no.

On one hand, we have a very high turnout with many people genuinely interested in European Parliament elections. There isn’t a majority of anti-EU voices in the European Parliament. The estimates regarding the outcome of the European Parliament election were initially much more critical for the Democratic camp. For instance, prognoses predicted a higher percentage for Identity and Democracy than what they actually achieved. So, we have a pro-European majority in the European Parliament, composed of a multi-party coalition.

Given the volatility of majorities in the European Parliament, it is necessary to have four political groups in this majority, which raises difficulties in finding consensus. This coalition would need to bring together Conservatives, Social Democrats, Liberals, and Greens under one common roof. Alternatively, the current debate suggests excluding the Greens in favor of the European Conservatives and Reformists.

This brings me to the challenges these parliamentary elections present. It’s a dangerous game, seemingly still pursued by von der Leyen and the European People’s Party, which shows strong sympathies for collaborating with Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia rather than with the Greens. I struggle to understand the strategic interest behind this, as these parties would not support strong European integration. They favor a weaker Europe, whereas the Greens support a stronger Europe. It would be in the interest of a strong European Commission to align with parties favoring a stronger European Union.

Additionally, the European Union is based on the principles outlined in Article 2 and there are existing rule of law conflicts. If the major faction in the European Parliament collaborates with groups that have previously acted against these principles and the rule of law, it will create a legitimacy problem for the EU. How can citizens trust von der Leyen’s commitment to defending democracy when she collaborates with Giorgia Meloni, who is undermining media liberty in Italy or with Polish PiS, which has driven democratic backsliding in Poland?

Obviously, this idea of defending the rule of law might even appear as a lie. People recognize this issue. I have been in many public discussions and it’s something that even average citizens—not just EU scholars—realize: there is a problem. My point is that if the European Union wants to be credible in defending its values, it needs to defend these values internally as well.

In your book “Politicisation, Democratization and the European Identity,” you argue that the EU appears as a kind of defective democracy. Where do these deficiencies stem from and how can they be fixed? What can be done to reduce democratic deficiency of the EU?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: This is a crucial question. The concept of a “defective democracy” doesn’t originate from EU research but from political science research on the quality of democracy. It refers to a system that falls between fully fledged representative democracies and autocracies. A defective democracy lacks some of the criteria of a fully functioning liberal representative democracy.

An EU politician famously stated that if the EU were to apply for membership, it would have to decline because it doesn’t meet its own rule of law standards. There’s a long-standing debate on the democratic deficit in the European Union, with many criticisms still valid.

My main point at the moment is the lack of transparency and accountability within the European Union (EU). The EU is too complicated and complex, which is a recurring issue. Citizens often don’t understand what’s going on, leading to a legitimacy problem. How can a political system be considered legitimate if people don’t understand how it works? Additionally, this complexity creates an accountability problem because it’s unclear who is responsible for decisions. To support this, I need several research projects that examine citizen views on the European Union.

Brussels, as a political hub, houses many actors, making it challenging to identify who exactly makes decisions. There’s also a transparency deficit, with many political decisions made behind closed doors during negotiations. This lack of visibility makes it difficult for citizens to oversee EU decisions.

One main point is the need to increase transparency and accountability in the EU. This isn’t just about formal accountability but about visible transparency that citizens can perceive. People feel that if they wanted to hold someone accountable, they wouldn’t know where to start.

The remedy would be treaty reform, which is an optimistic perspective at present and fostering more public reasoning and debates within EU institutions.

Critics: “EU Does Not Adhere to Its Own Ideals”

In your article, “The War Against Ukraine, the Changing World Order and the Conflict Between Democracy and Autocracy,” you argue that a world structured around a maximum of two hegemonic great powers has been successively replaced by a world order in which several poles of larger and smaller states confront and compete with each other—politically, territorially, economically, militarily and ideologically. For the EU, this means that its previous global political strategy, which focused strongly on ‘change through trade’ and its role as a ‘normative power Europe,’ no longer looks promising. In this multi-order world, what should EU do to regain its clout and stay relevant?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: In the lecture series that I conduct every winter term, I invite politicians and academics to discuss various topics with my students. About a year ago, we had a Green MEP from Germany who remarked that the European Union must decide whether it wants to “sit at the table or be on the menu.” While this is a harsh way of putting it, the point is significant.

The EU has lost importance, economic power and ideological influence in the world and there isn’t an easy solution to regain it. This challenge encompasses ideological, economic and geopolitical battles. If the EU wants to regain influence, it needs to be attractive and convincing across all these policy fields.

I think this is quite a challenge without an easy answer. A key issue is credibility. Many students from the Global South at my university are strongly critical of the EU. Interestingly, even my German and other European students share this critical view, believing the EU lacks credibility in its defense of democracy and human rights.

When discussing the EU’s role in non-EU countries, former developing countries and the Global South, there is significant criticism and dissatisfaction with the EU’s actions. They argue that the EU does not adhere to its own ideals and is unconvincing in its efforts.

To regain confidence, the EU needs to address this issue. They must work diligently to appear convincing and uphold their promises.

In the same article, you argue that there are several signs that liberal democracy is under threat, not only from outside the EU, but from within the EU itself. What does the recent EP elections tell us about the internal challenges of EU against the liberal democratic order?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: I believe I made my point quite strongly. One internal challenge is the democratic backsliding in several EU member states. Today, I read about a new law passed in Slovakia that restricts media freedom. They dissolved the public TV station and created a new one to replace journalists who did not report favorably on the government. This is similar to what we’ve seen in Hungary and Poland. Interestingly, the government in Slovakia is of a different political color than those in Poland or Hungary.

The European Commission addresses these issues through rule of law reports and, if necessary, infringement procedures, with the Court of Justice of the European Union stepping in. This highlights why the EU and any incoming European Commission and Commission President need to be highly attentive in this area.

In Germany, there is currently a debate about maintaining a “firewall” against right-wing extremists, emphasizing that conservative parties should not collaborate with them. This principle is crucial for the European Union. Right-wing populists, such as Giorgia Meloni in Italy, often limit media freedom and pose significant internal challenges to democracy in the EU.

If centrist politicians, including the European People’s Party (EPP), disregard this firewall and collaborate with right-wing extremists, it becomes more than a matter of political color. It supports democratic backsliding and strengthens the internal threats to democracy in the EU, which is very dangerous for anyone who supports liberal democracy.

Possible Implications of a Probable Le Pen Victory

Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella are seen at the end of a polical meeting in Marseille for Rassemblement National party on March 3, 2024. Photo: Obatala-photography.

How do you think a likely victory of Le Pen in France would change the EU and EP in particular?

Professor Claudia Wiesner: A likely victory of Le Pen in France would not change the European Parliament immediately because it has just been elected, and its composition is set. Le Pen’s potential victory wouldn’t affect this.

I’m not certain about a likely victory for Le Pen except for the next Presidential elections in France, which are in three years. The next parliamentary elections in France are more uncertain.

I, along with many French commentators, don’t understand why Emmanuel Macron called for snap elections. It seemed like a bad moment for his party, which performed poorly in the EP elections, especially when right-wing extremists in France are strong.

Interestingly, the left in France united very quickly, within four days, forming joint lists and joint candidacies. This sets up an intriguing opposition between Le Pen, Jordan Bardella and the “Nouvelle Union Populaire.” We might see a victory for the left or the extreme right, but it’s unlikely we’ll see a strong showing from Macron’s camp.

If we look at the election results in France, they are not very strong in the French Parliament because the French Parliament is elected through a majority voting system based on constituencies. This means that to win a seat in the National Assembly, you need to win a constituency. Even in this scenario, it’s going to be difficult for Rassemblement National (RN) to win a majority of the constituencies because they are alone. They don’t have many experienced partners with them, except probably the party of Éric Zemmour. So, really, we’ll have to see because there is a right-wing extremist potential of between 35 and 50% in France. Yes, but you need to realize it in every constituency. And I’m not 100% sure this will be the case, so I wouldn’t set my thoughts entirely on a victory of the right-wing extremists.

But, if they win, there would be a Prime Minister from Rassemblement National. I think it wouldn’t be Le Pen, it would be Jordan Bardella, so, the young president of Rassemblement National. It would mean that there would be another right-wing populist government in Europe, in a big founding member state along with Italy. So, probably they would work very well together.

Interestingly, what we see is that collaboration in the European Union has a kind of moderating influence even on those right-wing populists. So, as long as there is no right-wing populist majority in the Council, there wouldn’t be such a massive effect. There would be some effect, but it would be moderated, especially because there is no right-wing majority in the European Parliament.

Religious symbols on sand: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Orthodoxy Buddhism and Hinduism. Photo: Godong Photo.

Call for Papers – ECPS 4th Annual International Symposium / Civilizational Populism: National and International Challenges

DOWNLOAD CALL for PAPERS

Date/Location: May 21-23, 2025 / Warsaw, Poland

 

Organizers

Prof. Jocelyn Cesari (The Chair of Religion and Politics at the University of Birmingham (UK) and Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University). 

Prof. Ihsan Yilmaz (Chair in Islamic Studies and research professor of political science and international relations at Deakin University’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation).

Prof. Ibrahim Ozturk (Professor of Economics at Duisburg-Essen University, Institute of East Asian Studies).

Dr. Ana-Maria Bliuc (Reader in Psychology, Psychology, School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at University of Dundee).

 

Partner Institutions

European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) (Brussels)

Georgetown University (Washington DC)

University of Birmingham (Birmingham)

Deakin University (Melbourne)

Centre for International Relations (Warsaw)

This three-day symposium will explore different aspects of the interplay between populism, religion, and civilizationism from local, national, transnational, international and global perspectives. Evaluating their combined impact on plural societies, intergroup relations, social cohesion and democratic institutions, the symposium will analyze how populists from diverse cultural, geographical, and political contexts both in Global North and Global South interact with and employ religion, civilizationism and digital technologies in their discourses and performances.

Thematic Overview

Populism has emerged as a defining feature of contemporary politics, exerting profound local, national, international, and global influences. Increasingly, it has become part and parcel of states’ transnational activities in constructing and reaching out to their “peoples” outside of their nation-state boundaries. The rise of digital technologies and the rapid advances in AI applications have only intensified the impact of populism, locally, transnationally and globally.

Often characterized as a “thin ideology,” populism operates alongside core/thick ideologies such as socialism, neoliberalism, racism, or religion, serving as a potent force for impacting emotions, mobilizing the masses, shaping public opinion and securing (or seizing) political power. Within this context, civilization —in some cases — serves as a metanarrative through which populists emphasize distinctions and escalate antagonistic relations among ‘the people” and ‘others,’ usually along religious lines. Civilizational populism not only employs the traditional ‘us’ versus ‘them’ rhetoric but also accentuates cultural, civilizational and religious identities, intensifying conflicts within, beyond and between nations. Civilizational populist discourses have also initiated discussions on transnationalism, south-south cooperation, globalization, and multipolarity, thereby potentially influencing international relations. 

In this new and rapidly changing context dominated by uncertainty on many levels, the symposium will focus on the complexity of populism not only from different disciplinary perspectives but also across multiple political, religious, and cultural groups beyond the North/South divide. The symposium also aims to provoke discussions on innovative ways to think about the policy implications of this complex phenomenon in cyberage. 

We welcome paper proposals from scholars, media experts, civil society actors and policymakers to contribute to this critically significant dialogue.

Themes include but are not limited to:

  • Civilizational populism in the Global South and the Global North (proposals about situations in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia are particularly welcome).
  • Digital technologies, including the use of AI, and civilizational populism (e.g., new opportunities to communicate and politically mobilize and the implications for the future of civilizational populism).
  • Local, national and transnational dynamics of civilizational populism and their policy implications.
  • Impact of civilizational populism on intergroup emotions of different ethnoreligious and political groups in societies, social cohesion and civility.
  • The impact of civilizational populism in contexts of acute intergroup conflict, including political violence and war.
  • Authoritarianism, authoritarian state and non-state actors and their modes of promotion of civilizational populism.
  • Foreign policy, inter-state relations and civilizational populism.
  • Neo liberalism, market and civilizational populism.

Target Audience

Policymakers, academics, researchers, civil society organizations, and practitioners in political science, sociology, international relations, and public policy

Expected Outcomes

  • Nuanced and enhanced comprehension of civilizational populism.
  • Identification of best practices and policy recommendations for addressing its complex challenges.
  • Shaping a new research agenda in response to rapid and drastic changes in society and digital technologies, opportunities for networking and collaboration.
  • Publication of selected papers and proceedings to disseminate insights and findings.

Format

Keynote speeches.

Roundtable discussions.

Paper presentations.

Key Dates

  • Abstract Submission Deadline: 30 September 2024.
  • Notification of Acceptance: 15 October 2024.
  • Paper Draft and PowerPoint Presentation Submission: 15 April 2025.
  • Symposium Dates: 21-23 May 2025.

Submission Guidelines

  • Abstract (600-800 words) and bio submissions (300-400 words) are invited to explore the symposium’s themes. 
  • Submissions should include a clear methodology, theoretical framework, argument and potential contributions to the existing scholarship on populism. 
  • Please indicate the relevance of your research to the symposium themes and its overall focus.
  • Add a few keywords to your abstract.

Contact Information

For inquiries and submissions, please contact the Symposium Coordinator Prof. Ibrahim Ozturk at iozturk@populismstudies.org

We look forward to your contributions and the vibrant discussions ahead.

Sincerely,

Prof. Jocelyn Cesari

Prof. Ihsan Yilmaz

Prof. Ibrahim Ozturk

Dr. Ana-Maria Bliuc

Photo: Matej Kastelic.

ECPS Academy Summer School — Populism and Foreign Policy: How Does Populist Politics Influence Foreign Affairs? (July 1-5, 2024) 

Are you passionate about global 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 an opportunity to exchange views in a multicultural, multi-disciplinary environment, or simply in need of a few extra ECTS credits for your studies? Then, consider applying to ECPS Summer School. The European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) is looking for young people for a unique opportunity to assess the relationship between populism and foreign policy in a five-day Summer School led by global experts from a variety of backgrounds. The Summer School will be interactive, allowing participants to hold discussions in a friendly environment among themselves in small groups and exchange views with the lecturers. You will also participate in a Case Competition on the same topic, a unique experience to develop problem-solving skills in cooperation with others and under tight schedules. 

Overview 

Populism has often been studied as a subject of political science and investigated as a topic of domestic affairs, namely party politics and elections. Nevertheless, a growing body of literature suggests that this phenomenon is not confined to the borders of nation-states; it interferes with international relations thanks to populist leaders’ desire to shape foreign affairs with a populist and mostly revisionist view. Trump’s threats to withdraw the US from NATO, Modi’s handling of India’s relations with Pakistan, Erdogan’s diaspora politics towards European countries, Orban’s instrumentalization of migration in the EU, Netanyahu’s approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Johnson’s management of the Brexit process and numerous attempts by populist leaders to undermine or subvert international or supranational organizations, such as the UN, WTO, and EU, are among many examples that showcase how external relations can be blended with populism. 

Considering the current political landscape in which the number of populist figures is on the rise, we may witness more similar instances in the international political arena in the period to come. Populism in international relations has the potential to complicate existing problems, create new ones and bring about repercussions for the multilateral liberal global system. This outlook urges scholars and policy-makers to understand the interwoven relationship between populism and external relations more deeply and take into account the populist dimension of problems while crafting solutions to interstate issues. 

Against the background explained above, at the ECPS Summer School this year, we would like to look at populism from an international relations perspective. To this end, we will discuss the theoretical background of the interplay between populism and foreign affairs and examine a number of case studies from different parts of the world with a view to see similarities as well as differences between the ways populist leaders craft external politics. 

The lecturers for this year’s Summer School are:

  • Professor Sandra Destradi
  • Associate Professor Angelos Cryssogelos
  • Associate Professor Jessica Greenberg
  • Dr. Thorsten Wojczewski
  • Assistant Professor Georg Loefflman
  • Professor Cengiz Aktar
  • Professor Emeritus Louis Kreisberg
  • Professor Bertjan Verbeek
  • Irina Von Wiese
  • Professor Craig Calhoun
  • Professor Joanna Dyduch

Sessions will be moderated by:

  • Dr. Rubrick Biegon
  • Assistant Professor Gustav Meibauer
  • Associate Professor Jessica Greenberg
  • Dr. Jonny Hall
  • Professor Ana E. Juncos Garcia
  • Professor Franco Zappettini

The program will take place on Zoom, consisting of two sessions each day. Over the course of five days, interactive lectures by world-leading practitioners and experts will discuss the nexus between populism and foreign policy. The lectures are complemented by small group discussions and Q&A sessions moderated by experts in the field. The final program with the list of speakers will be announced soon. 

Moreover, as last year, the Summer School will comprise a Case Competition on a real-life problem within the broad topic of populism and foreign policy. Participants will be divided into teams to work together on solving the case and are expected to prepare policy suggestions. The proposals of the participants will be evaluated by a panel of scholars and experts based on criteria such as creativity, feasibility, and presentation skills. 

Our five-day schedule 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 academics, intellectuals, activists and public leaders. Participants have the opportunity to develop invaluable cross-cultural perspectives and facilitate a knowledge exchange that goes beyond European borders. 

Schedule 

Monday, 1 July 2024 

Populism and International Relations: A Theoretical Overview

Lecture One: (15:00–16:30) – Populism and International Relations: Introducing a Dynamic Research Field

Lecturer: Dr. Sandra Destradi (Professor at the University of Freiburg).

Moderator: Dr. Rubrick Biegon (Lecturer at the University of Kent).

 

Lecture Two: (17:30–19:00) – Populism and the Challenge to the International Order

Lecturer: Dr. Angelos Cryssogelos (Associate Professor at London Metropolitan University).

Moderator: Dr. Gustav Meibauer (Assistant Professor, Radboud University).

Tuesday, 2 July 2024

Lecture Three: (15:00–16:30) – Populism, Conflicts and International Courts

Lecturer: Dr. Jessica Greenberg (Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign).

Moderator: Dr. Allison Jean Carnegie (Professor of Political Science at Columbia University). 

Lecture Four: (17:30–19:00) – Populism, Hindu Nationalism and Foreign Policy in India

Lecturer: Dr. Thorsten Wojczewski (Lecturer at Coventry University).

Moderator: Dr Ajay Gudavarthy (Associate Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University).

 

Wednesday, 3 July 2024

Populism, Peace and Security

Lecture Five: (14:00–15:30) – America First and the Populist Impact on US Foreign Policy

Lecturer: Dr. Georg Loefflman (Assistant Professor at Queen Mary University of London).

Moderator: Dr. Jonny Hall (Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science).

 

Lecture Six: (16:00–17:30) – Showcase: Turkey

Lecturer: Dr. Cengiz Aktar (Professor at the University of Athens).

Moderator: Dr. Aleksandra Spancerska (Research Fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs).

 

Lecture Seven: (18:00–19:30) – Populism, Constructive and Destructive

Lecturer: Dr. Louis Kreisberg (Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University).

Moderator: Dr. Alexandra Homolar (Professor at the University of Warwick).

 

Thursday, 4 July 2024

Populism and the EU Foreign Policy

Lecture Eight: (15:00–16:30) –EU’s External Relations: Do Populists Propel It, Or Does It Propel Populists?

Lecturer: Dr. Bertjan Verbeek (Professor at Radboud University Nijmegen Netherlands).

Moderator: Dr. Ana E. Juncos Garcia (Professor at the University of Bristol).

 

Lecture Nine: (17:30–19:00) –Populism and the EU Foreign Policy

Lecturer: Irina Von Wiese (President of ECPS, a former member of the European Parliament).

Moderator: Dr. Andrei Zaslove (Associate Professor at Radboud University).

 

Friday, 5 July 2024

Lecture Ten: (15:00–16:30) – Brexit and “National Conservatism”

Lecturer: Dr. Craig Calhoun (Professor at Arizona State University).

Moderator: Dr. Franco Zappettini (Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool).

Lecture Eleven: (17:30–19:00) –Populist Foreign Policy: The Israeli Case Study of Hawkish- Historicist Foreign Policy

Lecturer: Dr. Joanna Dyduch (Professor at the Israel Institute, Jagiellonian University-Institute of Middle East and Far East).

 

Who should apply? 

This unique course is open to master’s and PhD level students and graduates, early career researchers and post-docs from any discipline. The deadline for submitting applications is June 21, 2024. The applicants should send their CVs to the email address ecps@populismstudies.org with the subject line: ECPS Summer School Application. 

We value the high level of diversity in our courses, welcoming applications from people of all backgrounds. Since we have a limited quota, we suggest you apply soon to not miss this great opportunity. 

Evaluation Criteria and Certificate of Attendance 

Meeting the assessment criteria is required from all participants aiming to complete the program and receive a certificate of attendance. The evaluation criteria include full attendance and active participation in lectures. 

Certificates of attendance will be awarded to participants who attend at least 80% of the sessions. Certificates are sent to students only by email. 

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; however, please be aware that the decision to transfer credit rests with your home institution.

 


 

Brief Biographies and Abstracts

 

Day One: Monday, July 1, 2023

Populism and International Relations: Introducing a Dynamic Research Field

Dr. Sandra Destradi is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Freiburg, Germany. She currently serves as a DAAD long-term guest professor at Reichman University, Israel. Together with Johannes Plagemann, she leads the project “Populism and Foreign Policy”, funded by the German Research Foundation.

Abstract: The lecture will introduce into the research field that studies the international implications and effects of populism. It will start by outlining how populism has been variously conceptualized in comparative politics and political theory. Second, it will introduce into the state of the art on the international effects of populism, a dynamic research field that has developed tremendously over the past few years. The third part of the lecture will outline some hypotheses on how populism might impact foreign policy, focusing on the escalation of international disputes, contributions to global public goods provision, participation in multilateral institutions, and the formation of alternative partnerships with authoritarian and other populist governments. The presentation will build on insights from a project funded by the German Research Foundation.

Reading List

Destradi S and Plagemann J (2019). Populism and International Relations: (Un)predictability, personalisation, and the reinforcement of existing trends in world politics. Review of International Studies 45 (5), 711–730.

Lacatus C, Meibauer G and Löfflmann G (eds) (2023), Political Communication and Performative Leadership: Populism in International Politics (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan).

Plagemann J and Destradi S (2019). Populism and Foreign Policy: The Case of India. Foreign Policy Analysis 15 (2), 283–301.

Spandler K and Söderbaum F (2023). Populist (De)legitimation of International Organizations. International Affairs 99 (3), 1023-1041.

Moderator Dr. Rubrick Biegon was appointed Lecturer in International Relations in 2018. He has convened modules on US foreign policy, international political economy, international security, terrorism and political violence, and foreign policy analysis, among other subjects.

Prior to coming to Kent to complete his PhD, Biegon worked as an analyst and consultant with several organisations in Washington, DC. He holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and an MA in International Politics from the American University’s School of International Service. He currently serves as the lead editor of Global Society, an interdisciplinary journal of international studies published by Taylor & Francis.

Biegon’s main areas of research explore the political violence and political economy of US power in international relations. He is the author of US Power in Latin America: Renewing Hegemony (2017). He is currently working on two book projects: a co-authored history of the US War on Terror (with Agenda publishing); and a research monograph on remote warfare and American hegemony (with McGill-Queen’s University Press).  

 

Populism and the Challenge to the International Order

Dr. Angelos Chryssogelos is Reader in Politics and International Relations in the School of Social Sciences of London Metropolitan University. He has worked in the past at LSE, King’s College London, Weatherhead Center of Harvard and SAIS Johns Hopkins. In 2020-21 he was Jean Monnet fellow at the Schuman Centre of the EUI in Florence.

Abstract: The global rise of populism as a major political force has given rise to the debate about its international repercussions and whether it constitutes a threat to the ‘liberal international order’. While this assessment is not wrong as such, it underappreciates the variety of populist phenomena around the world and the ability of populists to engage and even usurp elements of the LIO. This talk will argue that only a thorough conceptual understanding of populism can allow us to appreciate consistently its effects on the international order; and that the international impact of populism is less uniform and linear than often assumed, but no less important.

Reading List

Chryssogelos, A (2021) Is there a Populist Foreign Policy? London: Chatham House

Chryssogelos, A (2020) State transformation and populism: From the internationalized to the neo-sovereign state? Politics, 40(1), 22-37.

Chryssogelos, A et al (2023) New Directions in the Study of Populism in International Relations, International Studies Review, Volume 25, Issue 4, viad035, https://doi.org/10.1093/isr/viad035

Moderator Dr. Gustav Meibauer is an Assistant Professor, Radboud University. Meibauer has research interests in foreign policy analysis, security studies and international relations theory. His research focuses on muddled state behavior, decision-making and the political dynamics of foreign policy choice, especially with regards to tools such as no-fly zones and buffer zones. Meibauer has published on the theoretical contributions of neoclassical realism to foreign policy analysis and international relations theory, as well as on the role of political ideas, rhetoric and communication in decision-making processes. He contributes to on-going projects on gender & diversity representation in academia as well as on novel approaches to experiential and active learning. Meibauer holds degrees from the London School of Economics, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the University of St Gallen.

 

Day Two: Tuesday, 2 July 2024

Populism, Conflicts and International Courts

Dr. Jessica Greenberg is An Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  Prior to coming toUIUC, Greenberg was an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, and an assistant professor in Communication Studies at Northwestern University. She recently earned a Master of Studies in Law at the College of Law, University of Illinois. She is also currently the Co-Editor of the Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR). Her research interests include anthropology of democracy, legal studies, youth, social movements, revolution, Serbia/Balkans, Europe, Human Rights.

 

Populist Foreign Policy: The Israeli Case Study of Hawkish- Historicist Foreign Policy

Dr. Joanna Dyduch is a Professor at the Institute of the Middle and Far East of the Jagiellonian University, and head of the Department of Israel. Visiting scholar at the: University of Oxford (2023-2024), University of Potsdam (2022), Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica (2019),  University of Vienna (2017). In 2018 she was a research fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Prof. Dyduch is an author of several scientific articles and books on foreign policy and other public policies (e.g. energy policy), recently her research interest has focused on European-Israeli relations, as well as Israel’s foreign policy. She has been also engaged in several research projects, among the most recent ones, there are: OPUS project funded by Poland’s National Science Center (NCN) entitled: “Energy security and the growing international interdependence. Israeli energy policy in the process of transition” (2022-2025). HORIZON-CL2-2021-DEMOCRACY – project entitled: “Rethinking and Reshaping the EU’s Democracy support in its Eastern and Southern Neighbour”, (contractor in the project. Project implemented in 2022-2025.COOPERATION financed by the European Commission; PARTNERSHIPS IN HIGHER EDUCATION (KA220-HED) titled: “Jews, Muslims and Roma in the 21st Century Metropolises: Reflecting on Polyphonic Ideal and Social Exclusion as Challenges for European Cohesion carried out in cooperation with the Charles University in Prague (project leader) and the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies (University of Potsdam).

Abstract: Building on existing literature, the paper tries to bridge and integrate scholarly insights on the causalities between populism and foreign policy. Against this backdrop, the paper suggests distinguishing between the two types of foreign policy ideological orientations: 1. ‘liberalist’ and 2. ‘historicist’ (Bjereld and Demker 2000), where the differentiating variable is the engagement of historical memory in the process of national identity construction and policy strategies conceptualisation and operationalisation. Consequently, the historical memory becomes a specific framework and driver of state international activity. In light of the above consideration, the paper introduces and utilises the concept of ‘Foreign Policy Historicism’ (FPH), (Reynolds 1999). FPH, contrary to the liberalist variant is identified with a hawkish approach, emphasising national values and interests – very often fuelled and empowered by emotions (national pride, fear, victimhood, etc.). This specific approach is strongly tied to the process of ‘othering’ as a key element of national identity formation, and therefore very much influences foreign bilateral and multilateral relations. 

Reading List

Wajner, Daniel F., and Philip Giurlando. (2024) Populist Foreign Policy: Mapping the Developing Research Program on Populism in International Relations. International Studies Review, https://doi.org/10.1093/isr/viae012

Sharon Pardo, Dani Filc (2012). EU–Israeli relations. Geopolitical perspectives in the wake of nationalist populism. In: Routledge Handbook of EU–Middle East Relations, Routledge.

Dani Filc & Sharon Pardo (2021) Israel’s Right-wing Populists: The European. Connection, Survival, 63:3, 99-122, DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2021.1930409.

 Joanna Dyduch (2021) “Israel and East-Central Europe: Case Studies of Israel’s Relations with Poland and Hungary.” Israel Studies Review, vol. 36, no. 1, spring 2021.

 Joanna Dyduch (2024) Israel and Poland. [in]: Routledge Handbook on Israel’s Foreign Relations, Routledge.

 

Day Three: Wednesday, 3 July 2024

Populism, Peace and Security

Showcase: United States 

Dr. Georg Loefflman is Assistant Professor at Queen Mary University of London. Previously, he was Assistant Professor in War Studies and US Foreign Policy at the Department of Politics and International Studies (PAIS) at the University of Warwick (until March 2023). Before that, he undertook a three-year Early Career Fellowship (2018-2021) funded by the Leverhulme Trust with a research project on the interlinkage of security discourses and populist rhetoric in the United States under the Trump presidency.

His other academic appointments include his role as research fellow working with Nick Vaughan-Williams on his project ‘Everyday Narratives of European Border Security and Insecurity’ (2016-2018) and a one-year PAIS teaching fellowship in American politics and US foreign policy (2015-2016). Between 2011 and 2014, He undertook his PhD studies the University of Warwick. His PhD thesis is titled: ‘The Fractured Consensus – How competing visions of grand strategy challenge the geopolitical identity of American leadership under the Obama presidency,’ and was supervised by Prof. Stuart Croft and Prof. Nick Vaughan-Williams. The thesis was nominated for the 2016 Michael Nicholson Prize for best doctoral thesis in International Studies. Before his PhD, he studied International Relations in Germany at the FU Berlin, the HU Berlin, and the University of Potsdam, and Social Sciences and History at the University of Erfurt in Germany.

Moderator Dr. Jonny Hall is a Lecturer at Department of International Relations at London School of Economics.  Prior to being an LSE Fellow, he was a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Surrey. He previously completed his PhD in the International Relations department at LSE before spending a year as an IRD Fellow. 

 

Showcase: Turkey 

Dr. Cengiz Aktar is an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Athens. He is a former director at the United Nations specializing in asylum policies. He is known to be one of the leading advocates of Turkey’s integration into the EU. He was the Chair of European Studies at Bahçeşehir University-Istanbul.

In 1999, he initiated a civil initiative for Istanbul’s candidacy for the title of European Capital of Culture. Istanbul successfully held the title in 2010. He also headed the initiative called “European Movement 2002” which pressured lawmakers to speed up political reforms necessary to begin the negotiation phase with the EU. In December 2008, he developed the idea of an online apology campaign addressed to Armenians and supported by a number of Turkish intellectuals as well as over 32,000 Turkish citizens.

In addition to EU integration policies, Dr. Aktar’s research focuses on the politics of memory regarding ethnic and religious minorities, the history of political centralism, and international refugee law.

 

Populism, Constructive and Destructive

Dr. Louis Kriesberg is the Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Syracuse University. He has published widely on diverse areas of sociology and social conflicts, including the US-Soviet Cold War, Israeli-Palestinian-Arab relations, non- governmental organizations, and social movements. His recent work focuses on constructive ways of fighting, conflict transformation, and conflict resolution methods. Kriesberg has been highly active in regional, national, and international associations of sociology, conflict resolution, and international peace, for which he has received numerous awards. He was also the founding director of the Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts (PARC) at Syracuse University. He received his PhD in Sociology at the University of Chicago in 1953.

Abstract: Populism is variously defined. For the purposes of this analysis, it refers to non-governmental people taking direct actions trying to change the conduct of some other resistant group. They are in conflict. In all human societies there are procedures to pursue and settle many such conflicts – the procedures are embodied in legal and political institutions. However, members of one or more contending parties often choose to take actions which are deemed populist. Often, the actions are intended to influence the conduct of members of established institutions. In this presentation, I will examine the actions of people engaged in conflicts resorting to populist conduct. I will discuss cases in the United States, in European states, and in other countries. In accord with work in the field of conflict resolution, I will assess their degree of being constructive or destructive. This is based on my many years of research and publications on this matter. Constructiveness varies in the nature of the inducements employed in a conflict, persuasion, promised benefit, and coercion. Usually all are employed in varying degree over time. Persuasion varies in different degrees of presumed effectiveness. Promised benefits relate to the terms of settlement being sought. Coercion varies in severity and therefore destructiveness, in varying degrees of violence and denial of benefits. Constructiveness also varies by the conception of each side has of itself and of its antagonists. Finally, constructiveness varies with the degree of differences each side has about the terms of a conflict settlement. In addition to assessing varying degrees of constructiveness, I will discuss how conflict destructivity can be reduced.

Reading List

Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Populism: A Very Short Introduction, New York, Oxford University Press, 2017 Louis Kriesberg, Realizing Peace: A Constructive Conflict Approach, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Louis Kriesberg, “Interactions among Populism, Peace, and Security in contemporary America,” S&F Sicherheit und Frieden; Security and Peace, 37 (1) pp. 1-7, 2019.

Louis Kriesberg, Fighting Better: Constructive Conflicts in America, New York: Oxford University Press, 2023.

Moderator Dr. Alexandra Homolar is Professor of International Security at the University of Warwick. Homolar has taught and researched at universities in Germany, the US, and the UK. She currently holds a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for her project ‘Populist FantasylandLink opens in a new window‘ (RF-2021-527/7), and from 2013-2017 she was the Principal Investigator of the ESRC Future Research Leaders project ‘Enemy Addiction‘ (ES/K008684/1). At Warwick, Homolar is the academic lead of Speaking International Security at Warwick (SISAW) and the co-lead of the interdisciplinary Research in Global Governance Network (RiGG NetLink opens in a new window) as well as the organizer of the Annual Masterclass in CSS/IR. She served as Director of Research Degrees and on the PAIS Senior Management Team in 2018-2020. Homolar received her Diplom [BA Hons., MA] in Political Science, Law, History, and Empirical Research Methods as well her Dr. phil [PhD] from J.W. Goethe University Frankfurt.

 

Day Four: Thursday, 4 July 2024

Populism and the EU Foreign Policy 

EU’s External Relations: Do Populists Propel It, Or Does It Propel Populists?

Dr. Bertjan Verbeek is a Professor of International Relations at the Department of Political Science at Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He publishes on the impact of populism on foreign policy; on crisis decision making; and on the role of intergovernmental organizations in contemporary world politics.

Abstract: In this seminar we will discuss the interrelationship between populism and the external relations of the EU. On the one hand, the stronger the presence of populists in EU member states governments and the EU’s institutions, the more likely it is that the EU’s external relations are reflecting populists’ foreign policy preferences.  However, this requires us to first discuss whether such a thing as a populist foreign policy preference exists in the first place. On the other hand, the EU’s external relations may have an impact on the position of populist parties within its member states. We will address these topics by focusing on the EU’s worldwide promotion of democracy as well as on the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war on populism’s strength within the EU.

Reading List

Bertjan Verbeek & Andrej Zaslove, “Populism and Foreign Policy” in Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Paul A. Taggart, Paulina Ochoa Espejo, and Pierre Ostiguy (eds) Oxford Handbook of Populism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 384-405.

Cadier, David, and Christian Lequesne. How Populism Impacts EU Foreign Policy. SciencesPo Working Paper, (2020). downloadable at https://sciencespo.hal.science/hal-03592985/

Buzogány, Aron, Oriol Costa, and Magdalena Góra. “Contesting the EU’s external democratization agenda: an analytical framework with an application to populist parties.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 35.4 (2022): 500-522.

Ivaldi, Giles & Zankina, Emilia. (2023). “Conclusion for the report on the impact of the Russia–Ukraine War on right-wing populism in Europe.” In: The Impacts of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on Right-wing Populism in Europe. (eds). Gilles Ivaldi and Emilia Zankina. European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). March 8, 2023. Brussels.  https://doi.org/10.55271/rp0035

Moderator Dr. Ana E Juncos Garcia is Professor at the University of Bristol. Her primary research interest lies in European foreign and security policy, with a particular focus on the development on the EU’s conflict prevention and crisis management capabilities and its role in conflict resolution. Her previous research project examined the EU’s intervention in the Western Balkans since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation in 1991. This study looked into the coherence and effectiveness of EU foreign policy over time and assessed the EU’s contribution to post-conflict stabilisation and peacebuilding in Bosnia. In other work, she has examined EU security sector reform and the institutionalisation of EU foreign policy, in particular, in relation to the newly created European External Action Service. Her current research examines EU peacebuilding in the neighbourhood, including the shift towards resilience approaches at the EU level.

 

Populism and the EU Foreign Policy

Irina von Wiese, who is Honorary President of ECPS, was born in Germany, the daughter and granddaughter of Polish and Russian refugees. After completing her law studies in Cologne, Geneva and Munich, she obtained a scholarship to study at the Harvard Kennedy School where she gained a master’s in public administration. Her subsequent legal training took her to Berlin, Brussels and Bangkok, and gave her a first insight into the plight of refugees and civil rights defenders across the globe.

From 1997 to 2019, Irina lived and worked as a lawyer in private and public sector positions in London. During this time, she volunteered for human rights organisations, advising on migration policy and hosting refugees in her home for many years.

In 2019, Irina was elected to represent UK Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament. She served as Vice Chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee and as a member of the cross-party Working Group on Responsible Business Conduct. The Group’s main achievement was the introduction of EU legislation to make human rights due diligence mandatory in global supply chains. During her term, she was also elected to the Executive Committee of the European Endowment for Democracy, whose task is to support grassroots civil society initiatives in fragile democracies.

Having lost her seat in the European Parliament after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, Irina returned to the UK, where she was elected to the Council of Southwark, one of London’s most diverse boroughs. Her links to Brussels are maintained through an advisory role at FGS Global, where she works on EU law and ESG issues. In addition, Irina is an Affiliate Professor at European business school, the ESCP, teaching international law and politics (including a course entitled ‘Liberalism and Populism’).

Abstract: In an increasingly bipolar world, marred by two wars on Europe’s doorstep, the geopolitical influence of the EU is at risk. Accused of double standards in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine compared to other conflicts, under pressure from populists in virtually all member states and unable to rid itself of an autocracy within its own borders, does the EU still have moral and political capital to spend? The lecture will explore this question and investigate, in particular, the EU’s powers in the areas of foreign policy and security and defence, and its record in conflict intervention. It will also discuss the ‘soft’ power of the EU as the world’s biggest single market. Economic tools include direct mechanisms such as sanctions, tariffs and industrial policies such as ‘friend-shoring’, but also more subtle tools like free trade negotiations, supply chain monitoring and the involvement of private actors (e.g. large companies) exerting political pressure. I will draw on my experience as vice-chair of the European Parliament’s human rights subcommittee and my work at Liberal International.

Reading List

Timothy Garton Ash, Homelands https://youtu.be/Y4_O7HIjkdA?si=veruZJjY7YqqSwCQ

 

Day Five: Friday, 5 July 2024

Showcase: Brexit 

Dr. Craig Calhoun is a Professor at Arizona State University. Craig Calhoun is a comparative and historical sociologist, social theorist, and scholar, known for his interdisciplinary work in anthropology, communications, economics, history, international studies, political science, philosophy, and science and technology studies. His latest book, “Degenerations of Democracy,” co-authored with Charles Taylor and Dilip Gaonkar, was published by Harvard University Press in 2022. He edited “The Green New Deal and the Future of Work” with Benjamin Fong (Columbia University Press, 2022) and has collaborated with former students to create widely used anthologies covering classical and contemporary sociological theory. Calhoun has authored nine books and published over 150 peer-reviewed papers, articles, and chapters.

Calhoun currently serves as the University Professor of Social Sciences at Arizona State University. Prior to joining ASU, he served as president and director of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), president of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and president of the Berggruen Institute. Calhoun has taught at Columbia University, NYU, where he founded the Institute for Public Knowledge, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he also served as dean of the graduate school and directed the University Center for International Studies. In addition, he has been a visiting professor at universities and institutes in the U.S. and abroad, including in Asmara, Beijing, Bristol, Khartoum, Oslo, and Paris, and as an Einstein Fellow in Berlin.

Calhoun’s research focuses on contemporary transformations, possible futures, and the political economy of the modern world-system. He is also committed to studying universities and knowledge institutions, democracy, and shifting structures of social solidarity. In his philosophical pursuits, Calhoun explores the relationship between transformation and transcendence in understanding human existence.

Calhoun is actively engaged in advancing political, economic, and social democracy locally, nationally, and internationally. Calhoun serves on the board of the MasterCard Foundation, the American Assembly, the Center for Transcultural Studies, the Pulaski Institution, and Reset Dialogues. Calhoun is also active in speaking and supporting programs for a range of organizations and communities in Arizona, elsewhere in the US, and internationally.

Moderator Dr. Franco Zappettini is a Lecturer in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool (where he is also the current Director of the PhD Programme). He previously held the post of Adjunct Professor of English at the Faculty of Education, University of Genoa, Italy and was Honorary Researcher Associate at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the Book Review Editor at the Journal of Language and Politics edited by John Benjamins Publishing.

 

Showcase: India / Populism, Hindu Nationalism and Foreign Policy in India

Dr. Thorsten Wojczewski is a Lecturer in International Relations at Coventry University. Previously, he was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Global Affairs, King’s College London. His research interests are foreign policy analysis, populism and the far right, world order, poststructuralist IR and critical security studies. His research has been published or is forthcoming in International Affairs, International Relations, International Studies Review, Foreign Policy Analysis, and Journal of International Relations & Development, among others. He is the author of the books ‘The Inter- and Transnational Politics of Populism: Foreign Policy, Identity and Popular Sovereignty’ (Cham: Palgrave, 2023) and ‘India’s Foreign Policy Discourse and its Conceptions of World Order: The Quest for Power and Identity’ (London: Routledge, 2018).

Abstract: This lecture discusses the relationship between Populism, Hindu Nationalism and Foreign Policy in India. It unpacks the major ideological themes and issues of Hindu nationalism and outlines the Hindu Nationalist foreign policy outlook. Drawing on discourse-theorical approaches to populism and nationalism, it then shows how populism and nationalism are related and can be used to construct and mobilize collective political identities such as ‘the people’ in the realm of foreign policy. It discusses how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi used foreign policy issues for the purpose of political mobilization and rallying ‘the people’ behind their political project. At the same time, it discusses the impact of Hindu Nationalism and populism on India foreign policy. Finally, the lecture looks at Modi’s outreach to fellow populist radical right politicians in the United States and Europe and sheds light on the rationale and effects of this international collaboration.

Reading List

Shani, Giorgio. 2021. Towards a Hindu Rashtra: Hindutva, religion, and nationalism in India. Religion, State and Society 49(3), 264–280. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637494.2021.1947731

Kinnvall, Catarina. 2019. Populism, ontological insecurity and Hindutva: Modi and the masculinization of Indian politics. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 32(3), 283–302. https://doi.org/10.1080/09557571.2019.1588851

Wojczewski, Thorsten. 2020. Populism, Hindu Nationalism, and Foreign Policy in India: The Politics of Representing “the People”. International Studies Review 22(3): 396–422. https://doi.org/10.1093/isr/viz007 

Thumbnail Panel on EP Elections

ECPS Special Panel on EP Elections: Where Is Europe Heading?

Date/Time: Tuesday, June 18, 2024 / 15:00-17:00 (CET)

 

Moderator

Irina von Wiese (ECPS Honorary President; Affiliate Professor at European Business School, the ESCP, and former MEP).

Speakers

“European Democracy’s Resilience to Populism‘s Threat,” by Dr. Kurt Weyland (Mike Hogg Professor in Liberal Arts at University of Texas).

“A Far-right Tipping Point? The Impact of the 2024 European Elections in France,” by Dr. Gilles Ivaldi (Senior Researcher in Politics at CEVIPOF and Professor at Sciences Po Paris).

“The Populist Rebellion of the Young,” by Dr. Albena Azmanova (Professor of Political and Social Science at University of Kent).

“EP Elections in Austria: Between ‘So What’ and the New Normal,” by Dr. Robert A. Huber(Professor of Methods at the University of Salzburg and Co-editor in Chief of Political Research Exchange).

“Beyond the Cordon Sanitaire: Normalization of Far-right and Racist Politics,” by Dr. Ulrike M. Vieten (Assistant Professor in Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast).

Dr. Othon Anastasakis is the Director of the European Studies Centre and South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX) at St Antony’s College, Oxford University.

Dr. Anastasakis: Biggest Risk in the EU is Far-right Parties Deciding to Unite in the EP

From a historical perspective, Dr. Othon Anastasakis acknowledged that the rise of far-right parties in the European elections does not represent a significant rupture from the past. The mainstream political context still dominates European politics, which he finds reassuring. However, he sees two main risks for the future: the unification of far-right parties within the European Parliament and the potential alliance of center-right parties with far-right elements, which could normalize extremist rhetoric.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

Following the European Parliament elections, Dr. Othon Anastasakis gave an interview to ECPS, discussing the risks confronting the European Union and European liberal democracies. Dr. Anastasakis, the Director of the European Studies Centre and South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX) at St Antony’s College, Oxford University, stated, “What I see in Europe today is a process of securitization and the geopoliticization of the European Union. This shift is largely a response to the wars in neighboring regions, especially Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In the face of these realities and a multipolar global environment, there is a turn towards a defense-oriented agenda.” He emphasized that this process of geopoliticization is shaping the EU’s future direction.

Dr. Anastasakis underscored the significant risk to the EU’s normative agenda, noting that the EU, as a democratic club, shares specific values, rules, and procedures. He expressed concern that as the EU faces increased geopolitical and security challenges, it may struggle to maintain its commitment to these normative values, particularly in external relations, trade, and foreign policy decisions. He highlighted the risk that the EU might compromise its democratic credentials to bring in countries that may not yet be ready for membership.

Another risk Dr. Anastasakis highlighted is the potential for far-right parties in Europe to unite within the European Parliament to create obstacles on issues such as migration and climate change. He also pointed out the risk that center-right parties, particularly those in the Christian Democrat bloc, might be tempted to ally with far-right parties on certain issues or adopt parts of their discourse, leading to the mainstreaming of far-right rhetoric. He noted that this has already been observed in the field of migration, where mainstream parties are often influenced by far-right narratives.

However, from a historical perspective, Dr. Anastasakis acknowledged that the rise of far-right parties in the European elections does not represent a significant rupture from the past. The mainstream political context still dominates European politics, which he finds reassuring.  Overall, Dr. Anastasakis cautioned that while the current situation does not mirror the catastrophic rise of far-right movements in the early 20th century, it poses significant challenges that require vigilant attention to safeguard the EU’s democratic values and stability.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Dr. Othon Anastasakis with some edits.

Populism and the Far-Right Are Broad Umbrella Concepts

How do you see the historical evolution of populism and far-right movements in Europe influencing current political landscapes, particularly in the context of the recent European Parliament elections?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: Populism and the far right are two broad umbrella concepts that encompass a wide variety of parties and formations. Due to their broad nature, they are understood in different ways and include many different far-right parties and movements. This makes it very challenging to group them together or understand them as a single entity.

Far-right parties themselves are not united as a whole. Their intrinsic nationalism means they have very specific goals related to their own nation-states. When observed collectively, especially in contemporary Western and European politics, they can be highly disruptive and reactionary to mainstream democratic politics, which has been the norm in Europe for the past eight decades or so.

Far-right politics are also evolving, often softening their positions when they are close to power. As long as nationalism and the nation-state remain central in international politics, far-right parties will continue to advocate their extreme nationalistic, racist and populist discourse. They are particularly influential during times of low economic growth and increasing economic inequality, as they find audiences receptive to their messages.

Finally, when democratic leadership is weak or lacks determination, it creates an environment where far-right parties can infiltrate, penetrate and promote their ideas.

What happened in the European Parliament elections regarding populism and the far-right? Is this a watershed moment in European history?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: I wouldn’t call it a watershed moment. Yes, there was an expectation and a lot of publicity about the rise of far-right politics during these European elections. However, the outcomes showed no massive change overall. While there was some rise of far-right parties in various national European settings, the Christian Democrats managed to increase their position in the Parliament, the Liberals lost somewhat, and the Social Democrats remained more or less the same. Mainstream parties maintained their numbers and power within the European Parliament.

That said, what we did see was significant: the rise of the far right in two particularly influential countries in Europe. In France, the far right gained ground, impacting national politics and leading to immediate elections under Macron. Similarly, in Germany, the AfD’s rise weakened the Social Democratic Party. These developments in France and Germany, which are often pivotal in shaping European politics, are more indicative of the rise of the far right than the overall European Parliament spectrum.

One Lesson from History Is the Danger of Appeasement

Poster of Vladimir Putin looking like Hitler in a demonstration against the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in Valencia, Spain on February 27, 2022. Photo: Shutterstock.

Considering the rise of far-right parties across Europe as proved once again by EP elections, can we draw parallels with similar movements in the early 20th century? What historical lessons should we keep in mind to understand and address these modern developments?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: First, let me say that history never repeats itself in exactly the same way, which is important to keep in mind. We never encounter identical circumstances that produce the same outcomes repeatedly. However, understanding what happened in the past helps us comprehend why the present has unfolded as it has.

Given that history doesn’t repeat itself precisely, we can still draw valuable lessons from it. One common question we face today is whether we are seeing a repeat of the 1930s with the rise of the far right, and to what extent. The 1930s were unique in European history due to the circumstances that led to the rise of many fascist parties, especially the Nazi party in Germany.

One lesson from history is the danger of appeasement during moments of aggressive behavior. The 1938 appeasement of Hitler serves as a lesson not to follow a similar path with someone like Putin, who has invaded Ukraine. Negotiating with aggressive behavior can lead to further territorial ambitions.

Another lesson is that persistent economic inequality, especially during times of economic crisis, can bolster the strength of far-right parties. This was evident in the 1930s following the 1929 economic crisis. These historical insights remind us to address economic disparities and avoid appeasement to prevent similar political outcomes today.

In your 2001 article “Post-communist extremism in Eastern Europe: The nature of the phenomenon,” you discussed the emergence of far-right parties in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and Hungary, years before the governments of Kaczynski and Victor Orbán. Do you think the dynamics that led to the rise of far-right parties have changed in Eastern Europe? What patterns can you identify?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: First, let me say that while far-right politics is a wider European phenomenon, it is not exclusively a Central European issue. In my reading of the European continent, three main factors may create divergences between Western Europe and Eastern Europe.

First, there is the Communist legacy. This long and totalitarian history has created circumstances that can sometimes lend themselves to a lingering appeal of authoritarianism. The Communist legacy remains a significant point of reference in these regions.

Second, we must consider the legacy of empires versus those who were colonized. When discussing post-Empire Europe, we often assume all countries were colonizers, which is not the case. Western European countries like Britain, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands had overseas empires. In contrast, many Eastern European countries, from Poland down to Greece, were part of empires. This division affects the development of politics, particularly nationalistic politics.

Third, connected to the second point, is the division between civic and ethnic nationalism. The understanding of national development and the way citizens are embedded within this context vary significantly. In Western Europe, there is often a more civic understanding of nationalism, whereas, in Eastern Europe, there is a longer historical experience of ethnic nationalism. This influences how far-right nationalism behaves and forms its ideology in these regions.

How has the narrative and strategy of far-right parties evolved from the post-communist era in Eastern Europe to the present day? Are there historical factors that continue to play a significant role in their resurgence?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: Even in Eastern Europe, where we can roughly divide nationalism into civic versus ethnic types, history plays a very important role in the development of far-right parties and politics in general. The national experiences of these countries significantly impact how their politics evolve.

For example, Hungary, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, became a nation-state after World War I, leaving many ethnic Hungarians outside its borders. This created a unique brand of Hungarian nationalism. In contrast, Poland, which also faces issues with the rule of law similar to Hungary, has a different historical background. Poland, often caught between Russia and Germany, has experienced its territory being divided and annexed by these powers. This historical context results in a far-right experience that can be either anti-German or very much anti-Russian.

Thus, the historical experiences of these countries influence how far-right parties develop and form their own versions of nationalism.

Meloni Is Not Mussolini, the AfD Is Not Comparable to Hitler’s Germany

Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s prime minister, speaks at the Atreju convention in Rome, Italy on December 16, 2023. Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico.

In the same article, you discuss four theses about the rise of far-right extremism, one of which is the revival of the fascist era. With the rise of Giorgia Meloni in Italy and her party, Brothers of Italy, and the rise of the AfD in Germany, do you see a revival of the fascist era?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: Not in the way that it happened in the 1930s. As I mentioned earlier, history doesn’t repeat itself exactly. There are lessons to be learned, but the context is always different. In the 1930s, the aftermath of World War I played a significant role. The experience of being winners or losers, especially in Germany’s case, where it was a clear loser, defined how the country developed during the turbulent interwar period. This era saw the testing and eventual failure of liberal politics, leading to the authoritarian regimes of the 1930s.

Today, the background is very different. We have the European Union, which provides a unique context of political and economic integration among its member countries. Any attempt by far-right parties or anti-European, protectionist forces to gain power would first have to involve dismantling the EU, which is not an easy task.

In this sense, we are in a different historical moment. Meloni is not Mussolini, and the AfD is not comparable to Hitler’s Germany. However, these parties do contain elements that make them susceptible to fascist ideas, language, and rhetoric.

One important and common issue that enables these parties to develop their discourses is migration. Unlike in the 1930s, today’s migration context has been developing for a few decades, but under conditions of crisis, it becomes a significant scapegoat. Migration is an issue that many far-right parties across Europe use to their advantage.

In your article “Europeanization of the Balkans,” you underline how the EU membership process has transformed Balkan countries in terms of consolidating democracy and the rule of law. When you consider the surge of far-right populism in Western Europe, can we talk about the Balkanization of Europe?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: Overall, I don’t use the term “Balkanization” because I think it’s a stereotypical and simplistic way of understanding a region. It doesn’t accurately reflect the true complexity of the area. My thesis back then was that the conditionality imposed by the European Union, particularly in the political context, was crucial. This conditionality made the countries accept and adopt certain norms required for EU membership. In this sense, Europeanization—a much broader concept—was able to take root in those countries.

What I see in Europe today is not Balkanization, but a process of securitization and the geopoliticization of the European Union. This shift is largely a response to the wars in neighboring regions, especially Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In the face of these realities and a multipolar global environment, there is a turn towards a defense-oriented agenda. This shift could change the nature and spirit of the EU, moving it beyond its historical focus on economic integration and soft power.

One significant risk I see is the potential impact on the EU’s normative agenda. The EU is a democratic club, a group of countries that share specific values, rules and procedures. As the EU faces increased geopolitical and security challenges, it may struggle to maintain its commitment to these normative values. This concern is particularly relevant in its external relations, trade and foreign policy decisions. Even with the enlargement agenda, there is a risk that the EU may compromise some of its democratic credentials to bring in countries that may not yet be ready for membership.

So, while I do not fear Balkanization, I do see a process of geopoliticization that is shaping the future direction of the European Union.

In your doctoral thesis “Authoritarianism in 20th Century Greece,” you examine the authoritarian ideology and educational policy of two dictatorial regimes in 20th century Greece: the Metaxas dictatorship of 1936-1941 (the 4th of August regime) and the military junta of 1967-1974 (the 21st of April regime). What interactions do you observe between these two periods and the rise of Golden Dawn in the 2010s and the Greek Solution party now?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: Dictatorships, particularly in the Greek context, belong to the past and do not present themselves as viable alternatives for political power and governance after the transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1974. The periods of the 1930s and 1960s were different as the military was a significant force in Greek politics. During political or party crises, the military often positioned itself as an alternative, intervening in politics multiple times. For instance, Metaxas, a military man, managed to influence politics in the interwar years, and the colonels in 1967 abruptly halted the democratic process.

The rise of far-right parties like Golden Dawn in Greece is not reminiscent of those military interventions. Golden Dawn, which gained prominence during the severe economic crisis in Greece, is also a criminal organization and most of its members are now imprisoned, rendering it unable to operate as a political party. Other nationalistic and far-right parties, such as the Greek Solution, exist but are often not sustainable. Over the past three decades, we have seen how some far-right parties have managed to raise their percentages. For instance, the Orthodox Popular Rally led by Georgios Karatzaferis in the 1990s and early 2000s, and the Independent Greeks, who cooperated with Syriza during the mid-2010s crisis. These far-right parties experienced a rise but eventually descended, demonstrating a pattern of emergence and decline.

These parties tend to be disruptive, reactionary and extremely nationalistic. They often gain support during times of political crisis or when mainstream parties struggle to address issues. This pattern of rise and fall is evident in the Greek Solution and two other extreme nationalist parties that secured seats in recent elections. The fact that these three far-right parties collectively garnered around 18-19% of the vote is concerning, indicating a particular situation in the Greek political context.

Populism and Populist Leaders Will Continue to Exist

In your research on authoritarian regimes in Greece, what historical patterns do you see re-emerging in contemporary European politics? What impact do you think, as an historian, the resurgence of far-right populism will have on the future of European integration and the EU’s democratic values? Are we witnessing a cyclical pattern of populist surges similar to previous historical periods?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: Populism and populist leaders will continue to exist, whether they are on the far-right, far-left or somewhere in between. Populism, as a broad umbrella term, encompasses various parties and movements, making it an enduring feature of the political landscape. A specific example of this is Brexit, which was a significant populist moment in Europe. Brexit challenged the European edifice as the UK, driven by populist sentiments, decided to leave the EU. This move was representative of both Euroscepticism and Europhobia.

Brexit demonstrates both the potential and the drawbacks of populism. On one hand, it successfully led a country out of the EU, showcasing populism’s power. On the other hand, it highlighted the immense challenges and turbulence associated with such a move. This experience serves as a lesson to other Eurosceptic parties that exiting the EU is not a straightforward endeavor.

Today’s far-right parties, which are often very Eurosceptic and reactionary, face a dual challenge. They must navigate their national political landscapes, creating an environment of opposition to their own elites while also dealing with the supranational context of Europe. They are limited in how reactionary they can be because pushing too hard against the EU could lead to their countries leaving the union, something that most populations do not desire. This tension makes it difficult for far-right parties to fully adopt their reactionary, nationalistic and racist rhetoric.

From a historical perspective, how concerned are you about the rise of far-right parties in the European elections? Many pundits argue that the center-right and center-left have held strong, and there is not much to worry about. Do you agree with these pundits?

Dr. Othon Anastasakis: I agree that this is not a significant rupture from the past. We haven’t seen a massive surge that could radically change the landscape. The mainstream context still dominates European politics, which is reassuring. However, I see two risks for the future.

The first risk is whether far-right parties in Europe will decide to unite within the European Parliament to create obstacles on issues such as migration or climate change. While it’s challenging for them to achieve unity, it is not entirely out of the question.

The second risk involves the extent to which center-right parties, particularly those in the Christian Democrat bloc, might be tempted to ally with far-right parties on certain issues or adopt parts of their discourse. This could lead to the mainstreaming of far-right rhetoric. We have already seen this in the field of migration, where mainstream parties are often influenced by far-right narratives.

A notable example is the European People’s Party (EPP), which for many years included Hungary’s Fidesz party. Although they eventually decided to expel Viktor Orbán’s party, they tolerated his presence for some time to maintain their numbers and votes. This indicates a potential risk where center-right parties might seek alliances with far-right parties to further their own interests.

Illustration by Ulker Design.

Techno-Populism: The Youth Electorate in Europe and the Interplay Between Social Media and Populism

As proven by a 2021 European Parliament Youth survey, which supported that people rely primarily on the web, whether this is social media or online news outlets to be informed for political and societal developments. This ultimately explains why politicians gradually turn to social media – it broadens their electoral base as they attempt to connect to younger voters but has the negative consequence of popularizing populism. 

By Konstantina Kastoriadou

Social media has become integral to our lives, profoundly influencing our political landscape. While its pervasive presence is undeniable, there is often little analysis of how it shapes electoral campaigns, which are increasingly prevalent across Europe. Political advertisements and activities are widely disseminated on social media platforms, subtly and overtly shaping public opinion. This article delves into the complex interplay between contemporary politics and social media, drawing inspiration from Bickerton and Invernizzi Accetti’s (2021) work, Techno-populism — The New Logic of Democratic Politics. It explores how this dynamic interaction (sub)consciously affects our political preferences and contributes to rising populist parties and figures globally. 

Almost 400 million people all over Europe were eligible to vote in the 2024 European Elections. Several parties across Europe have tried their best to engage longtime supporters and attract new ones, securing their votes either way, under the light of the pressuring events that have surrounded Europe for the last two years.  However, the most complex war is fought during the pre-electoral period on social media platforms, where parties, party leaders and candidates try to engage the most difficult-to-convince audience – the youth. For years, the younger generations proved challenging to engage with as it was widely believed that they abstained from politics, yet some researchers claim this was never the case. More specifically, they support the idea that the youth has always been politically engaged. Still, this engagement is taking many forms, with one notable case being social media (Del Monte, 2023: 3). According to Flew and Iosifidis (2020), the internet allows social, political or cultural movements to form alliances and communities internationally (For example, BLM, and the equal rights movement), as people now exchange opinions and experiences with other people from across the globe which helps shape opinions about situations and problems that appear in different parts of the world. 

Social media users, as of 2024, were estimated to be roughly around 5.17 billion globally, with the most active users being the youngest generation (Shewale, 2024). The significant number of users and the popularity of some social media platforms decisively reshaped political communication. As proven by a 2021 European Parliament Youth survey, which supported that people rely primarily on the web, whether this is social media or online news outlets to be informed for political and societal developments (Del Monte, 2023: 3). This ultimately explains why politicians gradually turn to social media – it broadens their electoral base as they attempt to connect to younger voters but has the negative consequence of popularizing populism. This turn of events in the political reality is of enormous interest as it shows a dismissal of the traditional political divide of the left/right axis, which now, according to Bickerton & Accetti (2021), was transformed into a dipole between populism and technocracy which are better understood as “modes of political action” rather than solid ideological systems. 

Techno-populism is “the new logic of political action based on the combination of populist and technocratic traits,” somehow like the definition of techno-populism by Lorenzo Castellani, who defines the latter as a “political regime” characterized by “an interaction between global capitalism, technocratic institutions and new polarizing populist political movements” (Bickerton & Accetti, 2021: 18). Techno-populism is also a relatively new phenomenon, as there has been a steadily growing appeal to the concept of the “people” during recent years, that did not exist during the 20th century. Political parties, especially after World War II, had their target group (For example, the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, etc.) and therefore did not appeal to the masses in general. Compared to contemporary politics, more and more politicians claim to represent the people, as in mainstream political parties, there wasn’t a notion of the “people” as we know it, but society consisted of different groups and classes that each party represented (Bickerton & Accetti, 2021: 7).

Many scholars argue that populism is a mainstream phenomenon. Roitman et al. (2023) argue that: “The rise of populist discourses in many countries in the last decades may have been due to changes in political communication.” This argument is strongly supported by data that show the rise of political and party participation on social media platforms. As argued by Bickerton and Accetti (2021: 21), this shift in political communication is an attempt for parties to become more attractive towards the youth, helping themselves to secure more votes, as the sole goal of political competition in all electoral democracies is the rise to power (Accetti & Bickerton, 2021: 21).

A strong case of this trend is presented in the work of Cervi et al., (2021: 269 – 270), who examined the interplay between TikTok and political communication. As a primary example, the Spanish populist parties, Vox and Podemos, seem to have claimed the most significant gains out of the other mainstream established parties, as most of their supporters come from the youngest generation. Podemos is the most followed (191.400 followers) and the most active party on social media, having gathered more than 3.1m likes. The youngest generation represents the bulk of the supporters gathered on the platform.

In Podemos’ case, social media is tightly interwoven into the very existence of the party, as they broadly use it as a means in its political strategy – mobilizing its audience both online and offline (Cervi et al., 2021: 271). Similarly to Podemos is the case of the Five Star Movement (M5S) in Italy. The M5S, undoubtedly classified as a populist party, claims to have an unmediated relationship with the people, especially by utilizing the internet. By accessing the internet and mobilizing the citizens by creating cyberspaces in which they interact with their electoral base, the M5S claims that it can offer more efficient government by utilizing the collective intelligence” it gathers through the web. M5S use the internet to access ordinary citizens’ competence, making the web a means to provide a better quality of public policy. This is described by Accetti and Bickerton (2021) as: techno-populism from below (Bickerton & Accetti, 2021: 4). 

Another case that proves the rising power of social media in politics is the example of Ireland, where the current Prime Minister (Irish term: Taoiseach) of the Fine Gael party, Simon Harris, is characterized as the first TikTok Prime Minister of the country, and coincidently also the youngest leader of the nation, rising to the chair of the party thanks to his TikTok popularity (Pogatchnik, 2024). Such cases can be observed in every established democracy in the Western world – not exclusively by populist leaders but also by the traditionally established parties’ leaders, who try to expand their electoral base to the young electorate. 

Social Media and the New Reality of Politics

As mentioned above, politics have been transformed since the mid-20th century, and society catalyzes this change. Bickerton & Accetti (2021: 35) argue that society is far more complex than in the 20th century when society seemed more homogenized. This complexity makes societal formations more fragile and fluid than they used to be, therefore making the electoral appeal of contestants for office harder than before. Perhaps due to this fragmentation and fragility, it is more effective for political contestants to appeal to emotion and, therefore, adopt post-truth tactics than to rely on the old ways of political communication to secure people’s support. According to data, 97% of world leaders use Twitter, being the first and leading social media platform for political communication (Munoz, Ripolles, 2020).

The importance of social media is also reflected in the enormous sums of money parties have spent advertising on social media during this European Electoral Campaign. Based on Google and Facebook data, such examples are Fidesz with €60.000 spent on one single ad; the separatist Flemish party Vlaams Beelang spent around €50 – 60.000 as well; and Macron’s party seems to have spent approximately €50.000 (Shickler, 2024). However, the most shocking numbers come from Greece, where the governing right-wing party New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία) has spent €192.000 on Google ads alone, while the total amount of spending of the country is €321.800 for 5.753 digital ads (Μπογιόπουλος, 2024a). New Democracy’s spending on Facebook accounts for €31.430, while €17.276 of this was spent on the advertisement of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Μπογιόπουλος, 2024b). Such amounts show that the presence on social media is now necessary, as parties won’t survive in the new political reality without them since society now prefers to be more active than passive news consumers (Putmans, 2017: 2). 

Post-Truth, Propaganda and Skepticism

Although one use of social media platforms is for advertisement, for most, social media serves primarily as a source of information and the exchange of opinions, which shapes everyday life. Yet, social media has a “dark side” as they are closely linked to the spread of fake news and post-truth politics (Flew & Iosifidis, 2020). Misinformation and post-truth political rhetoric are commonalities and apply firmly to pre-electoral campaigns. The BBC found plenty of misleading content on social media platforms during the pre-electoral campaign in the UK. The content is AI generated (Spring, 2024) and could be passed as accurate, especially by people who are not so familiar with the newly introduced technologies.

Post-truth politics is widely associated with populist parties and personas. According to ECPS’ (n.d.) dictionary of populism, post-truth is: “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” Taş (2021: 169) further supports that post-truth politics are in fact: “a reliance on assertions that ‘feel true’ but have no basis in fact” – therefore minimizing the importance of facts in the process of shaping the public opinion. As social media lacks supervision or strict political guidelines, which is more likely to happen to television, radio or press, communication among peers is loose and emotionally charged, as they mostly share their opinions and experiences. This makes social media the most appropriate medium for “disseminating” meta-truth, affecting politics and everyday life.

In the Western sphere, the truth can be explained – proved scientifically, so the truth is perceived as objective. However, since the 20th century, the perception of truth has changed again taking Nietzsche, or the post-structuralists like Foucault as an example – who highlighted the relevance of truth, making it a subjectivity and therefore contradicting the previous perception of truth as objectivity. Finally, the digital era reshaped the perception of truth, as misinformation and fake news became a common incident in our era (Youvan, 2024: 4). Post-truth, therefore, comes directly in contrast with the primary perception of “the truth” being objective, as it is based on the 20th-century revision on the objectivity of the truth highlighting the subjective nature of it. This, combined with the rise of social media, made people in advanced democracies more skeptical towards democracy and governments and even questioned the integrity of the press industry, which overall is boosted by a generalized discontentment created by the declining quality of life. 

For many political and social analysts, social media is a reason of high significance that democracies are in decline. According to research conducted in 19 countries by the Pew Research Center in 2022, social media seems to be perceived overall as a good thing for democracy, with the exception being the US, where the survey concluded that social media are perceived as a bad thing for democracy with 64%. This trend seemed popular among Republicans and Republican-leaning supporters, as they proved to be the social group more likely to be critical and negative towards social media (Wike et al., 2022). 

Additionally, 84% of the questioned people across the 19 countries believe that social media and the internet made people more accessible to manipulate with false information and/or news. 70% of them support that fake news is the second biggest threat globally, just after climate change. Another interesting finding is that across the 19 countries that participated in the Survey, people agree that social media had a positive impact on people in terms of information about worldwide and domestic events, which is believed to make people good citizens of the world – and work in favor of acceptance of different races and religions. Yet, they find that they contribute negatively to how people talk about politics, finding that 46% of individuals believe social media makes people less civil in the way they talk about politics. Maybe this is related to the fact that 65% support the idea that social media has made people divided on their political opinions (Wike et al., 2022). 

In this framework of division, confusion and growing disappointment are where the populists flourish the most. If we were to hypothesize that fear is constantly generated within our societies, through our everyday lives, then a feeling of powerlessness may occur. According to Müller (2022), fear is a medium for populist leaders, who invoke fear to provoke a revolt against the “corrupt establishment.” However, he finds that fear must not exceed a certain point, for populist leaders do not want their societies to live in fear. If this happens, populist personas will betray their promise of “being better democrats.” Wike et al. (2022) found that social media can affect people’s psychological stance, making them feel less powerless as they grow more informed about international and domestic situations. Maybe here, the fact that social media are a place where people can form alliances and exchange their views and experiences is the most critical factor contributing to a growing feeling of empowerment. 

This empowerment may stem from consumption and people’s identification with populistic agendas promoted on social media, leveraging the dissatisfaction of the masses. As populism is traditionally based on the emotional stance of society, post-truth political rhetoric is the most efficient medium to secure support and broaden their electoral base. This trend has been evident since the 2016 US Presidential election when people seemed to believe and identify more with fake news than facts. As Dan (2023) supports, populism is a force that can change the collective memory and shape peoples’ opinions and ideas, which in this case is the primarily exclusionary right-wing populism stands for identity. It promotes the protection of the mass identity, which is being attacked by various factors such as economic, class, or alternative ethnicity. Hayes defines identity politics as: “a phrase that has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups. Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context” (Heyes, 2020).

Even from the definition, it shows that identity politics is a phenomenon of a strong psychological and emotional background that is the backbone of its very existence (Dan, 2023). Maybe that’s an essential factor that makes people in the Western sphere more critical of social media and democracy. It’s found that nativists are the most skeptical among citizens. Usually, they are dissatisfied with electoral outcomes, regardless of being on the winning or losing end of the electoral process (Kokkonen & Linde, 2022).

Conclusion

Political reality has been drastically transformed over the past years, and populism can be considered both the result and the cause of the new political reality, which depends on the latest technologies for the political actors to secure support from their peers. To this progress and change of political reality, Bickerton & Accetti’s book is a perfect and realistic approach to the new way of political action, as techno-populism seems to be a phenomenon that explains precisely the current state of politics, with people growing dissatisfied with democracy due to the existing economic struggles and with populism, that will not cease. 

This transformation could be the outcome of the “win” of capitalism at the end of the Cold War Era, which established capitalism as the dominant, unchallenged system and gradually made the distinction between left and right irrelevant and outdated. It’s not a coincidence that populist figures have continuously risen and taken over globally since the 2000s. However, the most critical factor lies in this societal transformation of recent years that made society more fragmented and fragile than before, making the electoral appeal of contestants for office harder than it was during the 20th century. 

To the latter, social media are an essential factor, as they shape the opinions and dissatisfaction of the masses because they provide them with the opportunity to have almost complete access to everything. This free flow of information can also justify the rising skepticism of people towards their governments, as nowadays, it is more feasible to identify aberrant and reprehensible actions, such as institutional corruption. Also, with the free flow of experiences and opinions, people grow even more critical of their political, social or economic situation, as they can easily compare their reality with the reality of citizens from different parts of the world and are more susceptible to populistic agendas. Most importantly, on many occasions, social media presents the truth compared to television. In many instances, there is proof that television is under governmental or special interests’ control, contributing to the growth of skepticism inside liberal democracies. 

Politically speaking, this may be a strong reason why social media seem to have such overwhelming approval overall, as people see it as a positive asset for democracy, with the only exception being the US, where mostly the conservatives were more prone to rejecting social media as a beneficial factor for democracy. While people generally agree that social media made them more accepting towards different cultures and races, there is an explicit acknowledgement that social media generates a lot of negative emotions and affects people’s way of expressing political opinions, as there is a consensus that social media makes people politically divided. This could be attributed to the success of populism, which penetrated society, and the accessibility to information provided by the internet. This is the combination that Bickerton & Accetti discussed. In contemporary politics, the fight over political power doesn’t revolve around the traditional divide between right and left, but how the already established political parties with either the left or right use both populism and technocracy to their benefit. 

It’s sensible that people feel vulnerable to fake news, as the populist mode of communication seems to be the predominant one, with post-truth politics spreading steadily over the internet. Their anger and frustration can be amplified or soothed, and due to the structure of social media platforms, they can be controlled and guided in a specific direction. This controlled environment makes a “safer” framework for the contestants to power to survive and adapt. Youth engagement seemed to be the ulterior motive for political personas to turn to the web for promotion. Still, this move is undoubtedly populistic, as it builds rapport with the base, creating the illusion of closeness to the people. However, the youth is committed and politically active, and with all the necessary equipment, they seem ready to claim the change for a better tomorrow. 


 

References

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Μπογιόπουλος, Γ. (2024a, June 3). Νέα Δημοκρατία: Ο καλύτερος πελάτης της Google στην πολιτική διαφήμιση, παρά το εξωφρενικό χρέος της. Documento. https://www.documentonews.gr/article/nea-dimokratia-o-kalyteros-pelatis-tis-google-stin-politiki-diafimisi-para-to-exofreniko-xreos-tis/ (accessed on June 15, 2024). 

Μπογιόπουλος, Γ. (2024b, June 4). Προσωπική διαφήμιση 401.000 ευρώ ο Μητσοτάκης στο Facebook και… μόνο 377.000 η Νέα Δημοκρατία. Documento. https://www.documentonews.gr/article/prosopiki-diafimisi-401-000-eyro-o-mitsotakis-sto-facebook-kai-mono-377-000-i-nea-dimokratia/ (accessed on June 15, 2024). 

Bickerton, J. C., & Accetti, I. C. (2021). Technopopulism – The new logic of democratic politics (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. 

Cervi, L.; Tejedor, S. & Marín Lladó, C. (2021): “TikTok and the new language of political communication: The case of Podemos. “Cultura, Lenguaje y Representación, XXVI. 267-287. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.6035/clr.5817

Dan, P. (2023, May 18-20). “The Consequences of Populism: Truth Decay and the Fact Free Society.” [Conference Paper]. ASN Convention. Columbia University, New York. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/370934507_Truth_decay (accessed on June 15, 2024).

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Roitman, M.; Bernal, M.; Premat, C. & Sullet-Nylander, F. (2023). “Introduction: Populism, political representation and social media language.” In: M. Roitman, M. Bernal, C. Premat, & F. Sullet-Nylander (Eds.), The new challenges of populist discourses in romance speaking countries (pp. 1–9). Stockholm University Press. https://doi.org/10.16993/bcj.a

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EP

EP Elections and the Connection Between Populism and Identity Politics in the EU

The 2024 EU parliament election polls show the populist right and far-right as the main winners. The tendency of voters to choose populist parties could push the populist agenda of the left to compete with the far-right. This could be an attempt to transform xenophobic tendencies by the right into inclusionary populism, which describes the conservative elite as the other and creates further social conflicts. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves how populism (both left and right) impacts EU legislation now.

By Katharina Diebold

The mostly expected European Parliamentary elections results and the next presidency of the Council of the EU, Hungary, will likely be contentious issues for the European Community (Henley, 2024). The 2024 EU elections and the Hungarian presidency polls have indicated a rise of right-wing and anti-Europe populist parties. These tendencies fuel the transformation of the EU towards the right and conservativism (Wax & Goryashko, 2024). 

The 2024 EU parliament elections has showed the populist right and far right as the main winners. The fact that voters tend to choose populist parties could increase the populist agenda of the left to compete with the far right as an attempt to transform xenophobic tendencies by the right into inclusionary populism, which describes the conservative elite as the “other” and creates further social conflicts (Henley, 2024; Suiter, 2016; Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). Therefore, we must ask ourselves how populism (both left and right) impacts EU legislation and what predictions can be made for the post-2024 elections.

In this essay, it will be argued that recently adopted EU legislation—the Green New Deal (including the Nature Restoration Regulation and Deforestation Regulation) and the New Pact on Migration and Asylum—is influenced by populist rhetoric and identity politics, which ultimately harms the EU. In connection with this, populist candidates driven by identity politics will be shown to threaten the future of the EU. 

Theoretical Framework 

Populism is a thin ideology comprising three key elements: the people, the general will and the elite, (Zulianello & Larsen, 2021; Mudde, 2004). Additionally, it incorporates the dimension of the “dangerous others,” often represented by migrants, positioned in contrast to the people (Rooduijn & Akkerman, 2015).

Previous research suggests that populism, taken as a framework for populist communication and rhetoric (Aalberg et al., 2017), is also used by mainstream parties to improve their relationship with voters on social media (Lin et al., 2023). Key themes identified are people-centrism, anti-elitism, restoring popular sovereignty and exclusion (Aalberg et al., 2017; Engesser et al., 2017). Additionally, specific negative and emotional populist communication styles on social media correlate with a positive increase in relationships between mainstream parties and their voters (Lin et al., 2023, p. 608). This analysis will use populism as a guide for identifying potential populist rhetoric. 

Even though populism in Western Europe is often associated with the right, the left has increasingly adopted populist strategies, specifically in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which was covered in the media as “the rise of leftist populism” (Gross, 2022). The negligence of academic research about the populist left could be responsible for the recent findings. This seems even more relevant when we consider the electoral performance of populist left parties compared to populist right parties for the elections of the European Parliament in 2019, such as Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and Sinn Féin in Ireland (Bernhard & Kriesi, 2021; Statista, 2024). For example, the Greek Syriza Party (founded in 2004) and the Irish Sinn Féin Party (founded in 1905) were only recognized as left-wing populist parties in 2014 (O’Malley & Fitzgibbon, 2014;Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). Nevertheless, Syriza’s populism has been questionable throughout its government term and recent opposition in 2021 (Markou, 2021). Recently, the focus on populism in Western countries shifted again towards right-wing populist parties (Bartel, 2023; Morison, 2023). 

Identity is a set of labels describing persons distinguished by attributes (Noury & Roland, 2020). Identity politics is the belief that identity is a fundamental focus of political work, which can be connected to lifestyle and culture (Bernstein, 2005). Politicizing immigrants as the “other” is an example of that. In Europe, identity politics is referred to as the protection of the “silent majority” from harmful consequences of immigration, which is used by right-wing populists (Noury & Roland, 2020). 

The effect of rising populism within the EU on the right- and left-wing can be recognized by looking at EU-party campaigns or populist candidates for the recent EP elections. Similar to the right-wing, the left-wing populists also employ identity politics. Leftist-populism can be seen promoting marginalized identities, such as racial and ethnic identities and seeking to transform the shame previously associated with these identities into a point of pride (Salmela & Von Scheve, 2018). Accordingly, these protests generate “others,” including people who abide by a different value system and also the privileged “elite” who overlook intersectional identities as a threat. While promoting human rights, advocacy for intersectional identities can also fall into the trap of populism among leftist groups and other advocates (Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). However, intersectionality may not be the only advocacy that can turn into a populist movement in the name of advocacy. Climate and human rights activists can also be politicized and positioned as polarized identities (Mackay et al., 2021). 

Inherent Populism in EU Legislation

Environmental politics presents a point of contention for both the right- and left-wing parties. Both sides instrumentalize newly adopted legislation to increase the public appeal of voters (European Commission, 2023). This can be exemplified in the recent regulations. The newest adopted legislation, the European Green New Deal, including its Deforestation Regulation and its Regulation on Nature Restoration, and the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, have elements of this otherization and marginalization of identities. 

A closer examination of de jure analysis and how these laws, as portrayed in political language, unearths the need for more interest in realizing the general goals of protecting nature. It looks like nature is wiped of its identity within the hands of humans who instrumentalize nature as a theme broadly advocated by large swaths of society. Therefore, identity politics exploiting nature must be identified and widely discussed to protect nature and the shared values of humanity, not to sacrifice basic human dignity for politics. 

The European Green New Deal

The European Green New Deal, including the Deforestation Regulation, entered into force on June 29, 2023, and the provisional agreement for the Regulation on Nature Restoration was accepted on November 9, 2023. These legislations gaining the left’s support have also been instrumentalized to boost the attention and sympathy of left-wing parties.

The populist rhetoric surrounding the Nature Restoration Regulation can be approached as a case exemplifying populist politics appealing to the left (The EU #NatureRestoration Law, 2023). The left uses advocacy of this legislation, especially the Greens/EFA, in the elections for greenwashing purposes and voter accumulation. However, this law focused more on economic benefits than actual environmental protection and lost its progressiveness throughout the legislative procedure. Therefore, it is based on the misconception that this regulation substantially improves nature restoration and indigenous rights protection (Pinto, 2023). Moreover, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) claims this law increases the financial burden for the forestry, fishery, and farming sectors (Weise & Guillot, 2023). However, these realities are dismissed in the political language of environmental advocacy. 

We can assess that the Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) campaign for 2024 EP elections utilised populist rhetoric by defining the people as the “citizens, farmers, fishers and business in the EU;” The elite as “the conservatives, far right and some liberals” who “try to tear down a new EU law to restore nature;” and The general will of the people could be characterized as focussing on tackling biodiversity and the climate crisis (Greens/EFA, 2023b). The campaign by the Greens/EFA for this regulation played into identity politics as the party used a language claiming to advocate for the protection of marginalized Indigenous and local communities. While this claim remains to be only a discourse, regardless, it boosts the popularity of the Greens. Examined closely, the ostensibly evergreen legislation advocating biodiversity protection promotes local cartels and exploitative companies that benefit and take advantage of the EU partnerships (Euronews, 2023). The hypocrisy and the tact in the use of language can be seen in the advocacy language of the party, which left these cartels out intentionally.

Deforestation Regulation 

The Greens/EFA campaign for the Deforestation Regulation shows characteristics of populist rhetoric (European Commission, 2023). The Greens/EFA emphasize the importance of the people,” for example, by the quote “The rights of people and nature must always come before profit,” which could be interpreted as people-centrism (Greens/EFA, 2023c). 

Another example of anti-elitism could be identified by emphasizing the misinformation and fake news campaign against the nature restoration law in a video by the Greens/EFA (Greens/EFA, 2023d). The misinformation campaign was conducted before the 2024 EP elections in multiple EU countries, including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland by political parties, Member of the European Parliament (MEP)-candidates and farming groups such as the Dutch National Farmers Party (BoerBurgerBeweging-BBB), the Dutch far-right fringe party (Forum voor Democratie) and the polish Earth farmer’s support foundation (Greens/EFA, 2023d; Carlile, 2023). 

The MEP negotiator for the nature restoration law, Jutta Paulus, mentions the agriculture lobby as a factor that made the legislation less progressive and ambitious and prevented meaningful, sustainable EU laws, such as laws regarding agricultural goods (Paulus, 2023a). Paulus mentions in another video about the nature restoration law that, specifically, the conservatives and the far-right are responsible for preventing and decreasing the effectiveness of the new legislation (Paulus, 2023b). Those examples do not mention misinformation campaigns by politicians, farming groups, the agriculture lobby, or the far-right elite. However, it can be argued that this language and framing emphasizing the element of conspiring groups could be interpreted as populist rhetoric.

This connects to other findings that suggest that left parties connect political anti-elitism to economic anti-elitism and the argument that hardworking, ordinary citizens are betrayed by the political-economic power elite (Rooduijn & Akkerman, 2015). Additionally, the new regulation on deforestation will only prevent EU customers from buying products derived from deforestation. However, deforestation and sales of deforested products to other customers worldwide can continue (Greenpeace, 2021). The regulation also lost its progressive and ambitious character throughout the legislation procedure (Fairtrade.net, 2022).

New Pact on Migration and Asylum 

The left and the right used identity politics as a tool to increase sympathy for the EP elections through the usage of marginalized identities such as “migrants” and “asylum seekers” (Greens/EFA, n.d.). The recent pact on migration can be shown as an example of populist identity politics transcending the right and left binary, uniting the voters around the so-called threat posed by the influx of migrants and asylum seekers. 

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum reinforces the topic of illegal migration and thus supported the right-wing campaigning for the European Elections 2024. The political language on this regulation is laden with populist elements. Firstly, the right-wing European Peoples Party defines the people as “European citizens” or “our citizens” who deserve security, safety and protection in times of migration (EPP Group, 2023; EPP, 2016). Secondly, von der Leyen specifically points out in her New Pact on Migration statement that smugglers and traffickers control illegal migration (Press Statement von der Leyen, 2023). This can be understood as a symptom of a “corrupt elite” in government that allows smugglers and traffickers to run unhampered (Rusev, 2013). Thirdly, a comment by the leader of the EPP, Manfred Weber, could give insight into how his party wants to respond to the “general will” of the people (including the voters for the EP elections). He said the EPP would be “crystal clear about its desire to reduce immigration in the campaign for European elections” (O’Carroll, 2024). The populist language forebears the identity politics around migration, appealing to both the right and the left. The New Pact and statements by the EU Commission play into identity politics through the terminology of the “bad migrants,” positioning them as dangerous others.” Unfortunately, the New Pact has been under debate in the EU since 2020 and was used as a promotional tool for the EP elections to attract voters on both the left and right (Georgian, 2024). 

The New Pact has also been used by the Greens/EFA populist campaign for the European Elections 2024, reinforced the idea of a unified peace union. In this instance, we can deduce that “the people” could be defined as “us and the migrants and asylum seekers, that we do not leave behind;” “the general will” could be characterized as ” upholding human rights and international law” (Greens/EFA, 2023a). 

The Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur for the new asylum and migration management regulation (which is part of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum), Damien Carême, emphasized in a post on his social media that EU interior ministers and the European Commission adopted vocabulary regarding migration that pleases the far right only to gain popularity and votes for the EU elections (Carême, 2024). In his view, this rhetoric compromises the truth and neglects migrants (Carême, 2024). Another post criticizes the former director of the European Border and Coast Guard agency (FRONTEX), Fabrice Leggeri, for spreading fake news and lies about the new pact on migration (Carême, 2024b). Those examples do not specifically mention politicians or the far-right as elites. However, it can be argued that this language and framing emphasize an element of conspiring groups spreading fake news to increase distrust. This could be interpreted as constituting populist rhetoric, which characterizes an “elite.”

Additionally, another shadow rapporteur of the Greens/EFA responsible for the crisis and force majeure regulation (also part of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum), Damian Boeselager, emphasizes yet more rhetoric element connected with populism – the element of populist sovereignty. In one of his posts, he claims that the EU asylum system can only be tackled on the EU level if the EU regains its sovereignty (Boeselager, 2024). Moreover, he claims that if “we” want to win sovereignty back, we must do this at the EU level (Boeselager, 2024). Concerning the New Pact on migration, specifically migration agreements with Tunis, Libya and Egypt are increasingly scrutinized in the media and by the Greens/EFA (Greens/EFA, 2023e; Carême, 2024c).

Another interesting element is that research suggests that an “emotional” populist communication style positively increases the relationship between mainstream parties and their voters. By looking at postings by the Greens/EFA and their MEPs, it can be argued that dramatic music, pictures of migrants in boats at sea, in refugee and asylum camps and centers used by Carême, as well as the main Greens/EFA page could be identified as emotional communication style. Additionally, the new Migration Pact favors the reinforcement of border controls, returns and re-admissions over legal migration opportunities. Those stay symbolic, vague, and distant policy goals. Recent reviews of policy documents show that the EU prioritizes regulating irregular migration, and despite its rhetoric for “strengthening legal migration,” concrete action is missing (Sunderland, 2023). 

Identity Politics and Candidates 

Introducing inexperienced candidates tailored to resonate with particular social groups was a common strategy employed by both left and right populist parties to garner support. This practice is another instance of identity politics shaping the European political landscape. Following in the footsteps of their forerunners, like Marie Le Pen or Hugo Chávez from the past, these charismatic political figures engage in populist rhetoric, addressing a diverse range of social and legal issues in their political discourse—from environmental protection to EU identity and migration (Serra, 2017).

Examples for the European Parliament elections 2024 included Nicola Gehringer, promoted by the German right-wing party CSU (Christian Social Union), on place nine. Gehringer is a successful executive assistant of a big corporation, “Neoloan AG,” with the potential to attract successful business owners. Another figure is the farmer and agriculture expert Stefan Köhler, who run for the CSU on place six to attract farmers (Zeit Online, 2023). Farmers have become increasingly crucial in the European discourse, with the recent increase in farmer protests in Germany, France, and the Netherlands (Trompiz & Levaux, 2024). 

Legal and security experts also run with public appeal to the voters across political divides. Carola Rackete, the German candidate for “Die Linke,” a leftist Party, is a human rights activist fighting for better refugee rights and asylum laws, run for the second position (MDR.DE., 2023). The human rights activist as a candidate were expected to increase the number of radical voters from the left. The German Green Party was heading with a policeman on place eighteen in the EP elections, tried to include more right-leaning social groups in the Green voter repertoire since police officers tended to vote for conservative and right-wing parties (Papanicolaou & Papageorgiou, 2016).

In Austria, the first candidate for the Greens party was Lena Schilling, a climate activist of “Fridays-for-future.” Schilling had a high chance of attracting young voters as she was the only young female top candidate among all running top party candidates in Austria (Völker, 2024). The second place was Thomas Waitz, a sustainable and organic farmer who aimed to attract sustainable farmers in Austria (Waitz, 2023; Schweighofer, 2024).

The references to the people vs. lying or misinformation-spreading groups blurred the lines between right and left ideologies and connected these figures around a shared sentiment: fighting for the people against a designated other. 

Conclusion 

The increasing populist rhetoric of left and right parties in the EU and the fanatism of those who want to increase their share of voters for the EU elections are responsible for the outcomes of recent EU legislation. The populist rhetoric before and after the adoption of new EU legislation shows how parties instrumentalize the outcomes of EU legislation procedure instead of trying to find real compromises and long-term, future-oriented solutions for the problems of unregulated migration and the climate crises. 

Regulated migration is still almost not touched upon in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which has been part of discussions in the EU since 2020. The Green New Deal, especially with the Nature Restoration and Deforestation Regulations, was a proper start to increase sustainability, environmental protection, and indigenous rights. However, both proposals lost their progressiveness and lacked ambition and actual help for developing countries outside of the profit-making fetishism of the EU. If the upward trend of populist communication persists on both the left and right, EU politics and legislation may increasingly adopt populist and voter-driven approaches, potentially jeopardizing the democratic and compromise-oriented decision-making process within the EU. This heightened polarization between parties could further contribute to a bashing climate and hinder cooperative efforts.

Remarkably, identity politics has not only permeated the populist rhetoric of EU party politics but also extended to the selection of candidates for the EP elections. If identity politics continues to embed itself deeply within the strategic political framework of EU parties, the shift towards prioritizing short-term voter turnout and popularity contests over substantive and long-term democratic considerations seems inevitable. This trend risks undermining EU values by leveraging EU legislation for immediate political gains rather than establishing enduring goals for the European Community. It is imperative to educate voters about this form of political manipulation that compromises EU values for short-term advantages. No political gain should supersede long-term EU objectives, as such a scenario would entail the erosion of EU values and identity.

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Peter Magyar, a popular opposition politician of celebrity status meeting the press at the site of a soccer arena and miniature train station in Viktor Orban's village in Felcsut, Hungary. on May 24, 2024. Photo: Blue Corner Studio.

Shifting Political Landscapes: The Rise and Fall of Opposition Parties Amidst Fidesz’s Dominance in Hungary

The EP election results in Hungary indicate interesting dynamics. The governing Fidesz party achieved a somewhat pyrrhic victory. Although it won 44.82% of the votes, making it the winner, this result is the worst the party has ever achieved in its EP election history. The big winner of the EP election is Magyar’s Tisza party, which received 29.6% of the votes and may send seven representatives to the EP. Given that the party practically did not exist in the minds of voters a few months prior, becoming the largest opposition party was a significant success. A big question now is, in which faction of the EP will the Hungarian parties find their political home?

By Robert Csehi* 

For the first time in history, the European Parliamentary elections in Hungary were held simultaneously with local municipal elections. This dual campaign posed a unique challenge for political actors, as they had to address both local and European issues in their messages. However, in this summary, I will focus solely on the results of the European Parliamentary election.

The governing party, Fidesz, in coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), launched its European Parliament campaign in late April and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán encapsulated the party’s core message with the slogan: ‘no migration, no gender, no war.’ This slogan was supposed to reflect an antagonistic relationship between the position of Fidesz and that of ‘Brussels.’ Orbán claimed to stop illegal migration into Hungary despite the EU’s alleged liberal policies and called for resistance against ‘gender ideology’ in the name of safeguarding Hungarian children against the alleged LGBTQ+ propaganda. While these two elements featured in the social media messages of the governing party in the beginning, the third message, ‘no war,’ gained ever-increasing attention in Orbán’s campaign and ultimately eclipsed the other two. 

Orbán, relying on a populist discourse, crafted an artificial cleavage between the ‘pro-peace’ (Fidesz) and ‘pro-war’ (practically everybody else) political actors. He and his party used this differentiation not only domestically but also extended it to the European political scene, claiming that most European leaders were suffering from ‘war psychosis.’ He appealed to the most basic fears of the population, constantly portraying the European Parliamentary elections as a decisive battle between war and peace, life and death. The party messages often featured European politicians, from Emmanuel Macron and Manfred Weber to Ursula von der Leyen, as war propagators, along with their alleged domestic alliances with relevant opposition figures like former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, MEPs Klára Dobrev, Anna Donáth, and Katalin Cseh, and new political actor Péter Magyar. Interestingly, the social media campaign of the governing party never mentioned Russia as responsible for the war in Ukraine but rather blamed European actors and NATO for escalating the conflict by supporting Ukraine with money and weapons. Throughout the campaign, it was unclear what Orbán and his party meant by ‘peace’ and how they intended to achieve it once their candidates appeared in the European Parliament.

The greatest challenger to Fidesz and Orbán proved to be a completely new political actor, Péter Magyar, and his party, Tisza (Respect and Freedom). Magyar, a former bureaucrat and the ex-husband of Orbán’s former Justice Minister, Judit Varga, gained attention following a political scandal. This scandal arose after the former Hungarian President Katalin Novák and Varga granted clemency to a convicted paedophile accomplice, with Varga supposed to lead Fidesz’s EP list.

Magyar’s EU program remained somewhat vague during the election campaign. However, it was known that he wanted Hungary to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, aimed to gain access to the suspended EU funds for Hungary, and supported a strong Europe of strong nations rather than a European federation. He consistently blamed the government for making Hungary the second most corrupt and second-poorest country in the EU despite the substantial funds received from the union since 2004. As a newcomer, the Tisza party did not invest much in online campaigns but relied on Magyar’s countrywide tour and his social media platform.

The leftist-environmentalist coalition (DK-MSZP-P) led by Klára Dobrev campaigned with a federalist view of Europe, claiming to be the most Europeanist party in Hungary, and focused on European wages, pensions, and welfare. The liberal Momentum built its EP campaign around the two MEPs, Anna Donáth and Katalin Cseh, highlighting their contributions. They claimed to have played a role in the suspension of EU funds to Hungary to limit corruption but also stressed that, thanks to them, Hungarian SMEs, CSOs, and municipalities can now apply for more EU funds directly, bypassing the corrupt channels of the Hungarian government. They also contributed to the Media Freedom Act, which combats political interference in editorial decisions. 

Finally, the radical right party, Our Homeland, campaigned with negative messages about the EU. László Toroczkai blamed the EU for its undemocratic nature, globalist agenda, and corrupt dealings.

The EP election results indicate interesting dynamics. Fidesz has achieved a somewhat pyrrhic victory. Although it won 44.82% of the votes, making them the winners, this result is the worst the party has ever achieved in its EP election history. Pro-government commentators are quick to highlight that the party received over two million votes, more than it ever received before, thanks to the higher-than-average turnout due to the double election. However, this does not change the fact that the governing party-coalition has lost two mandates in the EP and will send 11 representatives this time.

It is also noteworthy that Orbán promised to achieve a mobilization record and pushed the campaign to the extreme by appealing to the electorate’s greatest fears, equating the election with a choice between life or death, war and peace. Additionally, the governing party spent an enormous amount of money on the campaign, both online and offline, compared to its main challenger, Magyar’s Tisza party. Overall, support for Fidesz has decreased, and it is not yet clear how Orbán will manage the situation with looming economic and acute political challenges. Nevertheless, one cannot underestimate the strength of Fidesz.

The big winner of the EP election is Magyar’s Tisza party, which received 29.6% of the votes and may send seven representatives to the EP. Given that the party practically did not exist in the minds of voters a few months prior, becoming the largest opposition party was a great success. Although about 10% of Tisza supporters came from Fidesz, according to surveys, the party had a more devastating impact on the existing opposition parties. 

The leftist-environmentalist coalition (DK-MSZP-P) managed to secure only two seats, compared to their previous five (DK: 4, MSZP-P: 1). In the 2019 EP election, DK received 16.05% of the votes, whereas now the coalition managed only 8.03%. While the leftist coalition survived Tisza’s challenge, the liberal Momentum did not. The party received only 3.7% of the votes, losing its two mandates in the EP. 

Another winner of the election was the radical Our Homeland party (Jobbik), which secured one seat in the EP with a vote share of 6.71%. However, this should not be overestimated, given that Jobbik, the previously far-right party, also had one representative in the EP during its last term. While eleven parties competed for mandates, in the end, only four parties (or party coalitions) will represent the Hungarian people in the EP.

A big question is, in which faction of the EP will these parties find their political home? It is clear that the leftist-environmentalist coalition will continue within the S&D faction. Magyar recently met with Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), and both seemed pleased with the prospect of joining political forces. As a result, KDNP, Fidesz’s coalition partner which remained in the EPP after Fidesz left the center-right bloc in 2021, announced they will also leave the EPP. The governing parties appear to strive to join the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group led by Italy’s Georgia Meloni, despite potential friction over certain policies. For instance, Meloni, Kaczynski, and smaller Finnish, Latvian, and Lithuanian members within the ECR have diametrically opposed views on the Ukraine war and voted overwhelmingly for financial assistance to Ukraine. The Identity and Democracy (ID) faction, with Le Pen and Salvini, voted against this measure, but other policies seem to keep Orbán away from this faction.

The far-right Our Homeland party planned to create a new faction with Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), whose leader visited Hungarian counterpart László Torockai before the election. However, AfD officials have already signaled their aim to return to the ID faction. If Torockai decides to join this faction as well, it is questionable whether Fidesz MEPs would then join. This situation illustrates how far Fidesz has drifted from its center-right position on European matters. Consequently, it is unlikely that Fidesz will tone down its Eurosceptic populist voice in the coming years.

(*) Dr. Robert Csehi is an Assistant Professor at Corvinus University of Budapest.

European Union flags against European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.

The Populist Radical Right in the New European Parliament

The 2024 European Parliament elections have justified fears of the rise of the populist radical right (PRR) and a potential shift towards more right-wing policies over the next five years. While pro-European parties will still maintain a majority in the new parliament, the populist radical right has registered significant gains, however with varied performances across countries and regions.

By Emilia Zankina & Gilles Ivaldi

The 2024 European Parliament elections have justified fears of the rise of the populist radical right (PRR) and a potential shift to more right-wing policies over the next five years. While pro-European parties will still maintain a majority in the new parliament, the populist radical right has registered significant gains, however with varied performances across countries and regions.

A Good Day for the Populist Radical Right

Overall, populist radical right forces have won nearly 180 seats, making up 25% of all seats in the new European parliament. The largest contingents come mainly from France’s Rassemblement National (National Rally, RN), Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), the Polish Law and Justice (PiS), the German AfD and Hungary’s Fidesz. These five parties alone account for more than half of all far-right elected representatives.

Notwithstanding such magnifying effects, these results reflect the electoral consolidation and increasingly the mainstreaming of those parties across Europe. The current popularity of the populist radical right is rooted in the multiple crises to which EU citizens have been exposed since 2008 – the financial crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and now the war in Ukraine and cost of living.

Ironically, some of the largest gains have come from the EU founding countries. Most striking is the win of National Rally (RN) in France with over double the votes of President Macron’s coalition. As a result, Marcon called snap parliamentary elections in an attempt to reaffirm a pro-European majority – a risky strategy that is already bringing political chaos that analysts compare to madcap reality TV– strikingly resembling David Cameron’s political gamble on Brexit 10 years ago.

In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has come in second ahead of Chancellor Scholz’s social democrats. The Christian Democrats have registered a decisive victory, but at a cost of shifting their rhetoric to the right, especially on topics such as migration. 

As expected, Brothers of Italy registered a resounding victory, cementing prime-minister Giorgia Meloni’s position at home and making her a key player at the European level, a few days before hosting the G7 summit. While she has upheld a firm pro-European position on security and foreign policy matters, she has been critical of EU’s policies on climate, migration, and social issues.

Following the formation of a new coalition government, Geert Wilders Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands also placed second, just 4% behind the leading Green and Labor party. The Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) was the winner in the elections with a slight advantage over the Christian Democrats. Austria and the Netherlands have for long been a fertile ground for the populist radical right who have enjoyed not only representation in parliament, but also in government.

In Hungary, Viktor Orbán gained the most votes in a system that is ever less democratic, though, his Fidesz party showed the worst ever results in a European parliament election. Orban’s dominance was challenged by a former party member who ran on an anti-corruption platform. Péter Magyar’s Tisza party scored almost 30%, giving hope for democracy in Hungary. More to the right, Fidesz was also challenged by the rise of Our Homeland Movement (MHM) about 7% of the vote.

In Poland, the fragile government majority managed to maintain its upper hand over the Law and Justice party (PiS) which has systematically eroded democratic institutions over the past decade. Such good news notwithstanding, PiS will be sending a solid 20 MEPs to the European parliament, making it the second largest member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) after Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (24 seats).

In addition to these big wins, we witnessed a surge in the representation of smaller populist radical right parties across Europe. The Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) came second (although far behind the leading pro-European grand coalition), as did the Latvian National Alliance and the Cypriot National Popular Front. The Slovak Republica and the Croat Homeland Movement came third, as did the Spanish VOX and the Portuguese Chega. In Bulgaria the Revival party surpassed the social democrats – the oldest party in the country, and the Swedish Democrats (SD) gained an additional seat. 

Together these parties could shift the European Parliament further to the right. The saving grace for the pro-European majority is that they are not united and split across three groups in the European parliament – the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) led by Meloni and the Polish PiS, the Identity and Democracy (ID) around Le Pen and Wilders, and the non-attached. Orbán, whose party was expelled from the European People’s Party (EPP), has urged Le Pen (ID) and Meloni (ECR) to join forces with his non-attached Fidesz party and form what would be the second largest group in the European parliament. The dynamics and negotiations in the coming weeks among these populist radical right actors will determine their overall leverage and likely impact on policy matters.

A Real Threat or Politics as Usual

The clear winner of the elections is the European People’s Party (EPP), which gained 12 seats for a total of 190. The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) secured 136 seats, only a few seats below their representation in the previous parliament. The big losers of the election are the liberals with Renew Europe losing 22 seats and the Greens who lost 20 seats. Still this gives the pro-European parties a majority of over 400 seats in the new 720-seat parliament.

Despite such majority, the populist radical right is likely to have greater influence over key policy matters. Although divided over security questions, economics, and the war in Ukraine, populist radical right parties are much more united in their positions on climate change, migration, and enlargement. While Ursula von der Leyen speaking on behalf of the EPP vowed to create “a bastion against the extremes,” it remains to be seen whether the EPP will seek support from the radical right on certain policy matters and whether we might notice an overall shift to the right in the European Parliament’s agenda.