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

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Del Monte, M. (2023, December). Y”outh Participation in European Elections (Issue Brief PE 754.634).” European Parliament. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2023/754634/EPRS_BRI(2023)754634_EN.pdf

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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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Syrian refugees arrive from Turkey by boat through the cold waters near Molyvos, Lesbos, Greece, in an overloaded dinghy on October 29, 2015. Photo: Nicolas Economou.

Death Toll Much Higher Than Reported: Rising Casualties Among Migrants Attempting to Reach the EU

Statistics on the EU migration crisis indicate that over 3,000 lives have been lost in the Mediterranean Sea, with 60% of the deaths linked to drowning. However, these figures are not precise, many ‘ghost boats’ disappear from radar with no record of the number of migrants on board. Indeed, the majority of migrant deaths worldwide go unrecorded.

By Greta Martinez

In recent years, Europe has witnessed a large number of migrants risking their lives in search of better life and opportunities. Tragically, this search sometimes results in death. The danger of this route is too great to ignore, and this paper aims to examine the intersection between migration policies, populism, human rights, and the escalating number of deaths.

In the last decade, Europe has faced an unprecedented number of migrants attempting to cross its borders, particularly via the Mediterranean Sea, which is infamous for being the deadliest migration route. The number of deaths is alarming; in 2023, the total number increased by 20%, making it the deadliest year for migrants since the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began keeping records (IOM Report, 2024). Statistics on the EU migration crisis indicate that over 3,000 lives have been lost in the Mediterranean, with 60% of the deaths linked to drowning. However, these figures are not precise, as the IOM explains, many ‘ghost boats’ disappear from radar with no record of the number of migrants on board. Indeed, the majority of migrant deaths worldwide go unrecorded (Migration Data Portal, 2024).

Populist Migration Policies to Blame for Increasing Death Tolls

To understand the reasons behind the rising death toll and the increasing number of migrants taking more dangerous routes, it is necessary to examine the interaction between these deaths and populist migration policies. The growing popularity of populist politics across Europe has dramatically impacted migration policies. Populist policymakers are known for their nationalistic rhetoric, which fosters fear of the unknown and of those who are different. Border protection policies are a central element of populism, prioritizing border security over human lives. This results in policies that focus on protecting borders rather than saving the lives of those fleeing unstable states, poverty, or wars (Osuna, 2022). When countries restrict legal routes for refugees, they force individuals to undertake even more perilous journeys to reach safety (Oxford, 2024).

The externalization of border control by populist governments often involves proposing migration deals to improve partner countries’ border management and migrant interception capabilities. Examples of these policies include the recent bilateral agreement between Italy and Albania signed by Italian populist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and a similar agreement with Libya, primarily signed by former populist Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (Martini & Megerisi, 2023). These agreements shift the responsibility of handling migrants to third-party states, which do not always respect fundamental human rights or adhere to the Geneva Convention. Populist migration policies are frequently criticized by international human rights organizations for violating international laws and agreements on asylum and refugee rights (Muižnieks, 2017).

The migration policies followed by populist governments, which often result in more deaths, include measures such as refusing docking rights to rescue ships. A notable example of this was the ‘Sea Watch Case’ in Italy. The then Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, did not permit the docking of the NGO “Open Arms” rescue ship. However, the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, defied his orders and docked anyway, sparking a legal dispute about the interpretation of humanitarian aid for migrants with sanitary needs. The policy of denying docking rights to ships in the European Union after a long and perilous journey often leads to more deaths in the Mediterranean Sea due to delayed responses from authorities. It is crucial to highlight the dangerous situations that delayed responses create for migrants arriving in the EU on illegal boats. Late actions by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) or national authorities can result in shipwrecks, such as the one that occurred in Cutro, Italy, on the night of February 25, 2023.

Border States’ Responsibility to Save Lives: The Italian Example

Populist parties in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy, and Greece are known by the EU Commission (Triandafyllidou, 2013) for emphasizing migration issues more strongly than other EU states, as these border countries are more affected by the illegal arrival of irregular ships. The increase in deaths is linked to the inadequate response of these states often lacking the resources and infrastructure to cope with the influx of arrivals. For example, the Italian approach to the migrant crisis has gained significant attention and generated controversy, with their closed-border policies raising critical humanitarian concerns. Italy has been a primary destination for migrants coming from North Africa and the Middle East.

The new regulations, which are part of the migration policy followed by Italian PM Meloni to prevent irregular migration, reduce the possibility of multiple rescues and introduce sanctions and administrative measures for violations. These measures have consequently led to an increase in deaths on the Mediterranean Sea. By closing ports and restricting rescue operations, Italy has effectively left thousands of migrants stranded at sea in dangerous conditions, as seen in the Cutro catastrophe. This fatal incident occurred just three days after the approval of the restrictions on NGO rescues. The cause of this shipwreck was Italy’s delayed response following the FRONTEX report of a ship needing rescue. The Italian authorities approached the situation as a police operation to stop irregular migration, not as a humanitarian mission (Pons, 2023). Despite the application of this new regulation, in 2023, Italy experienced a 50% increase in migrants arriving by sea compared to 2022.

Conclusion 

As noted in the analyzed example of Italy, populist governments justify stringent migration policies as necessary for their national security and sovereignty. However, they often do not respect international refugee and migration law and fundamental human rights. The protection of borders, fueled by populist agendas, perpetuates and maintains a lack of empathy towards the deaths during the migration process, reducing these tragedies to mere numbers in European newspapers. Furthermore, populist agendas create and perpetuate a narrative of “us versus them,” neglecting the ethical imperative to protect human rights. This undermines European credibility as an exemplar of human rights advocacy on the global stage. The escalating number of deaths at EU borders is a stark reminder of the human cost of racist and restrictive migration policies driven by populist agendas. To prevent further deaths, the EU must adopt an approach that prioritizes protecting human rights, human lives and fosters international cooperation to avoid casualties.


References

Oxford, D. (2024). “Why refugee deaths at an all-time high.” Al-Jazeera. March 8, 2024. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/3/8/why-are-refugee-deaths-at-an-all-time-high (accessed on May 15, 2024).

Osuna, J. J. O. (2024). “Populism and Borders: Tools for Constructing ‘The People’ and Legitimizing Exclusion.” Journal of Borderlands Studies, 39(2), 203–226. https://doi.org/10.1080/08865655.2022.2085140

Black, J.; Warner, K.; Manke, M.; Borja, M.G.; Abdelazim, M. & Sigman, Z. (2024). A Decade of Documenting Migrant Deaths: Data analysis, and reflection on deaths during migration documented by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project,International Organization for Migration. Berlin. https://missingmigrants.iom.int/MMP10years (accessed on May 15, 2024).

Martini, L.S. & Megerisi, T. (2023) “Road to Nowhere: Why Europe’s Border Externalisation is a Dead End.” European Council on Foreign Relationshttps://ecfr.eu/publication/road-to-nowhere-why-europes-border-externalisation-is-a-dead-end/ (accessed on April 15, 2024).

Migration Data Portal. (2024). Migrant deaths and disappearanceshttps://www.migrationdataportal.org/themes/migrant-deaths-and-disappearances (accessed on April 16, 2024).

Muižnieks, N. (2017). Populism? Human Rights Regression and the Role of the Ombudsman. Keynote Speech at IOI Europe Conference, Barcelona. https://rm.coe.int/16807095ff (accessed on May 20, 2024).

Pons, L. (2023). “Naufragio di Cutro, cosa è successo: la dinamica e le responsabilità.” Fanpage. June 7, 2023.  https://www.fanpage.it/politica/naufragio-di-crotone-cosa-non-ha-funzionato-nella-catena-dei-soccorsi-ai-migranti/ (accessed on May 15, 2024).

Triandafyllidou, A. (2013). “Migration policy in Southern Europe: challenges, constraints and prospects.” European Website on Integration. October 18, 2013. https://migrant-integration.ec.europa.eu/library-document/migration-policy-southern-europe-challenges-constraints-and-prospects_en (accessed on May 20, 2024). 

EU flags in EU Council building during the EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium on June 28, 2018. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

Ventotene Manifesto, Europe, and Federalist Liberalism Today

The Ventotene Manifesto beautifully weaves together the aspirations for a united Europe with the principles of (federalist) liberalism. Its legacy should encourage European citizens to ponder the significance of European values and to defend them. How? By promoting a system both market-based and social; that rejects collectivism and embraces individualism; that prompts personal responsibility and denounces populism; that promotes transparent, efficient, and democratic governance; that acknowledges liberal democracy’s flaws but knows that the authoritarian pathway – fostered by populist forces – is ruinous. This is federalist liberalism.

By Amedeo Gasparini

The European Union (EU) has historically been seen as a beacon of peace, cooperation, and shared values. However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable rise in populist movements – from the right to the left – across several EU countries. The use of nationalist discourse, the unabashed use of demagogy and populism as a method of political offer, and the recourse to the “protection” of the state, are elements which demonstrate today’s crisis in the EU. These elements typically belong to the populist discourse and weaken the EU as a whole. In particular, the surge in right and far-right movements has led to increased polarization in the member states (Roberts, 2022), with political discourse becoming more confrontational. Alongside the rise of far-right ideologies, euroscepticism has also gained momentum. Eurosceptics often criticize the EU’s institutions for being bureaucratic, undemocratic, and infringing upon national sovereignty.

A general sense of dissatisfaction concerning the economic conditions in some EU countries, immigration, the post-Covid-19 pandemic, and the Russian war in Ukraine are among the conditions that enable right- and left-wing populism and anti-Europeanism to gain popularity. Growing eurosceptic sentiment fuels debates about the EU’s future, with traditional debates on supranationalism – that is, supranational actors promote integration through the spillover effect – and intergovernmentalism – that is, member states, following national interests, dictate control (Schmidt, 2016). Modern Europe has a decade-long legacy of fighting against totalitarian regimes and defending democratic values; and this should remind the EU about its determination to overcome internal divisions and continue to promote peace, prosperity, and solidarity.

The 80th anniversary of the Ventotene Manifesto, penned by Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi (2006 [1944]) is being celebrated this year and continues to stand as an inspirational cornerstone text of the EU and its values. However, it is also a useful guide for dealing with the multiple crises plaguing the EU. Conceived in 1941 while the two authors were confined on the island of Ventotene, the document was initially distributed covertly. Eugenio Colorni later published it, adding a preface. Secretly printed in Rome in January 1944, it was later complemented with two essays by Spinelli, “The United States of Europe and the Various Political Tendencies” (1942) and “Marxist Politics and Federalist Politics” (1942-1943). While Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi’s Pan-Europe (1997 [1923]) advocated for a European union steered by technocrats (thus more functionalist), the Manifesto proposed a European Federation with a parliament and a government wielding substantial powers in areas like economics and foreign policy.

While this article reviews Spinelli’s and Rossi’s work, it starts from the Manifesto and its legacy to outline some priorities for the EU to return to the federal spirit and the renewal of liberal ideas in a federalist key considering the EU’s current political context. The Manifesto proposed the creation of a “United States of Europe” as a solution to avoid future conflicts on the continent and to promote peace and prosperity through greater political and economic integration between European nations (D’Auria, 2011). The document, which has had a major impact on the federalist movement (Vayssière, 2005), is still a roadmap towards an unfinished project in today’s EU, threatened in its cohesion and unity by internal – populists – and external actors – autocrats. The Manifesto’s principles and ideals might serve as a guide to strengthen the European integration process and face the current challenges with determination and common vision.

In his preface, anti-fascist Italian philosopher Eugenio Colorni cautioned against merely rearranging populations after the Second World War, advocating instead for a genuine European Federation, more advanced than the ineffective League of Nations. Mindful of the 1930s they experienced, Spinelli and Rossi argued that an integralist principle of non-intervention among European nations was absurd; and no country should freely opt for an authoritarian regime – as this would have, as it had, dramatic consequences for its neighbors. Thus, they emphasized the need to establish a new transnational political entity, a European Federation. Colorni called for the establishment of a unified federal army, a single currency, the elimination of customs barriers and migration restrictions between states, representation of citizens in federal institutions, and a cohesive foreign policy.

There is little point in listing the Manifesto’s achieved and unachieved policies, as the world today is significantly different from the mid-1940s’. It is rather useful instead to focus on the major insights set out by the authors and to understand how these can be adapted today and how they can benefit the European governance. At the Manifesto’s core lies the principle of freedom and the four liberties – free movement of goods, people, capitals, and services. For Spinelli and Rossi, a free and united Europe represented the path to rekindling the development of modern civilization oriented on liberal democracy. They envisioned a federal union enhanced by the close cooperation among member states, democratic representation for European citizens, and an unwavering respect for the continent’s cultural diversity.

The authors started by proposing to overcome territorial selfishness, both at the national and European levels, and to eliminate obstacles to the free movement of people and goods. They aspired to a reduction of state interference in citizens’ lives, openly criticizing authoritarian approaches (2006 [1944]). A significant section of the Manifesto addresses economic issues. The authors argued that given the global economic interconnectedness, the entire world has become the living space for people eager to maintain a modern way of life. In an age of economic interdependence, the authors argued, trade wars are counterproductive and unnecessary. Rossi and Spinelli highlighted how the total nationalization of the economy was seen as a liberating utopia by the working classes; however, once realized, it did not lead to the desired goal, but rather to a system in which the population is subservient to the bureaucratic managerial class.

A Europe that is truly free and ready to face future challenges is also one that values the free market and assigns the state an appropriate role, one that does not see it as a protagonist in the lives of citizens. On these notes, without mentioning it, the Manifesto was to designate federalist liberalism as the way forward for a future European construction – not by chance, both federalism and liberalism champion individual freedom, advocate for the autonomy of local communities, checks and balances. Federalist liberalism aims to strike a harmonious balance between the sovereignty of member states, and prioritizes safeguarding individual rights, while fostering economic growth and welfare. Within this framework, European federalism emerges as an indispensable system for securing peace, stability, and progress across the continent, harmonizing the individual nations’ autonomy with collaborative efforts at the European level.

The federalist vision of a united, free, and democratic Europe shines as a beacon of hope, and serves as both compass and inspiration. The Manifesto’s relevance endures today for several reasons, each aligning with five EU’s key priorities: an effective European Federation, the emphasis on peace and democracy, the spirit of solidarity, the quest for a shared European identity, and the promotion of democratic governance.

The vision of a European Federation has seen significant realization with the gradual formation of today’s EU. Given today’s global challenges, there’s an amplified need for increased integration and cooperation among EU member states. But most of all, there is still much to be done in terms of the EU’s efficiency and integration (Schimmelfennig et al.,2023) – for example fiscal union, cooperation in the energy sector, policies for high-tech companies. Today’s EU needs Spinelli’s and Rossi’ enthusiasm to reinvigorate, enhancing cohesion and cross-collaboration among its member states. It is in times of change that the concept of a European Federation might renew its significance. While deepening integration in key areas like defense, health, and foreign policy will pave the way for more effective EU as local and global actor. Just as in the early days of the European Community, when nations pooled coal and steel within the supranational organization European Coal and Steel Community (Glockner-Rittberger, 2012).

Secondly, the Manifesto underscored the pivotal role of peace and democracy in averting conflicts and ensuring the citizens’ welfare. Peace in Europe is not a given; and it is indispensable for forging a united and prosperous Europe. However, geopolitical tensions, regional crises, and autocratic and terrorist threats still test the continent’s security. Thus, upholding democratic values and fostering unity among European nations remain crucial for peace and stability. There cannot be peace without rule of law. European-style democracy is not merely a political system; it embodies a set of values, principles, and rights safeguarding well-being and freedom. But again: without the rule of law, democracy is also vacuous. It is from freedom that peace and democracy are achieved, not the other way around. See, for example, the accession of some former Warsaw Pact countries to the European Community in 2004: only under conditions of freedom they were able to develop a modern economy and liberal democracy, thus true peace, and welfare.

Solidarity is emphasized in the Manifesto as a vital principle binding the peoples of Europe together and it continues to resonate in today’s European political discourse. Solidarity – an ethical guideline and element of integration – is a hidden principle of federalist liberalism: the better-off helps the weaker – not only out of a spirit of charity, but because it may be in its interest to deal with partners in the best conditions to cooperate. Effective solidarity transcends national divisions. A unified response from EU member states, solidarity is also sharing responsibility in the current challenges. It encompasses respecting human rights, but it is also pivotal in the economic sphere as well, fostering also growth, dignity, and prosperity.

The Ventotene Manifesto advocated for a European identity rooted in shared values, cultures, and a common historical legacy. Federalist liberalism would preach that fostering European identity might be an answer to rising nationalism. The concept of European identity is not necessarily at odds with the idea of nationhood and national identity. It offers a pathway to a united yet open and uncertain future, complementing – and not substituting – national identities. It offers a shared platform where diverse European cultures and traditions coexist, fostering mutual enrichment and collaboration. While the European identity has been and still is object of debate (Wallace-Strømsnes, 2008), the European identity is an identity among other global identities. It is on this common ground that European states came together and federated; and today it needs further integration via a new European governance model (Kaplan, 2018).

A fifth element is a governance system grounded in democratic principles and transparency. Amid ongoing critiques of EU bureaucracy, the Manifesto – again – offers valuable perspectives on this. The transparency of European institutions cannot only be a matter of fact but must also be perceived by the population (Brandsma, 2019, Font-Pérez-Durán, 2022). Such a governance framework would prioritize European citizens’ democratic representation and their interests, ensuring that European-level decisions resonate with people’s interests and values. Transparency empowers citizens with access to information and involve them in decision-making processes, expanding their rights, bolstering the legitimacy and efficacy of European institutions to get the new European governance more efficient and accountable.

Today the Manifesto underscores the significance of a free and open society, a fundamental framework cherishing individual freedom, market economy, and the rule of law. The Ventotene Manifesto beautifully weaves together the aspirations for a united Europe with the principles of (federalist) liberalism. Its legacy should encourage European citizens to ponder the significance of European values and to defend them. How? By promoting a system both market-based and social; that rejects collectivism and embraces individualism; that prompts personal responsibility and denounces populism; that promotes transparent, efficient, and democratic governance; that acknowledges liberal democracy’s flaws but knows that the authoritarian pathway – fostered by populist forces – is ruinous. This is federalist liberalism. Spinelli and Rossi could not have imagined today’s EU, which has made huge strides from post-World War Two Europe, but they wanted a transnational and social, open, and transparent European federalist movement.

The Manifesto stands as a symbol of the quest for a European identity anchored in cooperation, unity, and solidarity. Federalist liberalism not only represents a perfect synthesis between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism, but it might reinvigorate the current EU. Spinelli and Rossi envisioned a federation as the output of a new governance. However, the realization of this project has been gradual, and the journey remains unfinished. The Ventotene Manifesto is not only a historical reference point, but also a source of inspiration and a call to action for who believe in the European project. It is a reminder of the need to overcome national divisions and to work together to enhance a united, free, and prosperous Europe. It offers both a history lesson and a roadmap for the future. Its federalist viewpoint, rooted in liberal and democratic principles, is still valid today for us to recognize the compatibility of cooperation and freedom.


 

References

Brandsma, Gijs J. (2019). “Transparency of EU informal trilogues through public feedback in the European Parliament: promise unfulfilled.” Journal of European Public Policy, Volume 26, Issue 10, pp. 1464-1483, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2018.1528295 

Coudenhove-Kalergi, Richard Nicolaus. (1997 [1923]). Pan-Europa. Un grande progetto per l’Europa unita. Rimini: Il Cerchio Iniziative Editoriali.

D’Auria, Matthew. (2011). “The Ventotene manifesto: The crisis of the nation state and the political identity of Europe.” In: Spiering, Menno; Wintle, Michael (Ed.). European identity and the second world war. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Font, Nuria; Pérez-Durán, Ixchel. (2022). “Legislative Transparency in the European Parliament: Disclosing Legislators’ Meetings with Interest Groups.” Journal of Comon Market Studies. Volume 61, Issue 2, pp. 379-296, 10.1111/jcms.13371.

Glockner, Iris; Rittberger, Berthold. (2012). “The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and European Defence Community (EDC) Treaties.” In: Laursen, Fin (Ed.). Designing the European Union. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kaplan, Yılmaz (2018). “(Re)considering sovereignty in the European integration process.” Asian Journal of German and European Studies. Volume 3, Issue 1, DOI: 10.1186/s40856-017-0023-4.

Roberts, Kenneth M. (2022). “Populism and Polarization in Comparative Perspective: Constitutive, Spatial and Institutional Dimensions.” Government and Opposition. Volume 57, Issue 4, pp. 680-702, DOI: 10.1017/gov.2021.14.

Schimmelfennig, Frank; Leuffen, Dirk; De Vries, Caterine. E. (2023). “Differentiated integration in the European Union: Institutional effects, public opinion, and alternative flexibility arrangements.” European Union Politics. Volume 24, Issue 1, pp. 3-20, DOI: 10.1177/14651165221119083.

Schmidt, Vivien A. (2016). “The ‘new’ EU governance: ‘new’ intergovernmentalism versus ‘new’ supranationalism plus ‘new’ parliamentarism.” Les Cahiers du Cevipol. Volume 5, pp. 5-31.

Spinelli, Altiero; Rossi, Ernesto. (2006 [1944]). Il Manifesto di Ventotene. Milan: Mondadori.

Vayssière, Bertrand. (2005). “Le manifeste de Ventotene (1941) : acte de naissance du fédéralisme européen.” Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains. Volume 217, Issue 1, pp. 69-76, DOI: 10.3917/gmcc.217.0069.

Wallace, Claire; Strømsnes, Kristin. (2008). “Introduction: European Identities.” Perspectives on European Politics and Society. Volume 9, Issue 4, pp. 378-380, DOI: 10.1080/15705850802416762 

Pericles Funeral Oration on old Greece 50 drachma (1955) banknote. Famous historical speech of Pericles at the end of first year of the Peloponnesian War. Photo: Shutterstock.

A Survey on Political Rights of Individuals under Different Forms of Ancient Greek Government

Although not perfect, as no government form ever is, Athenian democracy allowed citizens to have the greatest say in how they were governed, giving them necessary legal and economic protections to do so. One can see why modern scholars define Athens as having a ‘radical’ democracy, as actions such as changing the surnames of citizens to incorporate the name of their deme, having a highly complex jury selection system, and even paying individuals for public service, were all radical ideas when compared to the oligarchic systems of other city-states and kingdoms such as Macedonia.

By Christo Pretorius

It’s hard to miss the stark warnings from a variety of sources about the dangers of populist leaders and how democracy is currently on decline around the world (Freedom House, 2024; Netherlands Helsinki Committee, 2022; Pengelly, 2022). It would perhaps surprise many that, what we consider to be current contemporary issues are not necessarily new, and we can draw from the past a rich collection of political discourse and historical conflict. 

The term “Democracy” originates from the Ancient Greek world, derived from the Greek words demos, meaning ‘people,’ and kratos, meaning ‘rule’ (Kofi, 2015). In the Classical Period of Ancient Greek history, various city-states adopted different forms of government, often influenced by local and foreign circumstances. By the 4th Century, there was a general consensus on three main types of political systems: autocracy, oligarchy, and democracy. As the Greek statesman Aeschines pointed out, “Autocracies and oligarchies are administered according to the tempers of their lords, but democratic states according to established laws” (Aeschines, 1.4). Similarly, Aristotle writes his views on the different systems: ‘…The deviations from these are as follows: from kingship, tyranny; From aristocracy, oligarchy; from constitutional government, democracy. For tyranny is a kind of monarchy, which looks to the interests of the ruler; oligarchy looks to the interests of the wealthy; and democracy to the interests of the poor: none of these looks to the common good of the people as a whole’ (Aristotle, Pol., 1279b4). 

This passage raises an interesting question that is worth exploring – what political rights did the average person have under these different systems of government? For the purpose of this article, three aspects closely related to political freedoms will be investigated: Political participation, legal equality, and social mobility. Political participation ties into the ideas of freedom of speech, and the means for individuals to make changes to the way they are governed; Social mobility would indicate whether individuals have the ability to achieve a greater political status within the state; Legal equality would allow us to use the rule of law as a measure of political freedom. 

For optimal analysis, this article is divided into two parts. The first part will contextualize the three different government systems, drawing from case examples within the Ancient Aegean. This will be particularly helpful for readers who might not be familiar with Ancient Greece. The second part of this article will then do a cross-comparative study focusing on the three afore mentioned factors, before a conclusion can be made on which system allowed for the greatest amount of individual choice and freedom in the public sphere. The risk with doing an analysis such as this is the danger of over generalization. As such, to the extent that the sources allow, each political system will have a case study state, all found within the same period of time – namely democratic Athens, monarchical Macedonia, and the oligarchic Boeotian Confederation. 

Athenian Democracy 

Ancient Athens has provided modern scholars a wealth of archaeological and literary sources that allow us to better understand how a highly developed ‘radical’ democratic system in the ancient world functioned (Leppin, 2013). Chief among these sources is Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians, a late 4th century work detailing the history and development of city-state’s political system (Aristotle, Const. Ath.). The Athenian government consisted of three primary institutions which were supported by numerous smaller ones of lesser importance (Blackwell, 2003). As a result of the reforms of the Athenian statesman Pericles in the 5th century, most of the political power in the state was given to what was known as the ‘Assembly of the Demos.’ This institution consisted of Athenian males over the age of 18 and gave every participant the right to discuss and vote on decrees that pertained to every aspect of Athenian life (Aristotle, Const. Ath. 27.1/41.2; Dem. 15.1). In the sources we have examples where we can see the Assembly voting on everything from whether or not to go to war (Dem. 15.4), to the laws governing the proper qualifications of ferry-boat captains (Aeschin. 3.158). In theory this institution represented the core of Athenian democracy. 

‘The Council of 500’ is the second of the three main institutions, and represented the full-time government of Athens (Blackwell, 2003). It was made up of 500 citizens, 50 from each of the ten tribes, or demes, delineated by the Athenian lawmaker Cleisthenes in the 6th century (Aristotle, Const. Ath. 21.3). Importantly, these demes were created to encourage a new political social group where individuals were not designated by family names, but officially used their deme as a surname both in public and private life (Aristotle, Const. Ath. 21.4/28.3). Upon reaching the age of eighteen, Athenian male citizens were enrolled on a deme list, and had the opportunity to participate for one year as a member of the Council. From Aristotle it is inferred that there was an expectation for individuals to serve at least once in their lifetime, and provisions were in place that prohibited individuals from serving on the Council more than twice (Aristotle, Const. Ath. 42.1/43.2/62.3). 

The final institution discussed is the People’s Court. This was the primary judicial body in Ancient Athens and had elaborate mechanisms to ensure complete randomness in juror selection for both civic and domestic cases (Aristotle, Const. Ath. 64-69). The jurors themselves were selected from Athenian citizens over the age of 30 and had the requirement that they not be in debt or disenfranchised (Aristotle, Const. Ath. 63.3). Most courts consisted of 500 jurors, but when the need arose, two courts could be combined to have 1,000 jurors, with the most serious cases being brought before the maximum of 1,500 (Aristotle, Const. Ath. 68). 

On the surface level, one can make the assessment that Athenian democracy strove to involve nearly all Athenian male citizens within every aspect of civic life, with different checks and balance mechanisms in place to ensure an element of randomness in both judicial and political office selection.

Hellenistic Kingship 

While Athenian Democracy boasted a high level of citizen participation, kingship represented its polar opposite. Macedonian kingship, and similar authoritarian regimes in the successor states to Alexander the Great’s short -lived empire, are the best examples of these autocratic states. Arthur Eckstein (2009: 249) highlights that ruler legitimacy in these kingdoms relied heavily on conquest and military governance, with institutions that reflected this fact. A royal court acted as the central hub for governance headed by the king himself and his philoi, or ‘friends,’ who would manage both the military and administrative affairs of the state (Eckstein, 2009: 250). These philoi seemed to have been from minor noble houses, high-ranking military officials or experts drawn from within the kingdom or abroad (Weber, 2009: 86). Within this court culture, a web of personal relationships maintained a balance of power between the philoi and the monarch. Gregor Weber (2009: 87) demonstrates in his article that during the reign of King Philip II, he had virtually monopolized all power within the court without much opposition, employing ‘each man according to his abilities, as the occasion demanded.’ 

In relation to Macedonia’s legal system, there are very few sources that we can use to construct a clear picture of their judicial institutions. In Plutarch’s account on the life of Alexander we find him mention: ‘[Alexander] would spend the day in hunting, or administering justice, or arranging his military affairs, or reading’ (Plut. Alex. 23.2). The Roman historian Quntius Curtius Rufus highlights: ‘In accordance with the ancient custom of the Macedonians, the king conducted the inquiry into criminal cases, and the army passed judgement – in time of peace it was a duty of the common people – and the power of the king availed to nothing’ (Curt. 6.8.25). Modern historian Joseph Roisman (2012: 133) presents that, as a result of the lack of sources, modern scholarship on the topic is divided into two camps – with one using examples from Alexander’s life, such as Plutarch, as evidence of the Macedonian king’s role as the supreme legal authority within the state, whilst others draw from Rufus’ account that while kings acted as judges, they would still heed the verdict of an assembly. 

Oligarchy in Ancient Greece 

Unlike Democracy and Autocracy which has been subject to extensive investigation by scholars, ancient oligarchic regimes have not received the same amount of attention due to the scarcity of sources and the greater interest in the alternatives. Of the work that has been written on oligarchies, the primary focus of debate has been defining the line which separates a democracy from an oligarchy (Simonton, 2017; Leppin, 2013). 

Aristotle indicates to us that oligarchies share similarities to democracies, as they are ruled by the majority, but a key difference is that a democracy can be defined where the ‘free are sovereign,’ and in an oligarchy ‘when the rich and more well born are few and sovereign’ (Aristot. Pol. 4.1290b). He continues to say that these oligarchic states are democratic in nature, and thus share the similar institutions with democratic states, but ‘may be administered in an oligarchic fashion’ (Aristot. Pol. 4.1295a). 

The Oxyrhynchus Historian’s Boeotian Constitution supports Aristotle’s claims and gives us a rare glimpse into the political institutions of an oligarchic system. Boeotia consisted of ten sovereign states, or eleven district wards, that each contributed individuals to the central government – The Boule (Council) (Oxyrhynchus Historian, Boeotian Constitution XI.2-4). In the text it is mentioned that each city had a local government which consisted of four smaller boulai. Decisions were passed unanimously, and only landed individuals with a certain undisclosed amount of land could partake in these councils. Unlike the Athenian government, the Boeotian Confederation’s central government did not pay individuals for participation in civic life, but rather the text highlights that ‘The wards provided the magistrates in this way, and together with each [magistrate] they supplied sixty members of the central Boule and paid their expenses themselves.’

Matthew Simonton (2013: 82-83), who has provided the most comprehensive study of oligarchies in the last few years, comments that the Boeotian system of local governance displays an ‘anxiety’ of the oligarchs that larger meetings could result in a ‘mob mentality,’ and thus by rotating oligarchs in and out, ‘the oligarchs figured out a way to be active citizens all of the time… while avoiding the problem of large, chaotic meetings’ that one finds in democracies. 

An important aspect within oligarchic regimes was the need for the elite to regulate each other’s political influence and power, lest the one group, family or individual becomes too powerful and assumes autocratic control. Thus, the adoption of democratic institutions with checks and balances helped oligarchs regulate each other. Hartmut Leppin (2013: 202)highlights that one thesis on Greek oligarchies is that they were ‘mostly restrictive democracies, with a variously limited citizen body.’ 

Although we do not have concrete evidence for how an oligarchic legal system worked, one prominent theory is that oligarchs empowered officials to settle disputes for them. Xenophon indicates this in his Constitution of the Lacedaimonians, where the Spartans employed Ephors as independent judges that could settle legal disputes by enforcing fines, stripping individuals from serving as a magistrate, and even have the authority to imprison individuals (Xen. Const. Lac. 8). However, Xenophon later comments that these ephors do not allow elected officials to rule however they want as they do in other cities, which contradicts Leppin’s findings by making them unique to Sparta (Xen. Const. Lac. 10.3). 

When it came to the relationship between the ruling oligarchs and the ordinary person, the oligarchs had a higher legal standing within the state, yet Simonton (2013:120) provides ample evidence to suggest that regulations were put in place to limit the power oligarchs had by imposing higher fines in some areas on an oligarch, should they abuse their position against the common person. Of course, in practice, the adherence to these regulations varied, and there are some examples of oligarchic regimes collapsing due to the abuse of legal authority – a lesson for other Greek city-states on why oligarchic power had to be controlled for the survival of their authority, best summarized by Isocrates as: ‘oligarchies as well as the others—have the longest life when they best serve the masses’ (Isocrates, 2.16).

Political Agency 

Turning to the comparative analysis of the three discussed political systems, ordinary individuals had little to no say over how they were ruled within Macedonia and/or other Hellenistic kingdoms, that is, unless they managed to usurp the throne through military means. Becoming one of the king’s philoi was the only way one could gain some form of political agency, but unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how much political freedom these philoi actually had, since the sources do not indicate whether or not Macedonia could be considered a constitutional monarchy or an outright autocracy (King, 2010). Weber (2009: 88-89) presents an interesting argument that the interdependence between king and the aristocracy meant that mutual cooperation was necessary, and thus competing interests had to be balanced between the king himself, and the groups that would form within the court from likeminded nobles seeking to push their agenda (See also Plut. Alex. 47). 

We do know greater political agency was afforded to individuals within democratic and oligarchic city-states, yet restrictions still applied. Notably, it was universal across all city-states that women were not permitted to partake in public life (Katz, 1992). Slaves were another group without political agency, who had little to no rights at all within any state (Cuffel, 1966). Therefore, political life was dominated by men. Within oligarchies these men were either wealthy, fulfilled some legal requirement, owned land, or some combination of these three factors. 

Whereas in Athens, participation in public life was based on citizenship and age. Aristotle gives us a clearer insight into how these different citizenship statuses apply, highlighting that in some oligarchies foreigners were permitted to partake in politics, as the only excluding factor was not being wealthy and owning land. In democracies citizen-women bore citizen-children, and in some instances this citizenship status would pass onto a child even if the father was a slave (Aristot. Pol. 3.1278a). 

At the time of Aristotle’s work, he mentions that foreigners, known as metics in Athens, were excluded from political affairs due to lack of citizenship, but James Watson (2010) makes a compelling argument that in practice the granting of citizenship to metics was not as clear cut. In his article, he proposes that the granting of citizenship status depended on the demes themselves when creating their citizenship lists, with some taking a hardline anti-immigrant stance, whilst others granted citizenship to metics up until the mid-5th century. This date coincides with the citizenship reforms of the prominent Athenian stateman Pericles, changing the laws so that citizenship was only conferred to children whose mother and father both were Athenians (Aristot. Const. Ath. 26.3). Unique to Athens was payment for public duties, which was also introduced in the mid-5th century, and allowed those living further away from the city, and with lesser financial means, to participate in all the democratic institutions (Aristot. Const. Ath. 62.2; Podes, 1993: 499). 

Of the three systems, Athens actively attempted to involve the greatest number of individuals to participate within civic life, and although the system was exclusively dominated by free men of Athenian birth, they had a much greater say in how they were governed compared to individuals found in oligarchies and Macedonia.

Social Mobility 

In this article, social mobility ties into the concept of achieving greater political agency and examines the barriers that existed in each separate government form. Democratic Athens once again afforded the greatest amount of political agency to the largest amount of people, especially when considering the existence of the Assembly, which allowed citizens from various economic backgrounds to partake in politics. The only real barrier to participation was monetary reasons, but we see a clear attempt to solve this problem with the aforementioned payment for attendance to the Assembly – which was increased over time from one obol to three (Aristot. Const. Ath. 41.3). 

The Macedonian kingdom offered little to no real means for political advancement within its autocratic system, rather it was the whim of the king that decided whether you would be permitted to the court. In seeking to tie his conquered territories closer to his kingdom, Philip displays the willingness to incorporate foreigners into his court, a trend that would be followed by Alexander during his conquest of Persia (Polyb. 8.10; Arr. An. 3.16.41). The aristocratic class themselves were drawn from local and foreign nobles and leaders. Service in the military would allow another avenue for individuals to get closer to the court, but ultimately there would only ever be one king. Unfortunately, it is once again hard to comment on Greek oligarchies without drawing from multiple sources. In theory, individuals could be drawn into the oligarchic class through any number of means depending on the system of election in place. Andrew Alwine (2018) preformed a cross-oligarchic survey and found that in many ways oligarchic systems of election resembled democratic systems – which is perhaps unsurprising given that previously it was highlighted that many of these oligarchies share close characteristics with democratic states. The drawing of lots, a small electorate council that weighs the ‘virtues’ of individuals, and having a polis-wide election where citizens write down the names of three men ‘regarded in all respects as the best’, are but some of the ways that oligarchic regimes maintained their number and power (Alwine, 2018: 248-251).

Legal Systems 

Although we cannot be certain of the characteristics of the Macedonian legal system, we do know that the king played a large role. We can assume that in a means to maintain a balance of power and the status quo, kings would attempt to be fair in judgement, lest it would disrupt their ability to effectively rule. An anecdote from Plutarch supports this, as Philip II fell asleep during his judgement of one Machaetas, who proceeded to appeal the judgement to the king because of the unfair trial (Plut. Moral. 178-179). Although the verdict wasn’t changed, Philip decided to pay the fine, thus maintaining the authority of his judgement, but acting ‘morally’ in the dispensing of justice. Similarly, Plutarch also reports that Alexander fined his friends whom he caught gambling illegally, a minor but important example that Macedonian kings had to dispense perceived justice in a fair manner (Plut. Moral. 181d). 

Fair and unbiased justice was just as important in oligarchies, particularly considering their precarious political position. Although Alwine (2018) is critical of applying Sparta’s ephors to other city-states, he does argue that oligarchies either had top-down regulations, often with the oligarchic class regulating itself, or had an external judge to settle legal disputes. Prolonged civil strife within the oligarchic class nearly always threatened to break out into civil wars, and thus strong legal regulations were needed to prevent not only oligarchs from abusing each other, but also the demos themselves. Simonton (2017) demonstrates exactly this in chapter 6 of his book, highlighting the need to uphold a strong legal system between the oligarchic class and the demos, and an even stronger legal system between oligarchs, lest the entire system collapses into a democracy. 

Contrasting this, the Athenian legal system didn’t rely on an independent or controlled judiciary, rather they relied on an extensive and complicated system built on randomness and a large number or judge-jurors. Aristotle goes into extensive detail on how legal procedures took place in Athens, but from it we can see three important factors: A large number of citizens make up what we could equate to a modern-day jury, who would all pass verdict on the case anonymously; Jurors, randomly selected after a complicated process, did not know which case they would sit in on until the same day; The jurors were all paid a salary (Aristot. Const. Ath.). These systems all allowed for an unbiased, and hopefully fair trial that was difficult to tamper with. 

Conclusion 

Of the three government forms looked at, Athenian democracy appears to give the greatest political freedoms to its citizens. Although not perfect, as no government form ever is, Athenian democracy allowed citizens to have the greatest say in how they were governed, giving them necessary legal and economic protections to do so. One can see why modern scholars define Athens as having a ‘radical’ democracy, as actions such as changing the surnames of citizens to incorporate the name of their deme, having a highly complex jury selection system, and even paying individuals for public service, were all radical ideas when compared to the oligarchic systems of other city-states and kingdoms such as Macedonia. 


References

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Photo: Shutterstock.

The Contested Relevance of “Populism” in Politics, Law, and Mass Mobilization

Populism – a term frequently used in the media, politics, law, as well as in academia in social sciences and political science studies – aims to describe a particular concept, ideology, and strategy to explain mechanisms closely related to democracy and the far-right and far-left as well as extremism. Populism is often referred to as a comprehensive and flexible term. But where strictly does it come from, and how is it still relevant? 

By Katharina Diebold

Populism has changed massively in its conceptualization and methodology over the last 50 years. However, mainly because of its recent popularity and academic discourse, a vast range of criticism from researchers, politicians and media emerged. To make sense of this development, this article will outline different waves of populism and analyze its general relevance today. This will be followed by explaining scientific and political criticisms of populism. Lastly, the specific relevance of populism in the fields of law and activism will be investigated. 

Development of “Populism” 

Populism experienced multiple waves of development methodologically and content-wise. In the late 19th century, the term populism was already used within party politics by the People’s Party in North America and the Narodniki in Russia (Akkerman, 2003). In the following, the term was introduced to the French discourse and party system in the 1920s (Allcock, 1971). No particular political party claimed populism as an exclusive description or characterizing element of their party as such at the beginning of the term’s expansion (Canovan, 1981). This contributed to the broad and multi-faceted development of populism. 

The first wave was characterized by a conference set up by the London School of Economics in 1967, where scholars specifically met to define the phenomenon (Allcock, 1971; Ionescu & Gellner, 1969). This research then further developed in the 1970s and 1980s. The focus was the determination of a unifying underlying unity of a definition. However, the contradicting emergence of populism, including the Narodniki in imperial Russia; nondemocratic regimes, such as Latin America’s postwar autocracies; interwar peasant movements in Eastern Europe and the Balkans; and anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements in Africa made it difficult to find one specific definition (Ionescu & Gellner, 1969; MacRae, 1969). According to Ionescu & Gellner (1969), the focus was pro-democratic, nondemocratic, and anti-liberal political populism. 

The second wave of populism constitutes “classical populism” and started its development in the 1970s and 1980s, pushed by scholars in Latin America. This research study mainly investigated socio-economic reasons for mass political movements and why lower social classes participated in populist movements (Germani, 1978). Malloy (1977) explained that such research resulted in the modernization theory, which describes that populism is used as a tool to get the urban working and middle class active within politics. Contrary, Cardoso & Faletto (1979) investigated the developing structural Marxist theory, describing populism as a multiclass political movement. Criticism about this scholarly work is that the findings are very context-specific and incomparable (Germani, 1978). 

The third wave, developing as a reaction to classical populism, uses neoliberal populism, which defines politicians implementing neoliberal policies but still gaining a lot of popular support. Blaikie (2000) says that this research was mainly focused on Latin America. Scholars also call this phenomenon “neo-populism” (Roberts, 1995). Lastly, the fourth wave of populism research in recent years focused on the concept of populist “zeitgeist” and Western democracies, particularly political parties, institutions and parliamentary systems and social conditions that increase populism (Mudde, 2004). 

Turning from its development to its current relevance, Stavrakakis (2017) found that populism and its research gave valuable insight into how populism frames and constructs realities and discourses, which is crucial for politics, journalism, and academia. Additionally, populism studies and the knowledge about those mechanisms can help detect, analyze and discredit fascist and anti-democratic as well as illegitimate behavior of political parties and shape the critical thinking and mindsets of populations (Hammersley, 2021). Moving from critical engagement with fascist and anti-democratic movements towards climate movements, Meyer (2024) discovered significant influence of populist social movements on climate policies. This means that populist mechanisms of movements mobilizing for climate protection can have an influence in shaping and creating climate policy (Meyer, 2024). 

Criticism on “Populism” 

When we look at relevant criticism of populism, a vast range of methodological and content-specific critiques can be identified. One of them is the unspecified empirical spectrum of populism, also known as the Summun Genus Problem. It refers to the issue that no inclusive class (unit or entity) of the matter needs to be studied. It makes comparison within the concept of populism difficult (Pappas, 2016).

Secondly, the lack of historical and cultural context specificity can be problematic since it makes comparisons difficult. Populism is such a context-specific and time-specific phenomenon that conceptualizing and narrowing down the definition is challenging (Pappas, 2016; Gerring & Barresi, 2003). Thirdly, there is a lack of essentialism since, throughout the diverse definitions and frameworks of populism, no concrete “essence” of populism has been identified yet. Thus, a consistent pattern to measure and investigate populism is missing (Taggart, 2000). 

Additionally, conceptual stretching is an issue since it expands the boundaries of a concept so much that the concept becomes too undefined and vague. The term has become too flexible and loose, and people misuse it (Pappas, 2016; Canovan, 1981). Moreover, populism has an unclear negative contrasting pole, making conceptualization and definition even harder. If a concept can identify a clear negative antidote, the meaning of this concept is more straightforward to establish. According to Aslanidis (2015), the reasons already mentioned above, and the lack of a clear negative pole all contribute to the difficulty of differentiating populism from other related concepts. 

The sixth criticism is degreeism, as populism is difficult to quantify a certain degree of, as definition and conceptualization are lacking (Sartori, 1984). Thus, when looking at populism, it is hard to pinpoint exactly which action or behavior would constitute which kind of level or degree of populism (Aslanidis, 2015). 

Furthermore, an empirical operationalization must be included, which is necessary for laying out conditions to verify the concept (Sartori, 1970). Elster (1993) claims that populism neglects micro-mechanisms, including charismatic leadership and symbolic framing, which could help better understand the concept of populism in its existing form and future developments. 

To add on to that, populism shows poor data and inattention to crucial cases, which means that the data conducted can lead to poor, meaningless results because of the loose framework and contextual specificity. In the following, such data then impacts the meaning and power of the theory created. It has to be pointed out that researchers sometimes tend to study and focus on a subfield in the realm of populism that is more familiar and relatively easy rather than unknown. This can create a particular case selection bias, influencing what is researched and what is not (Sartori, 1970). 

Research by Sartori (1970) and Canovan (1981) shows that populism also does not allow for normative indeterminacy. Many scholars believe that populism is a rather negative symptom of political democracy, especially in conjunction with democracy and social mobilization. This can potentially negatively impact research (Stengel, 2019). 

Consequently, the political argument against populism and its research is, that it is dangerous to categorically claim populism as a negative or dangerous concept, which happens partly within its research (Stengel, 2019). It generalizes the nuances of populism, increases polarization and tension between parties and neglects the positive impacts of populism on critical thinking, mass mobilization and political participation (Stengel, 2019). Mudde & Kaltwasser (2012) suggest that populism tends to be used as a buzzword in recent years. Moreover, scholars such as Dean & Maiguasca (2020) indicate that populism should re-orient itself since the party sustains existing relations of power and ideology through its discourse (including its scholarly discourse).

Activism and Law: Relevance

Even though research suggests such a vast range of criticism regarding populism and its studies, this exact gap and un-specificity in the literature shows that more research should be done. The question of the positive effects of populism has not been researched enough yet. Since the research focused partly on the negative effects of populism conducted by authoritarian regimes, the focus should shift towards positive examples of populism, significantly beyond Europe and the Western world. An example could be Japanese populism, which can be identified as more liberal than its Western counterparts. Local politicians call for more liberal-democratic reforms to challenge the “conservative elite” (Miyazawa, 2008; Fahey et al., 2021).

Furthermore, research should pay attention to left-wing populism as well. We can also see, specifically when we look at law, mass mobilization, and democratization, that populism can have an immense positive impact on legal systems, legislation, politicians, and society. Scientifically, research studies of populism help significantly improve studies about democracy and the process of democratization on a theoretical and empirical level (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2012). 

Examples of populism influencing legislation positively or negatively can be found regarding climate policy and the alteration of criminal codes. Recent climate policies were specifically affected by mass movements using populist narratives (Dean & Maiguashca, 2020). Concretely, Lockwood & Lockwood (2022) found that right-wing populist parties have significant influence on climate and renewable energy policies in OECD countries. Another example is the Chilean criminal code, which was massively impacted by penal populism, where politicians compete about tougher prison sentences in the media (Acuña, 2023; Aslanidis, 2015).

This shows that populism can improve the communication of crucial messages towards the public and can mobilize them to take action in the following. Meyer (2024) found that populism can help convey messages against the elite and big corporations. Matus (2023) supports this claim by showing that populism can help to delineate and adjudge where there should be limits and where not regarding the development and changes regarding imprisonment and legal systems, such as in Chile. 

Conclusion

To conclude, populism and its research are still fundamentally crucial for today’s society, especially in law, politics, activism, and academia. However, populism and its studies should aim to understand specific mechanisms and fill in the gaps of certain incomprehensive developments. More research should be done on the positive impacts of populism and left-wing populism. Scholars should not be afraid to research populism because it is a flexible term, but they should be aware of its implications. 


 

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Tractors with posters of farmers protesting against the government's measures at the Ludwig Street in Munich, Germany on January 8, 2024. Photo: Shutterstock.

The Nexus between Activism and Populism Amid Global Protests and Digital Media

Activist movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), MeToo, Fridays for Future (FFF), Extinction Rebellion (XR) and many more use populist frameworks and rhetoric elements that contest the elites and claim the general will of the people. We see BLM standing up against the racist system of white elites. We look at #MeToo fighting against the patriarchal system of male elites. And we watch FFF and XR challenging the neoliberal, capitalist system of big corporate elites. All of these activist movements are supposedly fighting for the general will of the people, similar to populism. But how much of activist rhetoric is coopted from populist ideology, movements, and parties? And how much did populism copy from activist movements in their approach? This is what this article will try answer.

By Katharina Diebold

2024 is already polluted and flooded with political protests, actions and political discourses about intensifying conflicts around the world and upcoming elections as this year constitutes a very strong voting year (Buchholz, 2024). Characterized by pro-Palestine and anti-genocide actions around the world under several social and political movements including the BDS-movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions-Movement) and farmers protests by the agricultural sector and right-wing parties, 2024 already offers a lot of activism and political engagement (Lesnes, 2024; Tanno & Liakos, 2024). However, such political activism and engagement often comes hand in hand with polarization and populism (Sawyer, 2023). 

Before we dive into the connection between activism and populism, we first need to establish working frameworks for both terms. Firstly, activism can be identified as a tool to express ideology and identity and is closely linked with protests and civil participation (Siim et al., 2018). It includes citizens voicing critical opinions through strikes, boycotts, petitions, the occupation of buildings, mass demonstrations and acts of political violence (Norris, 2004) directed against political institutions, but also public actors and figures. Political activism can play out on the local, national, or transnational level through everyday activities and political actions. It includes diverse solidarity and resistance movements and pro-diversity and pro-equality agency (Siim et al., 2018).

Secondly, populism can be defined as thin ideology, as it is flexible to be used in conjunction with other ideologies, such as environmentalism, feminism, socialism and communism, and other systems of knowledge (Stanley, 2008; Mudde, 2004). Three main components of populism can be characterized based on this approach: (1) the people, challenging (2) the corrupt elite and claiming that politics should be the expression of the (3) general will of the people (Mudde, 2004).

Connections between Activism and Populism 

We can already assume that activist movements, that use ideology to justify their political agenda and motives can use their leading ideology in conjunction with populism as a means to convey their message and transform discontent through collective cognitive processes into action (Aslanidis, 2017). For example, BLM fights for racial equality as their ideology and contests the white elites, constituting a populist element (Campbell, 2021). Specifically, people of color and marginalized groups affected by white supremacy are the “people” BLM fights for. ‘The general will’ is guided by the principles of anti-discrimination and racial equality (Campbell, 2021).

Additionally, MeToo is advocating for feminism as their ideology, by criticizing the male elites, manifesting a populist element (MeToo Mvmt, 2023). MeToo fights especially for FLINTA (female, lesbian, intergender, non-binary, transgender and agender persons), for the “people” marginalized by the patriarchy. MeToo fights especially as general will for gender equality. 

Moreover, FFF and XR use environmentalism as their ideology by raising awareness for sustainability and environmental protection. Thus, they challenge the capitalistic elites, forming an element of populism (Extinction Rebellion NL, 2024; Fridays for Future, 2021). FFF and XR fight specifically for people affected by the climate crisis such as climate refugees and small-scale farmers as well as people that are subject to colonialism and exploitation, which ties back to everyone to some extent as we are all affected by climate change. The general will is based on climate justice. Thus, populist elements in activist movements can be characterized. 

Circling back from activist movements to the literature, different connections between activism and populism based on research can be characterized. On the one hand, Zaslove et al. (2020) suggest that people who vote for populist parties and are discontent with democracy, are, however, still supportive of the overall democratic system compared to individuals with weaker populist attitudes. Thus, people who vote for populist parties are less inclined to protest and participate in protest marches, demonstrations, or protest action (Zaslove et al. 2020). On the other hand, Karlson (2024) found that demands made by BLM and MeToo for equal recognition of marginalized groups that are being oppressed in societies, can be coopted from activism and translated into populism. Often described as populist leader is Donald Trump for example. He uses frequently the framing of “the marginalized” to attract working-class supporters that feel disregarded by national elites. Trump uses this rhetoric to incorporate “political correctness” in his agenda and attract new potential voters (Karlson, 2024). 

Populism and Activism on Social Media 

Moving from general relations between activism and populism to digitalization and social media, Gustafsson and Weinryb (2019) show that individualized social media activism has affinities to populism and could have serious effects on democratic procedures and bureaucratic structures. This indicates that social media activism reinforces individualized forms of charismatic authority, which refers to the collective excitement produced by external events that form a type of heroism (Weber, 1978). In the following, charismatic authority can be characterized as a form of digital enthusiasm of a collective mass, that feels interconnected and engaged as well as in a position of possibilities to challenge the political system and the status quo, which translates into digital activism (Gustafsson & Weinryb, 2019). This may have large-scale implications how populism is understood and plays out in societies. 

Furthermore, research by Mazzoleni & Bracciale (2018) found that populist leaders, such as Berlusconi, Di Maio, Salvini, and Melini, prominent figures in Italy, utilize social media more extensively than mainstream party figures to counteract negative coverage by traditional media outlets. Apart from their appearances on TV shows and news broadcasts, social media platforms provide direct channels for these populist leaders to engage with their constituents (Mazzoleni & Bracciale, 2018). This direct interaction between populist leaders and their followers can amplify social media activism and political engagement among their supporters (Mazzoleni & Bracciale, 2018).

From these examples we can see that activism uses actively populist rhetoric. However, the narratives created by activism can be then coopted by populist leaders. Moreover, we can recognize that even though activism and populism can increase trust in democracy leading to less protests, the majority of research clearly indicates that in multiple cases activism is the accelerator nourishing populist ideology that motivates the people to act and speak up. From this we can investigate how populist parties use and affect activism.

Activism Used and Affected by Populist Parties 

To make sense of populist parties infringing and utilizing activism, authoritarian and democratic populism should be distinguished. Authoritarian populist parties are anti-democratic and attack policies and the rule of law which are based on core institutional pillars of the state order (Bugarič, 2019). On the contrary, democratic populism focuses on the emancipation of voters, and the protection and defense of democracy by making institutions and the system more accountable, equitable and inclusive (Bugarič, 2019). 

Research by Whiteley et al. (2019) indicates that activists are more important in populist right-wing parties, than in traditional parties, as they move the party forward and act as key roles and figures for campaigning and organizing as well as funding since they are the most committed members. Furthermore, activism can be used by right-wing populist parties and leaders to mobilize for mass demonstrations and even occupations in conjunction with social media advertisement. For example, populist radical right-wing parties such as the British Independence Party (UKIP), the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) engage with activism through petitions, participation and organization of demonstrations and marches, especially in recent years against Covid19-restrictions and currently farmers protests (Whiteley et al., 2019; Euronews, 2021; Hämmerle, 2024; Neuerer, 2024). Another notable example is Donald Trump and the storming of the Capitol, where he rallied his supporters through populist rhetoric, encouraging their participation in the event (Barry et al., 2021).

Although right wing populist parties can use activism to their advantage, activism that works in their disadvantage can be also shut down by right-wing populist parties in power. Poland and Hungary oppress and silence activists through new legislation and regulations, especially anti-abortion, women’s and LGBTIQ+ activists as well as anti-fascist activists and protestors. The populist parties in Hungary (Fidesz) and Poland (Law and Justice Party) restrict and limit civil participation further and further through prohibiting strikes (Gwiazda, 2020; Winfield, 2024). 

In contrast to authoritarian populist parties, democratic populist parties like the Spanish left-wing Podemos or the Dutch left-wing BIJ1 originated from activist groups (De Nadal, 2020; Ornstein, 2023). In Spain, this evolution stemmed from the Indignados movement (De Nadal, 2020). In the Netherlands, the party was formed by activists from XR and other related anti-discrimination and anti-racism movements (Ornstein, 2023; NL Times, 2023). Moreover, Podemos and BIJ1 actively participate in mass protests, demonstrations, and petition campaigns (De Nadal, 2020; Gerbaudo, 2021). Additionally, the Greek left-wing populist party Syriza and its activists engage in activism by establishing food banks, known as Solidarity Clubs, where they encourage farmers to donate food to support impoverished families and neighborhoods, often requesting items like bags of potatoes or oranges (Mason, 2017).

Activism as Antidote to Populism 

As the last part of this analysis, it should be mentioned that activism can also serve as a tool to counteract anti-democratic populism. Particularly, activism aimed at combating othering and exclusion is utilized to push back against right-wing populist parties, which purport to address issues concerning European integration, multiculturalism, globalization, and migration (Siim et al., 2018). This solidarity-based activism can be specifically employed to combat hate speech and hate crimes prevalent in ostensibly tolerant and inclusive systems that are, in reality, not as tolerant as they appear. Activism against right-wing populist parties serves to bring populism to light and prompts critical reflection on concepts such as citizenship, democracy, social movements, and conflicts and cooperation around race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class (Siim et al., 2018). Additionally, activism can be directed against populist leaders, such as Donald Trump in the US, by supporting women’s rights, LGBTIQ+ rights, and fundamental human rights activists, who in turn amplify criticism against Trump (Žarkov, 2017).

Conclusion 

To conclude, populism is neither good nor bad. It is a powerful tool especially in conjunction with activism and mass mobilization. Although we are thankful for our freedom, political engagement and connectedness through social media and digital platforms, populism and activism combined can lead to an acceleration of uncontrollable mass action completely isolated from reality and realistic political approaches. 

While we are praising democratic populism that can be used through activism to make our society more inclusive, accountable, and equal, we should be cautious and careful to not let this development translate into an increase of right-wing populism. We should also keep always in mind that populist parties especially when in government positions have the power and authority to often shut down and repress activism, public participation, and criticism against their regime. 

To follow-up on the examples of activist movements mentioned at the beginning of this article, it can be concluded, that populism indeed has the possibility to reinforce and support democratic, inclusive activism. However, we should not forget that populism also is used as a tool to create enemies and friends, shaping the world into a binary of good and evil. Those generalizations of “the people” and “the elite” can be indeed also harmful for our society and any political participation. 


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Connection Between Populism and Identity Politics in the European Union Before the 2024 European Parliament Elections

The 2024 EU parliament election polls show 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. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves how populism (both left and right) impacts EU legislation and what forecasts we can identify for the elections in 2024.

By Katharina Diebold

The upcoming elections of the EU Parliament and the next presidency of the Council of the EU, which will be Hungary, are contentious issues for the European Community (Henley, 2024). The polls for the 2024 EU elections and the Hungarian presidency indicate 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 election polls show 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 need to ask ourselves how populism (both left and right) impacts EU legislation and what forecasts we can identify for the elections in 2024.

In this essay, I propose 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, are influenced by populism and identity politics and harm the EU. In connection with this, populist candidates driven by identity politics threaten the future of the EU. 

Theoretical Framework 

Populism is defined as 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).

Even though populism is in Western Europe closely associated with the right, the left has increasingly adopted populist strategies. The negligence of academic research about the populist left can be responsible for those recent findings. This seems even more relevant when we consider the outstanding electoral performance of populist left parties compared to populist right parties for the last 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 through its government term and recent opposition in 2021 (Markou, 2021). 

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 already be recognized by looking at EU-party campaigns or populist candidates for the upcoming elections. Besides the right, the left populists also employ identity politics. The left populism can be seen in promoting marginalized identities, such as racial and ethnic identities and seeking to transform the shame previously associated with these identities into 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 contention for both the right- and left-wing populist parties.  Both the right and left-wing parties 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 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, especially before the upcoming elections. 

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 support of the left can also be instrumentalized to boost the attention and sympathy of left-wing parties before the elections.

The populism surrounding the Nature Restoration Regulation can be approached as a case showcasing 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, this law increases the financial burden for the forestry, fishery, and farming sectors, claims the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) (Weise & Guillot, 2023). However, these realities are dismissed in the political language of environmental advocacy. 

The Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) campaign clearly describes the people as the “citizens, farmers, fishers and business in the EU.” The elite is defined as “the conservatives, far right and some liberals” who “try to tear down a new EU law to restore nature.” The general will of the people focuses on tackling “biodiversity and the climate crisis (GreensEFA, 2023). The campaign by the Greens/EFA for this regulation plays into identity politics as the party uses 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. Zoomed closely, the ostensibly evergreen legislation advocating the protection of biodiversity 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 that left these cartels intentionally out.

Deforestation Regulation 

The Greens/EFA campaign for the Deforestation Regulation shows characteristics of populism (European Commission, 2023). Greens/EFA characterizes “the people” as the “people that must always come before profit.” Thus, this regulation favors European distributers instead of the exploited farmers in the developing countries. In this case, “the elite” is the group of companies that need to safeguard no deforestation or human rights violations along the production.” “The general will” is intended to “end EU-driven deforestation” (Greens/EFA, 2023). This is an example of how 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 will only prevent EU customers from buying products derived from deforestation. However, the actual 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 (Fairtraide.net., 2022).

New Pact on Migration and Asylum 

The left and the right use identity politics as a tool to increase sympathy for the upcoming 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 supports 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 “the hard-working EU citizens.” Secondly, “the elite” is defined as “smugglers and traffickers controlling illegal migration” (Press Statement von der Leyen, 2023). Thirdly, “the general will” is defined as stopping the suffering of the EU through migrants (Press Statement von der Leyen, December 20, 2023; Press Statement Schinas, 2023). 

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 is now used as a promotional tool for the upcoming elections to attract voters on the right and the left (Georgian, 2024). 

The New Pact can also be used by the Greens/EFA populist campaign for the European Elections 2024, reinforcing the idea of a unified peace union. “The people” are defined as “us and the migrants and asylum seekers, that we do not leave behind.” “The general will” is to “uphold human rights and international law” (GreensEFA, 2023). “The elite” is defined as the authoritarian national governments of developing countries, making it necessary for refugees to flee (Greens/EFA, n.d.).

Additionally, the 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 is a common strategy employed by both left and right populist parties to garner support. This practice serves as 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 upcoming European Parliament elections 2024 include 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 potential to attract successful business owners. Another figure is the farmer and agriculture expert Stefan Köhler, who runs for the CSU on place six to attract farmers (Zeit Online, 2023). With the recent increasing farmer’s protests in Germany, France and the Netherlands, farmers have become increasingly crucial in the European discourse (Trompiz & Levaux, 2024). 

Legal and security experts are also running with public appeal to the voters across political divides. The German candidate for “Die Linke,” a leftist Party, is Carola Rackete. She is a human rights activist fighting for better refugee rights and asylum laws, running for the second position (MDR.DE., 2023). The human rights activist as a candidate can increase the amount of more radical voters from the left. The German Green Party is heading with a policeman on place eighteen towards the elections, trying to include more right-leaning social groups as well in the Green voter repertoiresince police officers can tend to vote for conservative and right-wing parties (Papanicolaou & Papageorgiou, 2016).

In Austria, the first candidate for the Greens party is Lena Schilling, a climate activist of “Fridays-for-future.” Schilling has a high chance of attracting young voters as she is the only young female top candidate among all running top party candidates in Austria (Völker, 2024). The second place will be Thomas Waitz, a sustainable and organic farmer who aims to attract sustainable farmers in Austria (Waitz, 2023; Schweighofer, 2024). The references to elite vs the people in their language blur the lines between the right and the left ideologies and connect these figures around a shared sentiment: fighting for the people against a designated elite. This populist sentiment fuels populism and social conflict, undermining liberal democracy and EU values. 

Conclusion 

The increasing populism of left and right parties in the EU and the fanatism of those who want to increase their share of voters for the upcoming EU elections are tremendously responsible for the outcomes of recent EU legislation. The populist rhetoric before and after the adoption of new EU legislation clearly 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 populism 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 climate of bashing and hinder cooperative efforts.

Remarkably, identity politics not only permeates the populist rhetoric of EU party politics but also extends to the selection of candidates for upcoming 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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European Parliament offices and European flags in Brussels, Belgium on July 20, 2020. Photo: Lena Wurm.

What surrounds the 2024 European elections?

In anticipation of the upcoming 2024 European Elections, let’s take a closer look at the political landscape of Europe. The rise of populism has steadily gained momentum since the 2014 elections. The 2019 European Elections demonstrated the sustained growth of populism, which is associated with Euroscepticism. How will this trend influence the 2024 elections? This analysis explores the implications of populism for the 2024 elections within the broader context of Euroscepticism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and migration pressures. It will argue that Euroscepticism is linked to reactionary emotional responses to global challenges and changes. The psychological drivers of populism, such as fear, anger, and mistrust, have influenced the political climate, exacerbated by social media. The article underscores the need for EU member states to address these issues and strive for political consensus to foster trust in democratic institutions and counter the populist wave.

By Konstantina Kastoriadou

The European elections are approaching, with the date set for June 6-9, 2024. They are one of the most critical procedures for the European Union (EU), producing MEPs of the European Parliament, who participate in revising the regulations proposed by the European Council and are also responsible for electing the Head of the European Commission. European Parliament is the only institution directly elected by the people of the Union’s member-states and, therefore, monitors compliance with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and highlights problems and violations in Member States (European Parliament, 2020).

In light of the upcoming elections in 2024, it is helpful to reflect on what is taking place in Europe today and what could be done. The 2019 European election showed that populism, which seemed to be established in the 2014 elections, has not ceased, but on the contrary, has risen significantly since. Thus, it is of great interest to better understand how this trend will be in the upcoming 2024 European elections, as populism is not only a European tendency but is a phenomenon that progressively spreads around the globe. 

Within the European structure, populist parties are closely linked to Euroscepticism. Euroscepticism is a broad sense, it’s as vague as populism. It emerged as a term to describe those who were sceptic about the governing model of the EU – those who opposed the further integration of their countries (ECPS, 2020). However, Majistorovic (2022) argues that Euroscepticism became a broad term used as a reference for hostile sentiments and actions against democracy. Hence, observing Eurosceptic rhetoric expressed by parties and party members will help us measure populism in Europe.

According to Treib (2021), there was a rise in Eurosceptic parties (who previously emerged in the 2014 elections) in the 2019 elections. While in 2019, there were some concerns about the size of the populist parties in the European Parliament, as results showed, there was no significant change. In 2019, more than 28 percent of MEPs belonged to populist/Eurosceptic parties (Treib, 2021: 177). Within the European Parliament, there are two major party groups, which have traditionally been in the lead – the EPP (European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)) and the S&D (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament). Smaller party groups are Renew Europe, ID, Greens, ECR, GUE/NGL and NI (non-attached). The two major groups (European Parliament, 2019), the EPP and the S&D in the previous elections sustained some damage in the last elections, but the populist parties did not benefit from it. Interestingly, though, populist parties seemed to turn further to the right than the left. In total, in the 2019 European elections, after Brexit, 185 populist MEPs were elected, from whom, 112 were in the radical-right sphere – a number significantly bigger than the radical left populists which have 20 seats in the European Parliament (Treib, 2021: 177-179).

In 2023, after the Covid-19 pandemic and its restrictions, along with refugee pressures and inflation plaguing the world, there seems to be a concerted shift of Europe to the right, with the rise of right-wing coalitions with far-right parties across Europe (Lynch, 2023). Silver (2022) presents an extensive graph showing that since 2000, the populist trend from Greece to Sweden has progressively grown. Bergmann (2020) argues that nationalist populism emerges after a major crisis. The above is verified in Silver (2022), as especially after the economic crisis in 2008, there is a simultaneous upward trend in most European countries, but also the emergence of populist parties, such as Syriza (Greece), and Podemos (Spain). Populist parties, according to both Silver (2022) and Bergmann (2020), appeared after the migration flows in 2015. So now, after a major crisis, it is “natural” for populist parties to gain more strength and spread, especially since many countries have been unable to “recover from the shock” of 2015.

Populism in Member States

The top five radical right populist parties (by MEPs) are Lega (Italy), National Rally (France), Fidesz (Hungary), AfD (Germany) and Brothers of Italy (Treib, 2021: 178). Lega is the now ruling party of Italy, National Rally is the second party in France, and Fidesz is still the government of Hungary. On the national level, according to Silver (2022), AfD in Germany, as well as SYRIZA in Greece, for example, dropped dramatically since the previous national elections. However, in Germany, the most critical country in the European Union (in terms of administration), there seemed to be a twist, as the AfD came third in the state elections in Bavaria and Hesse, behind the CDU and CSU (Burchard and Angelos, 2023). The trend for AfD is upwards as polls show the party leading in the former East Germany with 28 percent. It is also expected to come first in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Brandenburg Thuringia and Saxony (Angelos, 2023).

In Greece, for example, SYRIZA is the opposition party but lost a fair share of votes. In the 2023 national elections, it’s the first time that three far-right populist parties made their way into the Greek Parliament. The first of them is a party named Spartans – which is a successor to the Nazist party Golden Dawn (which was in the European Parliament as well in 2014). Second came the Greek Solution – a party already in the parliament since the 2019 elections, and third came Victory (NIKI in Greek). The three combined are over 10 percent of the parliamentary seats (34 out of 300) (Ministry of Interior, 2023).

In 2023, in the elections held in the Netherlands, the populist BBB (Farmer – Citizen Movement) party, was the big winner, as it got 19 percent of the votes, securing seats in the parliament (Henley, 2023).  Netherlands’ economy is based on the farming industry, as the agricultural sector exports around €65 billions of agricultural produce per year (Ministerie van Economische Zaken, 2023). The rise of BBB is due to Rutte’s government, which wanted to pass a law to reduce nitrogen emissions by 50 percent by 2030, as the Dutch soil is severely polluted by nitrous oxide, ammonia or nitrate emission (Vallet, 2022). Farmers felt attacked and started protesting shortly after the announcement of the new policy. In the Netherlands’ case, it is evident that anger and resentment towards the government were the cause of the BBB party’s rise in the elections. 

Psychology of Populism

The above cases serve as examples, to show two things. First, it provides evidence that populism is a growing phenomenon within the European Union. Second, the Netherlands example shows that the emergence of BBB is due to negative feelings in a significant portion of the population. Maybe the case of the Netherlands can explain the rise of populism in other EU countries. 

Fear and anger are powerful emotions, believed to be the primary emotions fueling support for populist parties (Rico et al., 2017). Fear is a means for populist leaders, according to Müller (2022), but also, to some extent, it seems to be the raison d’être of their social and political existence. Anxiety stems from insecurity or rapid social and economic change. Due to the fear of the unknown, people turn to populist movements, which keeps the vicious cycle of populist tendencies and trends running (Rico et al., 2017). Nowadays, fear and anxiety are systemically being cultivated in societies, mainly via social media. 

According to Rico et al. (2017: 446): “The basic principle of evaluation is that people’s reactions to stimuli depend largely on the conscious and preconscious interpretations that each individual makes of a situation. [..] the way in which people appraise the environment in connection with their personal goals ultimately determines which particular emotion is aroused.” After a long period of economic instability within the euro area, which also caused intra-EU migration, the refugee influxes of 2015 brought the situation to a head. In the same period, terrorist attacks in Paris and Spain, for example, did not work in favor of the difficult situation created, as the European Asylum System proved problematic in managing the situation. 

Migration is a topical issue within the EU and inevitably a main factor in favor of populism. In the past few days, the EU tried to settle the irregular migration. In the pre-agreed text of the deal that was about to be sealed in Granada, Spain, on the 5th and 6th of October 2023, Poland and Hungary opposed the hosting of migrants from Middle East or Africa, while Slovakia, Czech Republic and Austria abstained in the final vote (Baczynska, 2023). In Granada, Hungary and Poland refused to sign the final text, forcing the EU to drop the migration deal (Caulcutt et al., 2023).

Thoughts on the Upcoming Elections

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

The preceding analysis and examples serve as an indicator which based on comparative analysis. Thus, it shows how the populist parties of the 2019 elections are holding up today. The only way to predict the results of the European elections is to observe the political trends and results of the national elections. The results of the national elections usually indicate the results of the European elections, as there are no significant discrepancies as to which parties will enter the European Parliament.

The aftermath of the pandemic and war fueled fear, anger, and anxiety, promoted even more via social media. Social media can have a positive impact on politics, as a venue to transmit information and exchange opinions. On the other hand, it can undermine democracy by spreading mistrust about democratic institutions and civil society. This was evident, in social media about growing public opinion against the governments and their policies to tackle the pandemic, especially during the Covid-19 restrictions. Mistrust towards democratic institutions is a fuel that keeps populism going. 

Mistrust can also be transformed into anger. Anxiety and insecurity first appeared among the left-wing populist parties in the countries most heavily affected by the 2008 economic crisis (Podemos – Spain, SYRIZA – Greece). Populist parties after 2015 were mainly right and far-right parties due to a need for shielding and securing European societies from refugees and migrants. This “second wave” grew in northwestern Europe (France, Netherlands, Germany, etc.), but also, in Greece and Italy, for example, more right-wing populist parties began to rise, as both countries suffered the heaviest pressures with the 2015 flows.

All in all, it seems that in these elections, populist parties will not cease. Either the number of populist parties will remain the same, or increase. If the Member States and the EU don’t work towards stabilizing societies, the turmoil will continue to benefit the populist parties. On one hand, it seems almost impossible for the EU to achieve such a goal within the next six months. On the other hand, the sooner states start developing a political consensus to sort out their problems and differences, the sooner the EU will prove that citizens should trust the institutions and their governments – that a proper democratic solution can be found.


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Interview: 

Majistorovic, S. (2022). Interview conducted in the context of the course: “Foreign Policy in the Balkans” via Google Meet on January 25, 2022.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy's prime minister, reacts during a handover ceremony at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy on October 23, 2022. Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico.

‘Foreigners’ in Radical Right Populism: Enemies or Friends?

Populist radical right parties are known to be nativist, even xenophobic, opposing foreigners and using hostile rhetoric against them. Even though “foreigners” are still the subject that populists target, their position, whether as “enemies” or “friends” in populist discourse, depends on some variables. Firstly, the position of a populist radical right party plays a vital role in determining the role of foreigners. In the opposition, they can risk being against everyone and everything, like the EU, United Nations, or human rights itself. Nevertheless, when they come into office, they need money and resources to rule correctly, which means they must balance their discourse and sometimes soften it.

By Tuna Tasir*

Europe has been highly affected by the global rise of populism (Balfour, 2017; Lazar, 2021; Jones, 2017; Crum and Oleart, 2023); especially radical right populism. In some countries, like Italy, radical right populists have won power; in others, like France, they are growing their influence. Besides European politics, scholarly debates and media are haunted by populism. Many reasons why populism is so successful have been revealed. The pragmatic flexibility of populists is crucial because it allows them to transform their discourses, policies, and targets. Populists adapt quickly to society’s changing needs (real and perceived), based on the country and its elites, which complicates the paths taken to respond to populism.

The Nature of Populism

Normative explanations cannot describe populism because it has no fixed shape with regular programs or principles. As some have argued, populism is not a full ideology like liberalism or socialism but rather is a thin-centered ideology that can be combined with other ‘thicker’ ideologies easily (Abromeit, 2017: 178; Çamurcuoğlu, 2019: 285; Canovan, 1999: 4; Mudde, 2004: 543; Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012: 168). When associated with the radical right, populism is also associated with nativism and authoritarianism (Mudde, 2007: 22). Specifically, nativism is known to set the basis for xenophobia to emerge and spread (Yıldırım, 2017: 57). However, is associating with nativism, even xenophobia, a normative feature of populism or does it adapt over time or with the conditions of a specific country?

Populists often construct the alienated others, including foreigners, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, as scapegoats. The targeted language of populist discourse depends on various determinants like the majority and minority ethnicity or religion, the position of the populist party being either the ruling party or in opposition, and the opportunities that emerge in the country. Although left-wing and right-wing variants differ in their creation and treatment of ‘others,’ for the sake of brevity, this piece will focus solely on right-wing populism and its discursive and divisive construction of “foreigners.”

Rhetoric about “the foreigners” varies among the right-wing parties. Considering their nativist, even xenophobic politics, radical right populism might be assumed to always use hostile discourse towards foreigners. In contrast, it can vary in different contexts. In this essay, I will analyze the political rhetoric of the right-wing parties about “foreigners” by examining the cases of Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey.   

Different Usages of Foreigners in Radical Right Populism

The usage of ‘foreigners’ in populist rhetoric is observed to differ according to the position of a populist party- whether in opposition or office. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, promised to prevent immigrants from coming by sea during her election campaign (Giuffrida, 2022). After coming to power, she enacted a code that limits humanitarian non-governmental organizations from running rescue operations in the Mediterranean (The Maritime Executive, 2023). Yet, her populist attitude against foreigners has changed slightly, especially after being criticized following a shipwreck in which at least 86 immigrants died near the coasts of Calabria in Italy in February (AFP, 2023). Recently, Italy changed its attitude towards immigration and gave the green light to sign a new Migration and Asylum Pact proposed by the European Union (EU). Meloni decided to ease her populist attitude against immigrants for now (Sorgi and Barigazzi, 2023). While some assert that Italy gained some concessions from the EU (Sorgi and Barigazzi, 2023), Marine Le Pen, the leader of a populist radical right party in France, claimed that Meloni’s seemingly more inclusive attitude results from the recovery plan offered by the EU (Basso, 2023). No matter which account is accurate, the situation demonstrates that populist radical right attitudes towards foreigners can change after coming into office and over time.

Another element that defines pragmatic changes in the rhetoric about others by the right-wing parties regards the politics of ethnicity. Ethnicity is central in the rhetoric of radical right populists. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Ukrainians had to move to European countries. Having radical right populists in office, countries such as Poland and Hungary softened their exclusionary rhetoric and welcomed Ukrainian refugees (Palotai and Veres, 2022). It can be argued that in this case, it is situational and not related to ethnicity. It can also be claimed that these governments oppose immigrants, not refugees or asylum seekers. However, while these countries showed their hospitality to Ukrainian refugees, they were not as welcoming towards refugees of war and conflict from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (Beauchamp, 2015; Vadhanavisala, 2020; Cienski, 2017; Witte, 2022; Ghadakpour, 2022). This double standard is not unique to radical right populists – examples can be located throughout European politics. Nonetheless, this double standard by the radical right populists is ironic when considering their typically nativist, even xenophobic, politics (Venturi and Vallianatou, 2022; Reilly and Flynn, 2022).

“Foreigners” do not always have to be enemies in the populist discourse. Religion and opportunistic considerations play a crucial role in shaping rhetoric about foreigners. The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, embraced numerous Syrians after the Arab Spring. Besides, the EU is committed to aid 10 billion Euro to Turkey for Syrians (European Union “EU Support to Refugees in Türkiye”). Therefore, economic considerations about the ongoing refugee crisis between the EU and neighboring states feed into creating pragmatic approaches toward refugees as foreigners in a populist sense. The same pragmatism can be seen in Meloni’s attitude towards immigrants. One of the reasons for embracing Syrians might be related to the financial aid from the EU, just as Meloni’s green light to the new Migrants and Asylum Seekers Pact might be associated with the post-covid recovery funds.

Embracing Syrians seems to be associated with discursive opportunities and benefits as well. In this way, Erdogan claims he cares for Syrians (Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye, 2016), who are Muslims, as most Turkish people are. Syrians are a valuable subject to earn the support of religious and conservative identities. Additionally, Erdogan used Syrians to threaten the West to let them flow into Europe (Beaumont and Smith, 2019) and rhetorically to accuse the West of causing the tragedy not only in the Middle East but in the Aegean and Mediterranean as well (Alarabiya News, 2015; Hacaoglu and Nikas, 2021; Rankin, 2020). Although most Turkish people reported wanting Syrians to return to Syria, Erdogan used Arab and Syrian immigrants given citizenship as voters in the 2023 Turkish General Elections. Although these votes may not be enough to change the results, what will happen in the next elections when the number of Syrians gaining citizenship increases over the years? 

Conclusion

Populist radical right parties are known to be nativist, even xenophobic, opposing foreigners and using hostile rhetoric against them. Even though foreigners are still the subject that populists target, their position, whether as enemies or friends in populist discourse, depends on some variables. Firstly, the position of a populist radical right party plays a vital role in determining the role of foreigners. In the opposition, they can risk being against everyone and everything, like the EU, United Nations, or human rights itself. Nevertheless, when they come into office, they need money and resources to rule correctly, which means they must balance their discourse and sometimes soften it (Taşır, 2023). 

Moreover, the ethnicity of foreigners might change the attitudes of populist radical right parties. Two arguments can explain this change: First, some populist parties might feel close to foreigners because they share ethnic and geographic past. Second, some foreigners might be prioritized due to their ethnicity. The cases of Hungary and Poland are likely to be explained by both arguments. Furthermore, a discursive benefit of this attitude is to create antagonistic division among foreigners by separating them into “good” and “evil.” They accept foreigners according to the arguments above, in this way, can claim that they are not literally against foreigners. In the case study of Hungary and Poland, Ukrainians are considered as good and deserving of protection, while “others” are seen as evils who might corrupt the countries if they get accepted.

Finally, religion and opportunities can transform foreigners from enemies to friends in populist rhetoric. In a society that identifies as conservative and religious, it is an excellent opportunity to welcome foreigners from the same religion as natives. In this way, a message can be directed to ‘the people’ that says: I care about what you care about. Furthermore, it is a different way to make an antagonistic division and mobilize people around that. In our case, the “pure us” who embrace Syrians versus the “corrupt them” referring to the West creates a greater common enemy by using the new foreigners in the country and positioning them against a bigger alienated other. Besides, foreigners might be used as a bargaining tool, as seen in the case of allowing a large intake of Syrians into Europe.

Consequently, thanks to their flexibility, the populist radical right seems to continue to appeal to people (Mudde, 2004: 563; Moffitt, 2016: 135). Although “foreigners” will be the main topic in the future because of wars, crisis, climate change, especially with the increase of “climate refugees” (Taşır, 2023), and poor living conditions, it is hardly easy to say that they were always positioned as enemies in the rhetoric of the radical right populism. The context might change the populist undertones, including a harsher or softer discourse yet there is always an enemy. That is why, to cope with radical right populism, it is vital to produce solutions according to the context.

More questions remain to be addressed: What can prevent the disintegration of civil society under the rule of a populist regime that uses hate speech or softer and seemingly inclusive language yet still targets and creates an enemy? What can the international community do in support of civil rights in times of political targeting of specific groups within or beyond the borders of a country? What have we learned or did not learn from history, and how can we build a safer society for the most vulnerable? What can the youth and the young professionals do in times of crisis to support EU values, liberal democracy, and civil rights? These questions beget collective thinking and sharing the pain of the most vulnerable internationally and equally


 

(*) Tuna Tasir (Taşır) is currently a writer at Institute for a Greater Europe and a senior undergraduate student and researcher in Political Sciences and Public Administration. His papers have been published in several think tanks. Tuna is interested in populism and the far-right, Euroscepticism, political sociology, and comparative politics. Besides, he has been conducting his research project on “the level of Euroscepticism of would-be bureaucrats in Turkey” granted by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey. 

Tuna participated in national and international projects, including European Solidarity Corps projects funded by the European Union. Furthermore, he is one of the owners of a project conducted in association with Izmir Metropolitan Municipality called “Eco Solutions Fest,” which aims to raise awareness of climate change and its impacts among people, especially youth. He worked as a peer reviewer for EPR 2023, run by EST Think Tank, and as an intern at “Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Research,” “Center for Diplomatic Affairs and Political Studies,” and “Bayraklı District Governorate.”  From September 2023 to January 2024, he will study at Université Libre de Bruxelles as Erasmus Student Exchange Program. 


 

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