Former MEP Irina von Wiese replaces Sir Graham Watson as the honorary president of ECPS. Sir Watson is stepping down after almost 4 years as president.
Sir Graham Watson is stepping down as the honorary president of ECPS to start a new career as an academician in Canada. Irina von Wiese who served as a British MEP in the European Parliament before the Brexit will replace Sir Watson. Watson who has been the founding honorary president of ECPS since 2020 said ECPS has grown to become a well-rooted and respected institution on the European scene. ‘Never in living memory has its work been more needed… Millennial citizens inherit a world in which skies have darkened and the storm clouds swirl. Thus, the work of ECPS is lent extra urgency and importance,’ said Sir Watson. Sir Watson will continue to support ECPS as a member of the Advisory Board.
We are, as ECPS, grateful to Sir Watson for all the work he has done for our think-tank and happy to welcome Irina von Wiese as our new president. Von Wiese who is involved in local politics in Britain and also teaching in France will certainly contribute a lot to the work of ECPS. “It is a great honor to be appointed Honorary President of the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). Stepping into Sir Graham Watson’s shoes is not easy, and I owe him a huge Thank You for all his work as ECPS Honorary President during the past years,” said von Wiese. She underlined that the work of ECPS was more relevant than ever adding that national populist leaders rule not just in far flung countries without democratic tradition, but they have risen to power in the heart of Europe, and on its periphery, from Hungary to Turkey, Belarus, and Russia. “From Sweden to France, there is no European country that has been immune from the influence of national populist parties,” said she.
Statement by Sir Graham Watson, Former Honorary President of ECPS
It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have been able to serve the European Center for Populism Studies as its first Honorary President.
I am pleased to say that during my time in office – thanks largely to the work of the dedicated founders and staff of the Center – the ECPS has grown to become a well-rooted and widely respected institution on the European scene.
Never in living memory has its work been more needed. The continued erosion of democracy and the rule of law in Europe and beyond is of growing concern to those who seek to live in freedom and in peace. Millennial citizens inherit a world in which skies have darkened and the storm clouds swirl. Thus, the work of the European Center for Populism Studies is lent extra urgency and importance.
As I gravitate from the world of active politics to that of academia, I am increasingly conscious of the importance of fact-based research and the fight against ‘fake news.’ It is probably not an exaggeration to suggest that humankind risks entering a new dark age. Thus, I impress upon my successors the need to redouble their efforts. If we can muster the courage and the determination – the guts and the grit – we may yet ensure that the bloody wars and dictatorships of the 20th century are succeeded by a 21st century in which the good will, compassion and common humanity of concerned citizens can be harnessed to the creation of a more just, democratic, and happier global demos.
I am pleased that you have chosen a person of the caliber of Irina von Wiese to succeed me. I am sure that together you will go on to achieve even greater impact.
Statement by Irina von Wiese, Honorary President of ECPS
It is a great honour to be appointed Honorary President of the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). Stepping into Sir Graham Watson’s shoes is not easy, and I owe him a huge Thank You for all his work as ECPS Honorary President during the past years, as well as his personal friendship and support during my time at the European Parliament. Graham will continue to advise the ECPS and provide his deep well of experience and wisdom to the Center.
Sadly, the work of the ECPS today is more relevant than ever. National populist leaders rule not just in far flung countries without democratic tradition: they have risen to power in the heart of Europe, and on its periphery, from Hungary to Turkey, Belarus, and Russia. Many of these leaders emerged from democratic elections and continue to use the semblance of democracy as legitimization for their autocratic regimes.
Where populists haven’t quite grasped power, they have put noticeable pressure on governments. From Sweden to France, there is no European country that has been immune from the influence of national populist parties.
In 2023, the ground is fertile for populists: perceived or real socio-economic decline, political polarization and the omnipresence of increasingly sophisticated disinformation combine to instill a sense of disenfranchisement. Migrants, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT people, and vaguely defined ‘metropolitan elites’ serve as the usual scapegoats in this quest for power. In my own country, the United Kingdom, the divisive Brexit referendum exacerbated these threats.
The war of aggression unleashed by Vladimir Putin against Ukraine has brought into focus where this slippery slope can lead. On paper, Putin was elected, but in absence of resilient democratic structures, his stronghold over the Russian people allows him to rule as a dictator. As happens so often, journalists became the first victims of his quest to dismantle democracy. Once the free press was shut down, they coast was clear to eradicate any opposition and brainwash the population through a steady stream of disinformation. Without paving the way in his own country, Putin would not have been able to start and sustain his war against Ukraine.
It is time to fight back.
The ECPS, based in the heart of Europe, has gathered a group of world experts to advise policymakers, support human rights defenders, inform the public and teach young people about the threats of populism around the globe. It is unique in its role building a bridge between academia and policy, theory and practice. To fight toxic populism, we need to reach people, and give them access to the most efficient antidote: knowledge.
In this crucial time for the future of Europe, it is more important than ever to understand the roots and evolution of populism. The educational and analytical work undertaken by the ECPS is an invaluable resource. It is my privilege as Honorary President of the Center to support and enable this work going forward.