Populists Getting more Comfortable at the European Political Table

by No to Hate Politics

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Radical politicians are seen as either coming from a dystopia[1] or as eyes opening genuine saviors. I for one reserve the right to distribute them in the first bin and find their rhetoric as a fantastic over-simplification of the social and economic conditions. Add up as a disturbing factor how populists (far right especially) report to morality and rights in relative terms: for them it is more a survival in the fight between good and evil that seems to condense politics to a battle against conspiracy.

The National Front in France, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in UK, the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, Vlaams Belang in Belgium’s, Italy’s Northern League in Italy, Finns Party in Findland and Progress Party in Norway are just the top of a list of populist and radical parties in Europe. Not only they make the news (although they have few leaders) but make it in their national parliaments. Their electoral straight is even estimated to increase in the forthcoming European Parliament elections (for EU member states).

Is grass root populist bad?

I agree that these parties represent the will of some people, especially of those dissilussioned, confused and anxious about to what they belong to, where their country is heading, and whether their leaders can do anything about it, as Dominique Reynié puts it. These voters do not hold an inner drive for extreme politics nor are they manipulated. On the contrary, as the case of Jobbik’s supporters shows, these voters are predominantly young men and a significant proportion of them (22%) have a university or college education. The common denominator for these supporters is the translation of economic hardship or perceived status challenges into positions against a range of things depending from where the party operates. For the Western European parties the speech focuses on anti-immigration, anti-Islamisation, preserving national wealth (hence anti-EU). For the Eastern European parties the scapegoats are Jews, Roma and minorities. National and religious values rather than wealth are to be preserved for the latter case (hence Euroscepticism).

These parties do not bring new topics on the political scene but popular and symbolic myths, identity politics and over-simplification.

What will happen in the EP elections?

Some estimate that another thing populists have in common at least for this EP elections is that they are scoring high in the polls. The overall seats they will gain in the EP can even increased to 3 times. These figures can be filtered in  two ways: the pessimists think that the populist radical right politicians will overwhelm the European Parliament. They will organize in parliamentary groups and influence policies against the big three group (the EPP, S&D and ALDE groups). The sceptics articulate that the radical populists will sit in the non-attached section (the Front National and the PVV) or in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group (Lega Nord and the True Finns). They will be numerous but will do politics as usual. Politics as usual in these two groups means basically – according to Doru Frantulescu – less cohesion in comparison to the big groups and more nominal power (number of seats) than real power (the percentage of winning votes in the Parliament which a group is part of).

Counterpoint’s report says more or less the same thing: it is speaking time that is of real importance for populist radical right MEPs and not policy drafting. They tend to use the plenary time as a platform to espouse their views to the wider public rather than policy drafting.

Suppose the predictions are right: the increased number of populist in the EP will not lead to a reshape in EU public debate for the next five years. Suppose a coalition can be built in EP and either integrate the populists or make them stay in a beautiful isolation. Having these in mind what is still worrying is the spillover effect of what the populist preach. The velocity of their electoral gains from one mandate to another and the economic context that does not seem to get better any time soon raises the question: “how much more time until the populist will become a critical mass and their electoral score will have a say in EU policies?”


[1] A dystophia is the oppose of utopia. Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia

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