According to research carried out by The Guardian newspaper and political scientists, Europe has been witnessing a consistent rise in populist politics order over past two decades.

Populist parties in Europe have tripled their votes over the past two decades, according to extensive research into the rise of populism carried out by British newspaper The Guardian.

Research carried out in conjunction with more than 30 political scientists analysed the consistent rise of populist parties in national elections across 31 European countries since 1998. 

The data shows that populist parties, by challenging the established liberal order, managed to secure one in every four votes in the most recent elections across the continent. 

“There are three main reasons for the sharp rise of populism in Europe,” said Cas Mudde, a professor in international affairs at the University of Georgia. 

“The great recession, which created a few strong left populist parties in the south, the so-called refugee crisis, which was a catalyst for right populists, and finally the transformation of non-populist parties into populist parties – notably Fidesz and Law and Justice [in Poland].”

In France, a key member of the European Union, the far-right National Front (FN) has maintained its power as a third party in the French parliament. The party’s leader Marine Le Pen frequently makes anti-immigrant and Islamophobic remarks, creating wider divisions in a society which has a huge presence of Muslim, Arab and African migrants. 

In the 2017 elections in Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) became the first far-right party to enter the German parliament since the Second World War. Despite its anti-Turkish, anti-Muslim and nationalist rhetoric, the party is currently the third largest political group in parliament. Even Germany’s newest left-wing Stand Up party considers Europe’s so-called “welcome culture” towards refugees a problem. 

Italy is also experiencing the rise of far-right populism. Similar to the AfD, the far-right Five Star Movement in Italy became the single biggest party by a clear-cut victory in last May’s election with more than 30 percent of votes nationwide. In contrast, mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties faced a shock defeat.

The populist rhetoric has even reached the shores of Sweden, a country where liberal values once stood at the heart of Swedish democracy. The far-right populist Sweden Democrats (SD) party, is known for its anti-immigrant stance and gained significant power in recent elections, damaging the Scandinavian nation’s reputation as one of the most welcoming countries for migrants and refugees. 

“Not so long ago populism was a phenomenon of the political fringes,” said Matthijs Rooduijn, a political sociologist at the University of Amsterdam, who led the research project.

“Today it has become increasingly mainstream: some of the most significant recent political developments like the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump cannot be understood without taking into account the rise of populism,” he added. 

Europe is not the only region where anti-establishment, populist voices have become mainstream in the political arena. Populist politics now rules some of the world’s biggest countries such as the US, Brazil, India and the Philippines.

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who has a military background, was voted the new president of Brazil, the world’s fourth democracy last October.

Bolsonaro’s oversimplistic solutions to the country’s complicated economic problems and discriminatory remarks against women and black Brazilians makes him yet another benefactor of the populism that has spread from Viktor Orban’s Hungary to Trump’s America and Duterte’s Philippines.

“In the short term, populist parties will probably stay roughly this strong, although they will be even more clearly radical right and there will remain significant regional and national differences,” explained Mudde.

In short, populism is here to stay and in many countries across Europe, it will take centre stage defining the political and social discourse. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies