How to deal with populist power in Europe?

Following the Italian elections in March this year, we now have the opportunity to observe a newly elected populist government in action. One can argue that Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have become increasingly populist under existing conservative and nationalist governments. Austria’s governing coalition uneasily incorporates many aspects of populism into their far-right platform. Italy, however, is the most explicit example of populist governance in action, because the election campaign was led with clear anti-EU and anti-Euro rhetoric, pro-Russian and anti-German messages, and a radical anti-immigration program.

A few days ago, the Austrian chancellor, Kurz spoke of a new ‘axis’ between Vienna, Rome and Munich. Decisions made in German politics this week may result in significant collateral consequences for the traditional German party system and for the stabilizing role that Germany has played under chancellor Merkel in the EU and beyond.

The current strategy of the acting German government’s majority is to address the new Italian government (and the Austrian government) by suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues, instead of fighting ideational battles.

Do you think that this is the right way of addressing populists in power?

Klaus Segbers

See also: Was denkbar ist – Klaus Segbers

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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 3 months ago

    The only possibility to address populist solutions is to explain people consequences of each political and practical move for their concrete life. Thus pure ideational battles are indeed useless, while practical answers and explanations - a real necessity. It should be explained clearly to the people that there is a price for everything. For example, if you take certain political decisions for the benefit of some but there are consequences that negate the benefits, this must be clearly explained. The anti-EU campaign in Europe is a result of unelected Brussels bureaucracy certain unwise decisions in certain spheres, but anti-Euro rhetoric is clearly populist, anti-realistic and will leave to lowering economic standards. Pro-Russian and anti-German feelings in Europe are also reflecting a certain inadequacy of Brussels politics. A recent decision of the Russian government to extend the retirement age for male population to 65 when the average age of male living in Russia is 67 may be also considered as consequences of certain previous populist measures. To criticize such decision does not mean being anti-Russian as well as a sympathy to Russia in certain European states does not mean a full approval of the Russian politics in all spheres. So, there are various forms of populism and there are consequences of populist measures that must be explained and addressed differently in each particular case.

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  2. Thilo Bodenstein 3 months ago

    The demand for populism by European voters is not fully understood. According to the research group ‘Team populism’ economic hardship is not necessarily a key factor. Additional variables are welfare chauvinism and nativist attitudes. I am afraid ideational battles will not change these attitudes. The fight against populism needs a long-term strategy based on sound policies. The migration question needs to be solved, because it increases the populist vote. But it is obvious that a European solution will be difficult because of the non-cooperative stance of some east European governments. Therefore, a constructive solution will rely on a coalition of west Europeans including Italy, Austria and Greece. The solution requires a long-term strategy that is based on fair burden sharing and does justice to Europe’s values. In addition, it must be embedded in joint economic action to overcome the economic and Euro crisis to prevent populists from further exploiting the migration crisis.

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  3. Justas Paleckis 3 months ago

    The strategy chosen by Germany is correct. What is needed is to talk with populists, to look for common solutions. It should push the populists toward a more rational, less nationalist position. On the other hand, Germany and other major EU countries would also make concessions when seeking a compromise. This could reduce the attractiveness of populist parties in those countries.
    The element of ideational battles will remain. The past decades show the growth of populist forces on both sides of the Atlantic. This trend is likely to increase further. It could be stopped by decisions taken not at EU level or at G7 but in a much wider format. Only this could stabilize the EU and the positive role of Germany in it.

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  4. Friederike Kies 3 months ago

    The recent international trend of rising populism across the world is very worrisome. This trend is also visible in Europe as many populist parties are achieving higher turnouts. The main question is: How to deal with populist´s power in Europe?
    As mentioned, the current German government´s strategy is suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues, instead of fighting ideational battles. On the one hand, suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues seems a reasonable approach. It is important to continue staying in contact with other governments even if one does not share the same “Weltanschauung.” However on the other hand, it becomes apparent that if governments do not agree on ideational issues they will presumably also disagree on factual issues. I believe politicians from parties of the political centre should focus more on the voters´ needs. They should address questions as: Who votes for populist parties in one´s country? Why do people vote for them? What are the fears and needs of those people? How can one address these fears and needs? How can one regain trust and votes?
    Countries with a populist government are a vivid and worrisome example of possible consequences that may occur when voters’ needs and fears are not taken seriously.

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  5. Mina Sumaadii 3 months ago

    It is a good strategy, but maybe it would be made stronger by supporting it with specific actions as well. Populists are gaining momentum since under current circumstances they can afford such actions. Thus, a demonstration effect would be good enough to set things clear. Maybe starting with easing procedures for invoking Article 7, and then finally setting concrete procedures/mechanisms for the expulsion of a member state from the EU would be a good disincentive. This might be a short-term deterrent at the political level.
    Nonetheless, studies find a high level of congruence between political elites and population in those countries. Thus, midterm and long-term strategies will have to focus on the population. And that is a much more difficult task since ordinary citizens will have to be convinced that they want to protect liberal democracy and the EU. For that, focus on concrete stakes and not just normative arguments is indeed a better choice.

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8 Comments

  1. pasha ghaffari 3 months ago

    obviously there is a demand side for pugilistic agenda in the Europe and the best way to address the issue might be informing citizen and taking serous steps to resolve the crisis of debt and migration as solving these two among the objectives of populist leaders and attract many young jobless people to vote for populist parties

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  2. Amin Tabatabaei 3 months ago

    My understanding is that we have to first recognize the characteristics of populism and try to find solutions for the common problem. As many populist discussions involve a sense of crisis and sometimes lack of core values, it is no surprise that politicians promoting these kinds of discourse are sort of taking the advantage of simplifying social issues. in the emerging trend regarding populism, Europe is no exception in this respect. As the texts brief mentioned the rise of such governments across Europe, it seems that the very first step towards tackling adverse consequences of populism is to raise the public awareness on this issue. Populists might be wining the elections and succeed to take office but the main problem will stay on the ground. Up to now, evidences suggest that although there have been movements to confine such politicians but as policy makers they are able to decide over the distribution of resources and take almost irreversible measure within the realm of politics. That would bring as to the very point that apparently the only practical way to address such challenges is to mobilize the civil society and encourage them to engage in public and social affairs, rather than waiting for the so called benevolent administration – as mostly argued during the campaigns- to act upon them.

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  3. hamidreza.babaei1992@gmail.com 3 months ago

    the issue of populism in the EU and rise of populist movements is actually raising more debates to discuss here: especially after feeling the crisis by both left and right wing political leaders regarding to migration and feeling the cultural and economic differences, they were able to make an atmosphere that people feel they are in a danger, their identity, job opportunities and future is uncertain and unclear. although the EU policy is perceived to be positive toward the migrants, this is conceived in a different way by populist leaders. in order to find a remedy, they propose simple solutions: returning migrants back to their countries or closing the borders to stop the crisis, criticizing the process of the decision making by the both EU and local governments and indicating that the future will be negative and the society might collapse. we can also argue that the BREXIT is another fact that populism is becoming more evident in EU. although the conservative party leader David Cameron had a different attitude toward Brexit. what can we see as a result is that the majority of people in the UK voted to leave the European Union and this makes an in-depth question: is EU getting smaller? what would be the future of the EU? how can we support liberal democracy against populism? in my opinion, EU must protect its main values. keeping the borders open, convincing people that the atmosphere of crisis is temporary and co-operating with the other EU states is more beneficial rather than voting to leave and following this new populist trend.

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  4. matin khazaeli 3 months ago

    One can maybe trace the spread of populism parties in Europe, especially radical right parties to the euro crisis and economic crisis of 2008-2009 that almost reached to every economy across the globe. These populist parties have gained legitimacy and attract support via giving simple solution for very complicated problems and often put the blame on immigrants or the regulations and instructions that they argue is forced upon their countries by the Brussels. It is hard to determine that whether in fact populist leaders actually believe their notions about immigrants eroding the cultural homogeneity of their nations or undermining the traditional values that the promote or they have just understood that these sentiments would be attracting for masses of people that lack higher education and feel threatened by the cultural diversity the immigrants bring with themselves. But one thing is certain and that is given the current situation in middle east and even eastern Europe, the immigration will continue in the future and this could further uphold populist positions in western Europe. One thing that politicians can do in order to address this issue is that engaging in rhetorical fights does not help anybody, so they better put their ideological values and norms away when dealing with these rather new empowered political entities across the continent. When dealing with them they better not push them into accepting Munich or Brussels solution and let them present their proposal to tackle the problem. The more they feel forced by the EU, the more they become eurosceptics and therefore the more radical their stance gets.

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  5. Maryam Abdolmaleki 3 months ago

    If we want to examine a question deeply, we should see what conditions and problems have led to the kind of populist thought? What solutions to these problems have been considered but not convincing. It is obvious that economic, political and social insecurities  will make people to be dissatisfied, and it provides grounds for the emergence of the populists. In order to prevent them from gaining power, not only should their advertising in the media be restricted, but also people would be assured that solutions are working to solve their problems.The populists try to conquer the sentiments of the people to reach political power with the easiest way. Therefore, the law is the only force to protect rationality and human values ​​and also can withstand the rabble rousing.

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  6. Issa Adeli 3 months ago

    “Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” - George Bernard Shaw
    It is not hard to understand that the solution to deal with a fanatic populist cannot be to wrestle with them ideologically, but I hardly believe addressing them and asking them for concrete solutions makes any difference. As an outstanding example, Donald Trump suggested a real concrete solution when he said I build a wall (probably with concrete) to deal with undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers. I know that the second part of his plan, making Mexico pay for it, was not concrete, but I hardly believe you would agree with him if he made America pay for it.
    In addition, to counter their rhetoric, it is needed to have a clear and simple answer, probably less than 140 characters to fit into a twit, understandable for not-so-educated people. If you are still in doubt, remember when Donald Trump described Hillary Clinton and any typical politician as “all talk and no action”. Later, his counsellor, Kellyanne Conway, claimed: “Trump Is a Man of Action in a Town of Talk”. So, by that suggestion, the German government will be just an ordinary resident of the town of talk. The efficient response to a populist simplified message would be a more practical result than a convincing talk. If building a wall along the Mexican border is not a solution, then what will be the solution? And if there was any solution better than the wall, why Barack Obama did not do it.
    There are two points that must be taken into consideration while searching for solutions for today’s complex problems. First, one has to understand that there are some voices that were not heard. In mainstream media, every far-right agenda is considered as populist, and therefore are stigmatized. There are some people who do not want any further globalization. Possibly there are some solutions for their inconvenience with globalization or it is the case that being heard would be enough for them. The policy that allows these people to talk only if they have a concrete solution, will deter them.
    Second, not all of our problems are solvable. Besides our resources are not enough to deal with all that are solvable. This is not desired to admit or to be proud of it that sometimes politicians have to choose between different agenda, for example, the welfare of their own people, and the relief for those who trapped in conflict areas (I am not so sure if this is the case, but it can work well to understand my point).
    All said and done, it has to be emphasized that this dynamism that gave and will give momentum to populism is not preferred, but need to be learned. Ignorance will not make the situation any better.

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  7. Pingback: “He is a man of action in a town of talk” – Issa Adeli

  8. SUN Xinyue 2 months ago

    After reading, I want to talk about the populism as a causes of international trade protectionism and unilateralism. Indeed, populism is the root of the international trade protectionism and unilateralism. In international trade, populism can be the most direct and simple solution when countries face complex challenges and problems. Politicians use this to stir up the masses, promising that they will represent them for their interests, in order to get votes and come into power. Politicians who came into power are also kidnapped by populism and must take measures to make good on their promises. This can easily lead to economic nationalism and anti-globalization. On the one hand, in order to realize the interests of the majority of the people, the government will focus more on how to pursue its interests of their own country and neglect common development on a global scale. In order to meet the needs of national interests, the country will pay more attention to relative benefits. In addition, in order to further improve its relative benefits, it will also make efforts to improve its international status, so as to obtain more relative benefits in the global trading environment, thus forming a vicious circle and further aggravating its economic nationalism. On the other hand, although the country may benefit from globalization in the process of globalization, due to the uneven distribution of domestic interests, people's interests may not always be satisfied. For example, the reduction of employment opportunities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. These will make people dissatisfied with their living environment, thus causing social contradictions and affecting domestic political stability. In this sense of insecurity, governments will also choose to reduce their economic interdependence with other countries in a direct way, that is anti-globalization which based on populist ideas. Therefore, under the combined action of the above reasons, the current trade protectionism and trade unilateralism are caused.

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