European Politics

The Populists are Here to Stay

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The failure of right-wing populists to win elections in Europe so far this year doesn’t mean they’ve been beaten.

  • Facts


    • Centrists across Europe are relieved at the outcome of the first round of the French election in which Emmanuel Macron made the run-off and is now expected to beat National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in the second round on May 7, according to opinion polls.
    • Political scientist Florian Hartleb argues that populism is already firmly entrenched in Europe and shaping public debate and policies.
    • Europe needs to counter right-wing movements by producing new political movements that can galvanize voters, Mr. Hartleb says.
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81138005 reuters AFD Ja populists
Publicity material for Germany's AfD party: Yes, they're here to stay. Source: Reuters

Emmanuel Macron’s strong showing in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday and the failure of anti-immigrant firebrand Geert Wilders to win the Dutch election in March has fueled hope among Europe’s centrists that the march of right-wing populism, which brought the shocks of Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, has been halted.

There’s a plethora of good news, for a change. The new movement “Pulse of Europe” has brought thousands onto the streets in defense of the EU in recent months and Germany’s right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is beset by infighting. It all suggests that the threat posed by hordes of ultra-conservative nationalists has been banished.

But that’s wishful thinking and succumbing to it would be dangerous because the populists in power are busy taking concrete steps to cement their ideology. In Hungary, an ally of right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, has shut down the country’s biggest opposition newspaper, Nepszabadsag, stoking concerns about media freedom. Mr. Orban has also pushed through a law that could close the Central European University, which promotes the ideal of an open society. In the US, Mr. Trump is pressing ahead with his plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico. British Prime Minister Theresa May is getting ready to whip through a hard Brexit and in France, Marine Le Pen has just led the National Front to its best ever election result.

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