EU Parliamentary Elections Reflect Growing Populist/Anti-Populist Rift By Luke Perry and Phillip Howard
Europe’s parliamentary elections were the second largest in the world, behind India, with 400 million eligible voters. The results witnessed an increase in right-wing nationalist and populist movements throughout Europe.
Italy’s Matteo Salvini, who emerged “the dominant politician in Italy and the strongest claimant to the leadership of Europe’s populists,” said prior to the election “the extremists are those who led Europe to insecurity and poverty,” citing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.
“There is a wind of positive energy,” Salivini contended afterwards, as his anti-immigrant party won 34 percent of the Italian vote. Italy joins Hungary and Poland with right wing parties now in control of the government.
France’s far-right Rassemblement National (National Front) narrowly defeated President Macron’s La Republique En March. Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella sought to turn the election into a referendum on Macron’s pro-European policies and economic reforms. Afterwards, Bardella claimed “the French people have sent a very clear message and a lesson in humility” to Macron: “his politics have been rejected.”
Daphne Halikiopoulu, an associate professor at the University of Reading in Britain, contends the “outsider” mentality of the Europe’s far right movement “makes them much more attractive to a broad range of social groups, giving them more political appeal.” As a result, “it’s not just the white angry men of the past.”
Though increasingly popular, there were widespread anti-nationalist protests throughout European leading up the election. Roxana Meifner, a protester from Frankfurt, said that “it is alarming how many right-wing parties are active not only in Germany but throughout Europe, and we must learn from history.
75 percent of voters still backed pro-Europe parties, resulting in surprising gains for the Green Party. The Greens finished second in Germany and third in France, posting their overall best ever results.
At the same time, the European results, coupled with recent election results in other parts of the world, such as India, Australia, and the Philippines, “have shown public support to tough leaders” who “oppose immigration, promote nationalism, blame globalization and promise a return to better, bygone eras.”
Recent shifts have resulted in “the old left-right divide being replaced by a dominant rift between populists and anti-populists,” contended Zaki Laidi, Professor at Sciences Po in Paris.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College
Phillip Howard is a graduate student at Utica College