Populist movements in the European political landscape

Author: University of Aveiro

The word populism is increasingly present in the public sphere and in the political context, due to the broad and rapid increase of this phenomenon in personal and collective discourses and expressions. The definition most used to identify the concept of populism is focused on the discourse that is propagated by its announcers. In the expressions of populism predominates a narrative in which the people, described as the “we” must unite against the political elite, indicated as “they”. This type of expression is not exclusive to the political sphere since we observe either more associated approaches to the left, criticism of capitalism, antimilitarism, and the objectives of an egalitarian society, or others more associated with right-wing discourse, which are associated with ideals such as antiglobalization, nationalism and arguments unfavorable to immigration. From a historical perspective, populism finds its origins at the end of the 19th century, in various expressions. Examples of the United States of America are commonly cited with the Farmers’ Alliance movement as a way to improve the economic conditions of farmers, or in Eastern Europe, as a way to combat the dominance of the Tsars. Despite its modest beginnings, populism, as an ideology that easily captures the attention and support of voters, has gained ground and has taken on an important role in the 21st century. The second decade of the 21st century was marked by the increase of populist parties and movements at the international level, to which Portugal was not immune. The evolution of populist phenomena in the late 20th and early 20th centuries can be demonstrated through a continuous increase in parties, which are classified by researchers and academics as populists or perpetuators of populist discourses. Between 1971 and 2019, 23 new parties were formed with seven bring from left spectrum and the rest form the right wing. Portugal has one party under this characteristic, alongside Sweden. With two parties stand Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Poland and Hungary. Greece, Netherlands and Italy have three parties each. Five have emerged between the years 2000-2010, and the other 11 between the years 2010-2020.
These parties arise when there is a sense of lack of representativeness in national constituencies and when one or more groups of citizens are unable to identify with the positions that their present representatives sustain. This context frees up space in the political arena for the formation of new parties seeking to exploit these niches of voters. The populist narrative is combined with relative ease in this perspective since the new parties want to demarcate themselves from the political elite that has hitherto been in force in governance. In the recent international landscape, examples of discourses that are classified as populist have multiplied. Citing some cases, we have the public expressions associated with the 2016 British referendum, in which UK citizens voted mostly to leave the European Union (Brexit). Examples are also the circumstances associated with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States in 2017, and most recently the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil in 2018. These are just a few examples starring so-called populist actors in international political spheres.Together with these events, the significant increase of parties identified as populists in the first two decades of this century represents a general, albeit nonconsensual, acceptance by the public of this movements. One of the evidence scans of the success that these parties achieve is the evolution of votes in the elections for these parties, between the first time they participated in a legislative election (after its foundation) and the most recent elections in which they participated. Only four parties, including The Left (Germany), Force Italy (Italy), Northern League (Italy) and Kukiz’15 (Poland) have achieved a worse result in the last elections. All the others have achieved a positive evolution in winning votes, thus demonstrating an increased interest on the part of citizens in representing these parties in legislative instruments. One of the most striking cases is the Brothers of Italy party, which in 2022 won the elections, and won the current Italian legislature. Populist movements maintain a steady and growing presence in the European political landscape and can pose a threat to democracy and citizenship values due to their typical divisive ideology and speech making more imperative than ever the need for information and knowledge to counter these movements.

Concept defined by Müller, J. W. (2017). What is populism?. Penguin UK; https://www.britannica.com/topic/populism | https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/populism
De Cleen, B. (2017). Populism and nationalism. In C. Rovira Kaltwasser, P. Taggart, P. Ostiguy, & P. Ochoa Espejo (Eds.), Handbook of populism. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, pp. 342-362 | Zúquete, J. P. (2022). Populismo: lá fora e cá dentro. (Livros da Fundação). Fundação Francisco Manuel dos Santos
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/10/06/populists-in-europe-especially-those-on-the-right-have-increased-their-vote-shares-in-recent-elections/ | https://euagenda.eu/upload/publications/state_of_populism_in_europe_2020_final.pdf.pdf
Classified by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan database that informs the public about issues, attitudes, and trends that shape the world available in https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/10/06/populists-in-europe-especially-those-on-the-right-have-increased-their-vote-shares-in-recent-elections/
Canovan, M. (1982). Two strategies for the study of populism. Political Studies, 30(4), pp. 544–552. https://www.statista.com/topics/3291/right-wing-populism-in-the-european-union/#topicOverview

Populist movements in the European political landscape
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