A Tale of Two Parties: Left vs. Right Wing Populism in the 2019 British Election

On November 6, 2019, the 57th Parliament of the United Kingdom (UK) was officially dissolved. With support from the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party called an early election to take place on December 12, 2019. While the next UK election was scheduled for May 5, 2022, policymakers across the House agreed a general election was required to break the political impasse over Brexit.

Unusual timing notwithstanding, eyes are turned to the 2019 British election as yet another battlefield between left and right wing populism in Europe. On the left, we have Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the so-called “populist wearing a cardigan,” pitted against the aforementioned Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party on the right. 

So what do these two parties—who appear to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum—have in common? For one, both leaders have adopted an increasingly populist tone. Corbyn speaks of “going after the tax dodgers, dodgy landlords, bad bosses, and big polluters, because we know whose side we’re on.” Johnson has been compared to the likes of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Donald Trump in the US, who are “right-wing, conservative, nationalist and authoritarian” political leaders. In the British battle of two populisms, it has become increasingly important for voters to understand the differences (and striking similarities) between the right and left wing iterations of this global phenomenon 

Boriss Johnson, Conservative Party Leader and current Prime Minister of the UK

Scholars have established a minimum definition of the far/radical right based on three central factors: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism. According to this definition, can we therefore categorize Johnson as a far-right leader? Not quite. 

For one, authoritarianism refers to a rules-based society that restricts individual freedoms, dissenting opinions, and an independent judiciary. With a Brexit campaign slogan of “by any means necessary” and a Supreme Court ruling of 11-0 that his suspension of the British Parliament was unlawful, Johnson is certainly not afraid to challenge the rule of law. While this may be a sign that liberal democracy is under attack, populism has been kept in check from morphing to the radical right as a result of the UK’s strong, democratic institutions. Without authoritarian rule, Johnson’s right wing ideology, however provocative, is not radical. 

As for nativism and populism, it’s a bit more complex. It’s no coincidence that the rebirth of populism arrived after the impacts of the 2008 financial crisis led to an economic slump. As a result, both disgruntled workers and traditional right-wing supporters were able to unite for change. Notably, right-wing populism is often held accountable for turning the “us vs. them” populist rhetoric against immigrants. By closing borders and returning to the glories of the nation state, the result has been an “Othering” of foreigners, and in particular immigrants who would put strain on the national services like healthcare. However radical this may seem, the Conservative Party has stopped far short of the kind of racial exclusion that premeditates fascism. 

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party Leader

While right-wing populism has taken Europe by storm, UK voters would be wise to give due attention the growing wave of left-wing populism embodied by the Labour Party and Corbyn. Perhaps viewing the success of his European counterparts, Corbyn has shifted Labour farther left and embraced populism by identifying a different us vs. them than Johnson. Corbyn’s Labour Party has instead campaigned against the “established elite” embodied by the Conservatives. 

It is important not to confuse left-wing populism with socialist movements. While building its base from those discouraged from the divide between the have and have-nots, it does not seek to end capitalism or the class conflict.  

Where does this British leave voters? Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair warns the  “populism running riot” has pushed the two main parties to extreme ends of the political spectrum. At the same time, the left and right options available to voters have become more similar today. According to scholars, both right and left-wing populism have followed a similar populist playbook: 

  1. Encouraging an emotional sense of injustice 
  2. Mobilizing the masses 
  3. Transforming the media landscape
  4. Headed by charismatic party leaders

In the case of the UK, the House of Commons is dominated by a two-party system. While contenders like the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats still vie for seats, in reality this leaves the majority of British voters without a moderate option for 10 Downing. The populism embodied by Johnson and Corbyn therefore does not enable meaningful political decision-making by citizens. 

It appears that what began as a movement for “the people” has therefore left the majority of British voters feeling unaccounted for. One saving grace is in order to build a Parliamentary majority, both the Labour and Conservative Party will likely need to form a coalition government. The post-election onus may therefore be left in the hands of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats to real in the populist extremes to provide stable governance for the UK. 

“Populism and Media Failure”

By Alex Wittmann

In the day and age in which we live, mass media and news outlets of a wide degree of sources contribute a great deal to how one sees the world and formulates their own opinions. The Populists of the Far Right have used and exploited mass media in order to advance their movement and gain following. I am in agreeance with the article that unregulated digital media platforms have become the breeding ground for reactionary movements to take hold. The fact that that Liberal media was in shock that Populist movements such as Trump’s election and the UK’s decision to leave the EU shows arrogance on the part of mainstream media and their inability to acknowledge that there are certain structural issues with unregulated platforming that allows for reactionary Right Wing movements to gain traction based on unregulated platforming. Social Media plays a very large role in reactionary movements because the platforming is set up in such a way that anyone can say whatever they want and spread as many lies as they want without the risk of fact checking. There are no limits as to what political ads can be platformed either. In fact, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zukerberg said before a Congressional hearing that Facebook will not stop far right ads and misinformation from circulating, he said that it is up to the viewer to decide what is credible or not. The article calls for a redistributive model that funds grassroot journalism able to cater to a wide range of audiences, separate of political affiliation willing to hold power to account without being held by vested corporate interests. This sounds like a good idea in theory but I believe that Populism will always find a way to get its message across on social media. The people who support such movements are highly passionate and motivated to throw their support behind the Populist cause. If they see any attempt by the media to curb their perceived “free speech,” it could likely result in rebellion far worse than the one in which brought Populist sentiments through the media into power. The process of regulating media must be done carefully.

D. Freedman, “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication
33(6)(2018): 604-618

The Media Makes the Message

Des Freedman’s Populism and media failure discusses many ways in which media policy allows for far-right populist movements to utilize the platforms for their own benefits. He looks at how big media companies hold a monopoly over different media outlets, how many people who write for medias outlet come from certain economic backgrounds, and he discusses the way in which there is no true independent, bi-partisan media outlet because of elites in-charge that so greatly oppose far-right populist action, which in-turn provides them with a platform for them to utilize. Freedman’s solution to this issue is clear, redistribution of the monopoly.

This solution overall makes sense in terms of policy failure. Social media is used more and more everyday, and information is consumed on a much larger scale that it ever has before. Freedman does say that this rise has increased the way in which far-right populists are given even more room to interact with the people. Though what is interesting is that his analysis is very focused on economic divide. I think that there should be focus on how generational divides affect the way in which policy is made, and how it would affect this solution of redistribution.

Different generation interact and consume media differently. I think it interesting to look at how younger generations use social media and acknowledge the faults in these policies, versus those who are less incline to understand how media can make room for a far-right populist voice.

This is not to say that there is nothing wrong with policy, because there is. But how does generation play in the execution of these policies, or how do different generations of consumers interact and are aware of these faults. If there are not solutions to this policy failure, then how does being aware and understanding these failures while consuming media affect the success of far-right populists use of media? And how does ‘cancel culture’ that is used more by the younger generation fit into how different generations interact with policy failures?

 

Colours and Symbols: How Cartoons Are Not That Innocent

It would be lying to assert that political cartoons are just there to relieve the public from difficult topics or moments but when it reaches a transnational level, we are forced to admit that their power can be dangerous. Using humoristic drawings to send a xenophobic message is the tool that ethno-nationalists have utilize to gather more partisans for their political agendas. Cartoons are an easy way to transmit an underlined message and the “black sheep” example that started to circulate in Switzerland in 2007 is no stranger to this method of reaching a massive crowd nationally and transnationally.

Nicole Doerr wrote an interesting study on the use of the “black sheep” cartoon and how its distribution and adaptation in Germany and Italy illustrate the power of visual media. In the article, the author states that the dichotomy of colours is one part of the controversy and that the written text adds a stronger signification especially when it is translated in another language or for another country. Associating the visual and verbal messages, she demonstrates that the ambiguity of the colour choice helps carrying the ideas of former fascist discourses in Italy or Germany.

Would the cartoon have the same effect if the chosen colours or the animals would have been different ? The idea of the black sheep is not racial in its general context: the difference within a group is not always based on race. However, the deliberate choice by the SVD ( Swiss People’s Party) to use this analogy makes it racial.

Once copied in Germany and Italy, the message takes a meaning that reflects the preoccupations of the country’s political agenda . The semiotic translation has gained a higher level of controversy in the fact that it encompasses the anti-immigration, xenophobic rhetoric used by respective far-right parties. Based on a possible bond that exists between these three countries, the text contains words that appeal to a nationalistic and more radical discourse about immigration.

How far can cartoonists go in their representation of actual problems ? The Netherlands and France have dearly paid for representing images that should not have been drawn. Knowing the massive role that visual media carries out and the absence of censorship in the press in many countries, the representation of tragic situations in a cartoonish manner is benefitting transnational far-right parties who then can capture the attention of an emotional public in a more or less subtle way.

Work cited :

N. Doerr, “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe” Discourse & Society 28(1) (2017): 3–23.

The Populist Playbook on Media Coverage

Populist movements have demonstrated the ability to navigate and influence their messages across both mainstream media and social media. This week’s readings showcased a wide range of the methods being used by these populist movements. I have tried to categorize the readings into three main methods used by populists: capitalize on the mainstream media’s complicity, ability to shape the narrative, and exploitation of social media and unregulated digital platforms. These methods have resulted in populists being able to “to transmit ‘sentiment’ over ‘fact’, to use ‘authentic’ language, to make full use of social media and to exploit the mainstream media’s appetite for sensationalist stories” (Freedman).

Capitalize on mainstream media’s complicity

In Populism and media policy failure, Des Freedman argues that populist leaders and movements have been able to exploit mainstream media’s lack of attention around “the structural conditions and policy frameworks that have facilitated the circulation of clickbait and misinformation”. The article by Slavickova & Zvagulis also points to complicity in print media. In their review of Czech print media, they found that there are problems of contextualization and otherization of minorities, framing that overstates (and contributes to) racial tension in the Czech Republic.

Ability to shape the narrative in news cycles

In a similar vein as Freedman, Hatakka argues that “populists’ strategies of provoking the media into prolonged coverage of their scandalous actions can be regarded to grant them agenda-setting and framing power by providing visibility and political weight”. What I find particularly interesting in populist movements ability to shape the narrative is the idea that there is no real losing over media coverage. By this I mean, populists employ sensationalist claims in order to gain extensive media coverage. however, when this does not work, due to the mainstream media boycotting coverage of populist movements, these groups are able to rally their base by claiming that this is proof that the mainstream media are ‘corrupt’. In the end, populists are either able to be seen by a larger public or are able to rally their base, both of which I see as a win for the populists.

Exploiting Social Media and Unregulated Digital Platforms

Lastly, the populist’s ability to effectively use social media and unregulated digital platforms (such as HommaForum) has resulted in electoral gains. Hatakka references the works of Lance Bennett and Alexander Sergber, who put forward the idea that “digital communication technologies have provided not only new tools for political organization, but a whole new logic to political identity formation and group formation.” Viewing social media and alternative digital platforms in this light, it is easy to see how populists’ groups have used these platforms to create their groups identities.


Until the mainstream media and conventional political parties are able to adapt to newer digital platforms, I believe that populists movements will be able to gain more support. What is worrying to me though is the risk that politics on digital platforms will never achieve a positive outlook for politics, rather it will at a minimum remain an echo chamber of ideas, at worse we will see further divergence between parties with no hope to bridge to other groups.

Far Right Exploitation of Media

By Absalom Sink

The core questions around which this week’s readings revolve are:

  1. How does social media construct particular conditions for populist formations?
  2. How is networked society different from what came before?

To try to answer these questions, I’ll lean on three of the readings in particular: Niko Hatakka’s “When Logics of Party Politics and Online Activism Collide”, Des Freedman’s “Populism and Media Policy Failure”, and Nicole Doerr’s Bridging Language Barriers, Bonding Against Immigrants”.

Doerr’s article focuses on the use of visual imagery by the far-right to transcend linguistic and national boundaries to create transnational linkages between groups and individuals and mobilize support and solidarity. As her example, she uses the Swiss People’s Party’s “Black Sheep” poster from 2007 and the subsequent adoption of its imagery first by the far-right, fascist-descended Lega Nord and later by Germany’s Neo-Nazi NPD. With each subsequent iteration after the first, the imagery is adapted to a new local or national context, but the core symbolism—the black sheep being kicked out by a trio of white sheep, originally a visual metaphor for the expulsion of “criminal” foreigners after their prison sentences are concluded—remains the same. By the time the image trickles down to grassroots NPD supporters, they have modified the message by multiplying the black sheep (such that they outnumber the white sheep), while adding peritext that harkens back to the Nazi party, and calls for the expulsion not just of the “criminal other” but their entire kin networks (ie. families) as well. Here, memetic transmission via social media—blogs, in particular—is key to the spread imagery, and crucially does not rely on mutual linguistic intelligibility. Even lacking the peritext of the original poster, the visual shorthand of the image suffices to grant it tremendous cultural currency across a loose and shifting network of far-right groups and individuals.

For his part, Freedman focuses on the presence, or rather absence, of government. He lists a quartet of policy failures that are crucial to the rise of far-right populism and its coopting of media, and which are rooted in a blind liberal faith in the “logic of the marketplace”. Essentially, the neoliberal preference for a laissez-faire approach to regulation in which market forces alone determine the direction of media and communications evolution has resulted in the concentration of media ownership, the failure to check a tech industry driven purely by profit motive, failure to safeguard the “fourth estate” that is investigative journalism, and the gutting of public service media both by budget cuts and elite capture. Essentially, Freedman argues that the rise of far-right populists has been tied to their ability to exploit the above four policy failures, and compounded by lawmakers’ unwillingness to enact appropriate legislation. The second of the four enumerated failures is particularly pertinent to our questions this week; certainly traditional media is a factor in far-right radicalization, but the openness, low barrier to entry, and almost complete lack of oversight in social media by Big Tech means that any sufficiently motivated individual has access to a soapbox, and the means to reach like-minded individuals.

Finally, Hatakka’s article focuses on the early years of the previously “centre-left populist” Finns Party ideological capture by a more radical right through their alliance with the anti-immigration Hommaforum, and its subsequent ideological drift to a position more in line with European radical-right groups. His argument hinges on the very real difference between old-school “collective action”, and what has been termed the “connective action” made possible by online discourse. In contrast to traditional activist networks, “connective action networks rely on self-motivated sharing of personalized ideas, plans, images, and resources” in online settings. Taking action is thus not part of a “collective identity”, as it might once have been, but an individual act of self-expression, a completely different paradigm. Hatakka portrays the quasi-alliance between the party and the forum as something of a ‘deal with the devil’ for the party’s founder, Timo Soini. On the one hand, access to the large, politically engaged and well-educated user base of the forum helped propel the party to a historic highpoint in the 2011 parliamentary election, taking 19% of the vote and the seats. On the other, anti-immigrant messaging on the forum and outside of it—including by new candidates for the Finns Party, chosen from the forum’s user base—led to increased media scrutiny for the party and a series of minor scandals for Soini to deal with, as the party message strayed further and further from its previous economic core. The piece is even more worrying in light of events that came after the article’s publication: Soini resigned as party leader in 2017, and Jussi Halla-aho—the man whose blog formed Hommaforum’s anti-immigrant nucleus—became party leader and brought the party within a single seat of winning a plurality in the 2019 parliamentary election. In a sense, Hatakka’s article is a cautionary tale about engagement with new media that befits the current political climate.

Works Cited:

Doerr, Nicole. “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe.” Discourse & Society 28, no.1 (2017): 3-23.

Freedman, Des. “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication 33, no.6 (2018): 604-618

Hatakka, Niko. “When Logics of Party Politics and Online Activism Collide: The Populist Finns Party’s Identity under Negotiation.” New Media & Society 19, no. 12, (Dec. 2017): 2022-2038.

Des Freedman and How to Fix Media Policy – Andrew Devenish

In “Populism and media policy failure”, Des Freedman in my opinion correctly points out many issues which enable and support the growth of populist and far-right movements in the US and the UK. In particular, he cites “policy silences” and “policy failures” in four main areas where there has not been enough done by government policy to encourage a healthy environment for media and journalism. These four issues are the failure to tackle concentrated ownership, the failure to regulate tech companies, the failure to safeguard an effective fourth estate (investigative journalism), and failure to nurture independent public service media. In my opinion, Freedman’s analysis of the policy failures and silences in these four areas are spot-on and highlight real, important issues that help enable the growth of populist movements too much. However, Freedman’s solution to these problems leaves something to be desired.

Essentially, Freedman wants a total shift in the approach to media policy and calls this new approach a “redistributive” media policy. However, it’s unclear what this actually means. For instance, when Freedman correctly points out issues with commercial media (they go where profits can be found), and public service media (funding can complicate things and journalism can get too close to government), he doesn’t elaborate on how a “redistributive” policy would solve these problems. He is happy to say in his conclusion what problems would be solved by this new policy paradigm but neglects to explain how they would be solved. This paradigm would be “designed to cater to the needs above all of disaffected citizens” but it is once again unclear what that would entail. Would media companies be publicly owned, or commercial entities? How would these companies under this new paradigm operate to ensure that they properly serve the public’s interests? Perhaps it isn’t Freedman’s goal to make policy recommendations, but after he so astutely points out many areas where policy can be improved, his solutions are rather less satisfying.

The Dark Side of Social Media

Well… it is a dark side if we are talking about right-wing populists’ mobilization. In theory, social media could be used to mobilize other kinds of powerful movements, like the Arab Spring. Dark sides or bright sides aside, this week’s readings offer interesting insight about the more creative ways right-wing populists have spread their ideas and fostered support. Nicole Doerr discussed how visual images are used to garner support. Des Freedman focuses on the populists’ skills in utilizing social media to communicate with supporters. Niko Hatakka outlined some of the drawbacks of using social platforms to promote a party’s or group’s image.

Doerr’s discussion of how imagery was used was particularly interesting. In the EU, there many different languages spoken. If a group, for example a right-wing populist group, wants to have its message reach a transnational audience, images are a good way to transcend language barriers. Additionally, the same image, in this case the black sheep, can be used in different settings or countries. The design of the poster or the caption may be adapted to best suit the environment, but the core symbols stay the same. Using simplified cartoons like the black sheep reinforces Freedman’s summarization that populists are able “to transmit ‘sentiment’ over ‘fact’…to exploit the mainstream media’s appetite for sensationalist stories.” The black sheep is an unfortunately perfect example of how an over-simplified cartoon can unite people across national boundaries, against immigrants.

Freedman’s arguments and reasoning a(C)cur(a)tely pointed out the shortco(m)ings of the media scene, including social media. In addition to the pro(b)lems concent(r)ated ownersh(i)p, one of the most important issues currently is the failure to regulate tech companies. Free(d)man points out that (g)oogl(e) and Facebook ‘not only rule the pl(A)yi(n)g field but (a)re ab(l)e to set the rules of the game as well.” Freedman drew the parallel between lack of regulations here and wh(y) (t)he turnout of the last US elect(i)ons was (c)ostly and question(a)ble. This involved lack of transparency about privacy on social media and that many people did not even know they were being targeted with ads on social media.

I found Hatakka’s arguments interesting because they pointed out the potential drawbacks of populist groups using social platforms. On one hand, social media is a great way to reach ‘new digital foot soldiers’, on the other hand, allowing more people to be actively part of the discussion could lead to ‘decreased message discipline’ and a tainted image. Not only does this argument point out the risks of using social media to mobilize people, it also highlights how important the image and messaging is for the group. Why populism claims to speak for the people, in reality the message needs to be controlled. Social media is a detriment here.

When analyzed together, Doerr, Freedman and Hatakka provide a balanced assessment of the mobilizing and transnational powers of social media, while acknowledging the risks of using social media for populist groups.

The world is not increasingly populated by populists; the world is increasingly structured for (and by) populists

By: PSjoberg

The evolution of media, having completely transformed daily life since the new millennium, is surprisingly and shamefully overlooked as a cause of so much of the 21st century’s political events and developments. Three of this week’s readings – those by Niko Hatakka, Des Freedman, and Nicole Doerr – address this fact, diligently outlining the ways in which modern social media and online platforms directly contribute to the recent wave of right-wing populism in Europe.

Hatakka correctly identifies how right-wing populists, and people who are generally unhappy with the prevailing government in their respective countries, are able to use online forums, like Hommaforum in Finland, to stir up emotional political sentiments among voters. Hatakka also rightly states that “digital communication technologies have provided not only new tools for political organization, but a whole new logic to political identity formation and group formation.” This is the crux of the problem: so many observers are refusing to acknowledge that the world’s political landscape and means of political discourse are undergoing a foundational change. This is not simply an issue of new tools or strategies being introduced to politics, it is an issue of the norms of political discourse shifting.

Des Freedman succinctly argues that so little attention is being paid to “the structural conditions and policy frameworks that have facilitated the circulation of clickbait and misinformation.” Populist groups tend to thrive on the spread of misinformation and “click-baity” emotion-driven headlines. What people are continually failing to acknowledge is the fact that modern social media platforms also thrive off this practice, thus creating an ideal partnership between the two: populists and the media.

Nicole Doerr further expands on this general hypothesis by detailing the ways in which right-wing populists are increasingly using visual images and symbols in order to make their message at once more powerful and more international (by softening the obstacle of language barriers).

It is easy to identify the faults of political discourse. What is more difficult is to be able to accurately predict the abuse of media platforms by right-wing populists before they are able to fully muster the technology to their advantage. Tess Slavíčková and Peter Zvagulis attempt exactly this in their study of anti-minority rhetoric in Czech print media. Their article demonstrates the difficulty in identifying what is and is not considered “hate speech” and examples of “new racism.” Slavíčková and Zvagulis demonstrate in their article, perhaps in contrast to their aims, the near impossibility of creating an accurate warning mechanism for right-wing political abuse of the media.

Sources:

Slavíčková, Tess and Peter Zvagulis. “Monitoring Anti-Minority Rhetoric in the Czech Print Media: A Critical Discourse Analysis.” Journal of Language & Politics, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 152–170.

Hatakka, Niko. “When Logics of Party Politics and Online Activism Collide: The Populist Finns Party’s Identity under Negotiation.” New Media & Society, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. (2017): 2022–2038.

Freedman, Des. “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication 33(6)(2018): 604-618.

Doerr, Nicole. “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe” Discourse & Society 28(1) (2017): 3–23.

Op-Ed #3: Populism and the Future of Europe

Populism and the Future of Europe

Banner Future is Europe

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that [is] it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not before”

-Rahm Emanuel

The Euro Crisis, Immigration Crisis; since it’s inception, the European project has faced crisis after crisis. Today the crisis facing the European Union (EU) is Populism. Despite the fear that the rise of populism has brought, now is the time for the EU to act.

While populism can be found across the globe from the United States, India, and much of Latin America; populism has been most prominent in Europe. Populist leaders like Viktor Orban, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders have captured the headlines and inspired the rise in populism across Europe.Populist parties in Poland, Italy and Belgium have seen electoral success. Populist groups fared well in this years European Parliamentary elections. Populism has undeniably taken hold across Europe.

But why has Populism gripped Europe tighter than other regions?

The reason for this is the EU itself. The EU as an institution is the perfect scapegoat for populists to rally against. Populist movements rely on pitting the‘corrupt elite’ against the ‘ordinary people’ . The EU fills the corrupt elite role as the role and purpose of the EU is not understood by the European public. As Time’s correspondent Vivienne Walt argues, populists and nationalists cast E.U. executives as disconnected elitists out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Related, populists claim the EU takes away national sovereignty. Populists leverage this by painting the EU as undemocratic. This rhetoric is often used, as shown by this tweet by Nigel Farage, one of the populist leaders behind Brexit.

The Future of Europe

All is not lost. In fact, now is the time for action by the EU! Ironically, populism may have provided the spark to spur deeper European integration. The problem of a ‘democratic deficit’ ‘has dogged the EU for decades, a claim often used in populist playbooks. However, with the spotlight of populism, European wide issues have been brought into the pubic sphere for debate.

This is the EU’s chance to pursue deeper integration, become more democratic, and finally defeat the populist surge. As demonstrated with the Eurozone Crisis, in times of crisis, the EU can increases its mandate. An example of this is the recently introduced European Citizens Initiative (ECI). The ECI allows European citizens to directly influence EU policy making. This mechanism has been seen as a great step towards solving the EU’s democratic deficit.

Only if Europeans know they are being heard will they feel like they belong to Europe, care about Europe, and engage with Europe.

– Manfred Weber, Leader of the European Peoples party (EPP)

Now is the opportunity to make this a reality.

Populists have engaged not only the public on EU level policies but brought the attention of national leaders to debate. French President Emanuel Macron has lead the debate with some calling him the leader of Europe. Macron has supported the creation of an EU army, European minimum salary, and has called for a European Renewal. The renewed spark of debate around the future of the EU and Europe in no small part has been thanks to the populist groups, who have increased the salience of EU integration.

 There is now a clear reaction by Europeans against the rise of populism. The populist movement within Europe seems to be stalling. Within the EU,  populist parties fell short of expectations in the last European Parliament elections. Further, the populist parties within the European Parliament are divided. Nationally, populists have lost out in key states such as Austria. Locally there are now challenges  to the populist strong holds.

While unlikely to be gone overnight, populism in Europe may have caused its own demise. The EU should take this opportunity and address populist claims head on. By doing so, the EU is poised to see a renewal in public interest and debate, something long awaited by many.

The Future is Europe