Looking to the Past to Solve the Present: Europe’s Antifederalist Model

There are many issues within the Lisbon Treaty of 2008. The Lisbon Treaty, which replaced the Treaty Establishing a Constitution of Europe, created an Antifederalist model of the European Union, which possibly explains the rise of Populist leaders across Europe today. Looking into the past, we may be able to find solutions for the present and prevent the return of extreme nationalism that devastated the 20th century.

My favorite Founding Father of the United States is Patrick Henry. He was one of the most influential and prolific characters during the Revolutionary War and the formation of the United States. Yet, he ended up on the wrong side of history. Henry was an Antifederalist, and in the end would lose to the Federalists’ led by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison during debates that formed of the Constitution of the United States of America. While the issues dealt with in the United States nearly 250 years ago do not directly answer the issues faced by Europe today, they may indicate a place to start.

One of the first things the Constitution of the United States does, is clearly define its citizens as “We the People of the United States.” The Lisbon Treaty makes a similar attempt, but fails to create a truly European identity, stating “Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it.” This is an antifederal compromise, which could explain the reemergence of Populist Nationalism. When looking to how Europeans identify themselves, over a third of all Europeans identify themselves based on their nationality alone, and nearly half identify themselves as their nationality over being European. This is in stark contrast to those who identify themselves as European over their nationality (roughly 6%), and those who identify themselves as European alone (roughly 2%). Where countries identify more closely with their nationality, there appears to be more support for Populism.

Another possible explanation for the rise in Populism that may derive from the Antifederal model of the Lisbon Treaty, is the relationship between the Union and its member states. Unlike modern nation-states, the European Union does not have well defined and established borders, given its enlargement plans. This means that the European identity is still expanding. Additionally, the Lisbon Treaty grants its member “their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security.” These are some of the fundamental underpinnings of nation-statehood, and could be causing the lack of identity associated with Europe that is fueling Populist movements.

While the Lisbon Treaty’s aim was never to create a nation-state, the European Union has increasingly taken on nation-state functions such as currency, legislation, and open borders within the Schengen Area. Although these policies have been largely accepted and embraced, they were strained by the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing migrant crisis. The Antifederalist nature created by the Lisbon Treaty makes it difficult to address these issues at the pan-European level, and has left many European nations to fend for themselves. Thus, as a leading expert on the topic of Populism named Cas Mudde pointed out,  the Populist movements which seek to channel the general will of the people against a corrupt and out of touch elite, is often assumed by the national identity.

At this point, you may be wondering why my favorite Founding Father would be an Antifederalist, due to many of the inefficiencies such a model may produce. However, while Henry may not have agreed with the politics of his day, he found a way to work within the system and safeguard all of the American people through the creation of the Bill of Rights. While the politics and symptoms of today differ from those of the past, it is my hope that Europe may do the same and find compromise.

Stemming the Populist Tide: Has Europe’s Populist Surge Lost Its Momentum? Not Quite

By Stuart Strang

In recent years, a populist wave has swept the European continent. The tides of populist electoral success instilled a fear that the European project was dead, and that fascism may soon rear its face once again. 

The success of populist groups has been attributed to their tactics of nativism and charismatic leaders. Populist political parties seek to overturn current political systems by pitting the ‘people’ against the ‘corrupt elite’. Leaders of populist groups claim that they alone speak for the ‘people’. This combination has proven effective for leaders such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Penn, and Gert Wilders. Despite success, the high tide of populism that had risen across the European continent may be lessening. 

The Austrian general election this week showcased the latest loss for populist parties in Europe. The right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) lost over a third of its seats. This is a major blow to populist parties, as the FPÖ was a shining example of success for populist parties. Prior to the election the FPÖ were a part of the leading coalition in Austria. Due to scandal, the FPÖ is now unlikely to be included in the new majority. 

Is the Austrian case localized or a part of a larger trend of populist decline?

Looking elsewhere in Europe, it is clear that populist parties have been struggling to keep their momentum.  Most notably, the European Parliament election earlier this year saw populist parties failing to make significant gains. Other examples include the Italian Lega being ousted from power.

 With the losses mounting for populists’, media outlets have started to question if populism has peaked. Has the populist tide lost its momentum? Not Quite. 

Europe is not out of the woods yet.

While populist success has somewhat stagnated, populist parties across European countries are still making significant headway electorally. This year alone saw populist parties at the national level in Belgium, Estonia , and Finland make significant gains. This does not appear to be slowing down, as polls also show the Law and Justice Party in Poland with a large lead ahead of the Polish general election on October 13th. Despite less than expected success in the European Parliament election, statements such as “The populists’ finish isn’t that much stronger than in 2014”  can be misleading. Put in context, 2014 was the watershed year for populist parties’ success. 

But how are populist parties continuing their electoral successes? 

Two explanations offer great insight. 

The first explanation highlights the flexibility of populist groups. “The People” that populists claim to represent is deliberately loosely defined. Who fits into the in-group defined as ‘the people’ is very fluid. Prominent populist scholar Cas Mudde warns that defining “Us” and “Them” is crucial for the success of far-right populist parties, and the boundaries are constantly shifting”. Populist’s are able to dynamically adapt their policy and rhetoric to better match current political trends.

The second explanation has been a lessening in radical policy.  Most prominently, the elimination of calls to leave the European Union. Ironically this  shift in rhetoric is due to the populist success of Brexit. The chaos that Brexit has caused has led continental populist parties to adjust course on their policies to leave the European Union towards less radical policies. By promoting less radical policy, populists stand to reach more moderate voters who feel disenfranchised by other mainstream parties. 

Populism in Europe is undergoing some stagnation. However, populist parties have demonstrated the ability to be flexible and sustain electoral success. 

To claim that European populism is on its way out would be a mistake, the tide may be out at the moment but will soon return if unchecked. 

Environmental Populism

By: Nadiya Alexandra

The likes of Donald Trump, Brexit, and far-right movements have given populism a bad name, but is populism really that bad? In light of the global protests on climate change, and Greta Thunberg of course, we need to change how we think about populism. We need to recognize that populism is a function of democracy, and we can use it for the greater good, just as Trump has used it for evil.

There is a reason why ‘environment’ and ‘populism’ are rarely seen in the same sentence, let alone in the same article. In recent years, ‘populism’ has taken on a negative connotation. Populism has been closely linked with authoritarianism and anti-immigration movements. Furthermore, populists are seen as disruptive, which is seen as a bad thing. There is no surprise that Trump’s right-wing populism has given populism a bad name, but now we have a chance to re-define what it means to be a ‘populist.’

Even academics have trouble defining populism, but it appears there is consensus on two core ideas:

  1. Populism speaks on behalf of ordinary people.
  2. These people stand in opposition of the elite who block the achievement of popular political goals.

The most prominent modern case of the embodiment of populism is Donald Trump. In his campaign he fused a radical right ideology with populist language such as ‘we’ and ‘our.’ Through this language, Trump has tried to create a homogenous American people, who strive for ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again.’ In this way, Trump has created an enemy out of Mexicans and Muslims. This is why populism has a bad rep. In this case, populism has divided people within America, and further created an ‘us versus them’ mentality. This has also lead to increased violence based on racial prejudices.

To starkly contrast Trump and right-wing populism, let’s examine the September 2019 global climate protests. Millions of people marched in climate strikes across an estimated 185 countries. In Ottawa, the largest school board encouraged students to take part in the climate strike on September 27, 2019. A clear message echoed among students: “there is no point of me going to school today if I have no future,” referring to the demise of our planet. Is this not populism? The climate marches spoke on behalf of ordinary people. The marchers were standing up to the elites who are blocking environmental conservation attempts, or not doing enough to save the planet. This aligns closely with what academics agree to be the two core principles of populism.

John Keane, a political scholar, described populism as a “recurrent autoimmune disease of democracy.” Looking at Donald Trump, Keane’s message certainly resonates. Trump’s right-wing populism has resulted in racism, violence, and a backsliding in global democracy.

Climate action can turn things around for populism. First of all, as Mark Beeson writes, climate change does not adhere to boundaries of race, religion, gender and nationality; it affects us all. Therefore, unlike right-wing populism, which has divided people, climate populism has the potential to unify us. Second, as the affects of climate change get worse, unified action from ‘the people’ should intensify and put more pressure on governments to act. The September 2019 climate strikes are proof of unity, and solidarity across the globe for climate action.

Greta Thunberg identifies as an environmental populist, she stands for a clear moral vision of protecting the environment. ‘We,’ the people, stand with her against a corrupt, greedy, unresponsive and elite system, which continues to exploit the environment at our cost. Greta Thunberg proves that ‘populism’ is not a dirty word, and as climate populists, all who marched this September have exercised their democratic rights to peacefully protest for change, for our future, for our planet.

Op/Ed: “Trump is not a fascist, but we should treat him as one”

By: PSjoberg

The recent resurgence of right-wing populism around the globe has spawned a tendency among observers to view these movements as a sort of “second coming” of early-20th Century fascism. It’s easy to see the connection: American President Donald Trump has been endorsed by the KKK, Marine Le Pen uses xenophobic language, and intensely anti-immigrant messages are becoming popular throughout central and eastern Europe. These developments conjure images of Nazi anti-Semitism, the strategic manipulation of identities in Mussolini’s Italy, and the suppression of minorities in Francoist Spain. Are modern populist movements, though, really the same as fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s?

The short answer is: “no.”

Such a simple answer, though, is grossly misleading. Through examining the technical definitions of the terms “fascism” and “populism,” we find a longer, more comprehensive answer: “no (right-wing populists are not fascists), but we should treat them as such.”

There exist certain vital distinctions between the two concepts. First, the words themselves provide some hints: “fascism” comes from the Italian word facismo, which simply means a bundle of sticks signifying strength through unity of the state. “Populism,” on the other hand, can be defined as a political approach which appeals to, and mobilizes, the common people against a perceived corrupt elite.

Second, fascists dream about toppling the democratic system and replacing it with an alternative –historically taking some form of authoritarianism. Populists, on the other hand, work within the democratic system in order to replace the governing elite with an alternative who better represents the common people. In short: fascism is anti-democratic; populism is democratic.

A final difference between these two terms is the important fact that fascists, unlike populists, believe violence is a positive and integral attribute of their cause because it creates commitment. Therefore, to be a fascist and to be a populist are two wildly different things. How, then, do modern-day “populist” leaders, such as Donald Trump, fit into these two categories?

To what degree is Donald Trump concerned with achieving state strength and unity? While Trump proclaims a desire to “make America great again,” actions speak louder than words. Therefore, my answer is: not at all.

To what degree is Donald Trump concerned with mobilizing the common people to overthrow a perceived corrupt elite? This defines Trump’s entire presidential campaign. My answer: to a high degree.

To what degree is Donald Trump in favour of toppling the democratic system in the United States? Trump has always worked within the current democratic system in order to achieve his goals (granted, while disregarding many of the rules). My answer: not at all.

To what degree does Donald Trump champion the use of violence as a political tool? While some might point to examples where Trump has seemed to latently promote or approve of the use of violence, he does not necessarily openly and explicitly advocate for the use of coordinated violence against his political foes. My answer: to a minimal degree.

In following the technical definitions of “fascism” and “populism,” Donald Trump fits the latter but not the former. However, it is not impossible for a populist movement to morph into fascism, given enough time. After all, the fascist movements of the 1920s became more extreme over the succeeding decade, before culminating in the mass atrocities of the 1940s. Benito Mussolini, the man who first attached the term facismo to that style of political movement, even initially referred to himself as a “radical populist.”

Therefore, this entire debate appears wrapped up in entirely the wrong focus: who cares what people are called, fascist or populist, if they engage in immoral discourse and actions? So many people are openly critical of Trump and Le Pen not because they’re undemocratic (although some might suggest otherwise), but because they’re illiberal. After all, Bernie Sanders could accurately be called a populist, and he most certainly isn’t undemocratic. The real issue here is morality, and both fascist and far-right populist movements have a tendency for immoral behaviour. President Trump, Marine Le Pen, and their other contemporaries may be best classified as populists for now but given time that may change.

While the common people of the 1920s and 1930s could not have foreseen the horrific acts fascists would go on to commit, the common people of the 21st Century have that luxury. If there is even a miniscule chance that modern radical populism might morph into neo-fascism, it is our duty to stop it. Immorality is immorality, and if labelling modern populist movements as fascist better enables us to take a firm stance against them, it probably isn’t such a bad thing.


Matthews, Dylan. “I Asked 5 Fascism Experts if Trump whether Trump is a fascist. This is what they said.” Vox. May 19, 2016. <https://www.vox.com/policy-andpolitics/2015/12/10/9886152/donald-trump-fascism&gt;

Mudde, Cas. “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism.” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania. <https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/casmudde-populism-twenty-first-century&gt;

Mussolini, Benito and Giovanni Gentile. “The Doctrine of Fascism.” Enciclopedia Italiana. 1932. <http://facweb.furman.edu/~bensonlloyd/hst11/mussolinidoctrines.htm>