While many believe populism in Europe reached its climax during the right-wing at the beginning of the pandemic, rising migration and unfair economic inequality has lead to an increase in support for populist parties across the continent. Behind the rise of the Brothers of Italy and the Sweden Democrats, people who feel out of society and ignored are turning to populist leaders.
Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s Prime Minister, leads a party that strides further to the right than any other mainstream political movement in Italy. Meloni’s policy views have continually been embroiled in controversy. She has questioned LGBTQ+ and abortion rights, immigration policies, and the concern that old values and ways of life are drifting away. Meloni’s supporters include Steve Bannon, the man who is credited with creating the political ideas of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Meloni’s victory builds off the backs of many other European political elections. Although having lost to former president Emmanuel Macron, right-wing politician Marine Le Pen’s participation in the 2022 French presidential election showed that populism had not heard its death knell, as she was able to garner a large portion of the media attention and popular vote.
Moving to the northeast, Sweden’s anti-immigration Democrats are set to take on a huge role in the new government after securing the second-largest number of seats at a general election just weeks ago. The same party that is now mainstream initially had involvement in neo-Nazi movements.
“Something is definitely happening. From France and Italy, major European powers, to Sweden … it feels as though a rejection of the manifestly failing pan-European orthodoxy is taking hold among our citizens,” said Gunnar Beck, a Member of Germany’s right wing part Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD shocked Europe in 2017 after managing to retain over 12 percent of the vote in Germany’s federal elections. It was also the first party to be placed under strict surveillance by the German government since World War II.
“The cost-of-living crisis is undermining governments and European institutions. Of course the war in Ukraine has made things worse, but things like the European Green Deal and monetary policy from the European Central Bank were pushing up inflation before the war. The erosion of living standards means people are naturally becoming dissatisfied with their governments and the political establishment,” Beck added.
The world has been under crisis for years now, and it has provided a unique opportunity for rising right-wing populists and parties. “Most research shows that conservative voters have a greater need for certainty and stability. When our society changes, conservatives are psychologically tuned to see this as a threat. So it’s far easier to unite those people against real changes or perceived threats, like energy crisis, inflation, food shortage, or immigrants,” said Alice Stollmeyer, the executive director of Defend Democracy.
Now, the populist movement faces plenty of threats and challenges. Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham, commented, “Rising food and fuel prices, falling trust in democratic institutions, growing inequality, declining class mobility, and concerns over migration have created a sense of desperation that unscrupulous leaders can easily exploit,”
Europe has previously seen right-wing populists reach power and lose power. This new wave of populism has spread new fear to the large left-wing population who opposes it. “The paradox of populism is that it often identifies real problems but seeks to replace them with something worse,” said Federico Finchelstein, author of the book “From Fascism to Populism in History.”
With such an upswelling in support for right-wing candidates, it remains to be seen how much longer this trend will continue. In the meantime, populists and conservatives continue to enact policies and accrue as much power as they can in the hopes the trend will not be bucked anytime soon.
By Kevin Niu