Populism: Long Term Challenge, Not Temporary Crisis

A few months ago, controversial outcomes, such as Britain’s disastrous decision to exit the EU and the election of the U.S. President Donald Trump has led to widespread discontent. In regards to President Trump, his anti-European ignorance has caused concern among Europe’s leaders since there has been a rise in nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-EU sentiments.

Contrary to expectations, populist movements have not taken over in Europe. For example, France’s new President Emmanuel Macron defeating xenophobic nationalist Marine Le Pen is seen as a positive development within the country. Nonetheless, the latter presidential hopeful has received support from President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to the New York Times, Vladimir Putin aim is to break up the EU and their bond with the United States. Macron has managed to hold the centre by reaffirming the strengths and values of the European Union and saving civilization, that is, for the time being. However, populism still poses a danger to Europe.

The post-war period in Western Europe has been a time of political stability, as governments are operating somewhere between the centre-right and centre-left, while right or left-wing extremism was found to be marginal. However, studies have revealed that since a few decades ago, populism has been slowly rising within Europe. Most European nationals or regional Parliaments have, at least, one right-wing party, which are against the EU and immigrants. With that said, populism influences the discourse of national and European politics, even though it would appear that it is not a strong enough to win elections. The Conversation reported that politicians in the centre adjust their stances towards the right in response to their voter’s concerns about issues, such as national identity, immigration, security, and terrorism. Their aim is to keep them from turning into populist parties. For example, a few weeks before the Dutch Parliamentary elections, Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party’s populist message led Prime Minister Mark Rutte to draw a line in terms of immigration.

Likewise, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, who stands a good chance of being elected for a fourth term this year announced several restrictions announced restrictions on the intake of new refugees after being criticized by right-wing parties Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Christian Democrats (CSU).

However, in order to combat populism, the exact cause of its emergence needs to be established, according to The Conversation, as simply ignoring populists or attributing their rants to irrational envy or rage is not enough. Leaders must take their citizen’s legitimate concerns about immigration, globalization, and terrorism seriously and respond to them. Today, many people are being challenged with forms of economic insecurity that were unknown to previous generations. In part, globalization is contributing to economic displacement and a widening gap in income inequality, while continuing immigration in large numbers raises concerns about national identity, culture, and security. As such, developments, such as globalization, immigration, economic insecurity, and terrorism will remain worldwide issues in the foreseeable future. This means that for some, due to their worries and anxiety, populism will appear to be a solution.

Meanwhile, according to The Conversation, one solution might be that those in power challenge divisive populist rhetoric by addressing their grievances. As well, since populists claim to have the answer, one should demand clear and specific policy proposals. This will reveal the inconsistency in populist ideas and their incompetence for practical implementation. Leaders must defend liberal democracy and pluralism, while also offering effective solutions to the problems that make populist ideas seem attractive, which can include unemployment, economic stagnation, and difficulties displaced persons face when adapting to globalization. Therefore, it seems that populism’s appeal will come and go depending on economic and social factors, but its political threat will always be a reality.