Populism – Europe’s new normal?


Rather than a sudden lurch to the right, the victory of conservative and far-right parties in Austria’s elections Sunday was another reflection of the new normal in Europe, where anti-immigration populism and nationalism are challenging the European Union’s commitment to open borders for trade and immigration, The New York Times reports:

Nearly 58 percent of Austrians who voted cast ballots for center-right or far-right parties, with the far-right Freedom Party running neck-and-neck for second place with the establishment center-left. But the theme of the election was identity — anti-immigration and anti-Islamization — with the charismatic winner, Sebastian Kurz, just 31, tellingly absorbing much of the far-right’s agenda to transform his once-mainstream conservative People’s Party.

Mr. Kurz must now decide whether to create a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party or to renew a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, which would ease European concerns to some degree about another populist party in government. But the message is clear: populism is vibrant in democratic Europe, and especially so in its eastern precincts.

Political scientist Ivan Krastev* (right) sees the migration crisis, which has hardly ended, as the main threat to the European Union, The Times continues. “The resistance of liberals to conceding any negative effects of migration has triggered the anti-establishment (and particularly anti-mainstream media) reaction that is convulsing political life,” he wrote in his recent book, “After Europe.”

European politicians had panicked after the Brexit and US votes, said Heather Grabbe, an expert on populism at the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels, but the Macron victory led many to believe the challenge from the far right had been overcome. “The swing this year has gone too far towards complacency . . . the structural factors that led to the rise of populism are still there — especially the many voters who don’t feel represented by the big-tent parties of centre right and left,” she tells The Financial Times.

Populism is also undermining efforts to promote democracy and liberal values, according to a former Minister for Europe in Tony Blair’s Labour government.

Brexit threatens Britain’s standing as a geopolitical player, notes Denis MacShane, author of Brexit No Exit: Why (in the End) Britain Won’t Leave Europe. For centuries, Britain expended blood and treasure to ensure Europe was open for British commerce, that no dominant continental power, ideology, or faith took over, and that liberal, democratic, rule-of-law values dear to Britain spread across the continent, he writes for The American Prospect:

The chief Brexit minister, David Davis, when attacking the Labour government in opposition, declared, “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.” Can British democracy change its mind? Or, like Venice, the Habsburg Empire, and other once-mighty commercial and political powers in Europe, is Brexit the moment when Britain begins to exit world history?

*In a thought-provoking thirty-minute interview, frequent Journal of Democracy contributor and Editorial Board member Krastev discusses with the Open Society Foundation’s Leonard Benardo his new book After Europe.

Inequality, Immigration, and the Politics of Populism

Populist parties and movements, mostly on the right, are becoming a powerful force in both the United States and Europe, notes the New York Review of Books:

Why is this happening, and why is it happening now? Is it the product of exceptional events, such as the financial crisis of 2007–2008 or the mass migrations from the Middle East to Europe that reached their peak in 2015? If so, is the populist wave likely to be just a passing phenomenon? Or is it here to stay, linked to something more permanent such as the disruptions of globalization and the IT revolution, or the emergence of a more ruthless form of capitalism, especially in the United States?

These are some of the questions a conference, held at the NYU School of Law, October 28–29, 2017, will consider.

Sponsored by The Fritt Ord Foundation, Oslo The Dan David Prize, Tel Aviv Europaeum, Oxford The German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) Institute for Public Knowledge, New York Sekyra Group, Prague


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