Spotlight Populism: Enhancement of the EU

The defeat of the „wait an see“ politics – can the new populism movement save the European Union?

Establishment: EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa Foto: reuters

1. It is a widespread idea nowadays: the rising populism movement is a general threat for European countries, defying the foundatios of our democracies. However, there is no minucious analysis of these so-called “new populisms“ – just a labeling with no scientific or political coherent criteria. In order to identify (firstly) and then intellectually fight back the enemies of our open societies, we should study the structure and nature of them, besides the deep roots of their sucess.

2. Therefore, the first mistake made by the european political elite and the mainstream media is to put the french “Front Nationnel“ populism (led by Marine Le Pen), the italian “Five Star movement“ populism (personified by Beppe Grillo) or Donald Trump’s populism in the very same bag. Well, politics often is like our daily-routine life: every housekeeper knows for sure that one should put in the same grocery bag things of different gender and of different quality.

Fair enough: these populisms are of the same gender, but they have different quality. We can undoubtedly differ Marine Le Pen’s populism from Donald Trump’s, based on the nature, the social environment surroundig the inception of their movements, the tradition of their country or just bearing in mind their political arguments.

For instance, in Germany, AfD has adopted a far more xenophobe political narrative based on the race or national identity supremacy which resonates in some population segments (oddly, in some of the youngest people!); in France, by comparison, Marine Le Pen shows the national identity cards as well, but the political efficiency of this argument is not explained by its own strenght: the national identity card triumphs in France due to the economic and financial dramatic situation, the political system’s deadlock, and, last but not the least, the menace of fundamentalist islamic terrorism. Ergo, it is crucial to be rigorous in the analysis in order to be rigorous in the solutions that will come up eventually.

In December 2016 the European Academy Berlin invited 20 journalists from Southern Europe to visit Berlin. taz was part of their official tour programme. The meeting quickly turned into a talk about our shared need for international cooperation, aiming to find a media counterbalance to current crises in Europe. To start with, we decided on a question that concerns us all: How will we survive populism in Europe?

3. Furthermore, the assertion according to which populism is a recent reality in our current politics is utterly exaggerated and unrealistic. As a matter of fact, populism has always been hidden or latent in our societies. What is different in the current political conjuncture after all? The way by which this populism unveils itself.

Before this historical moment, all the anger and fury against politics, political agents and institutions, were fueled into extreme-left parties and movements. The anger was just against big capital, the economic system, big corporations.

Auf Einladung der Europäischen Akademie Berlin besuchten 20 JournalistInnen aus Südeuropa im Dezember 2016 Berlin und die taz. Schnell wurde deutlich, wie groß das gemeinsame Bedürfnis nach internationalen Kooperationen ist, einem Medien-Gegengewicht zu den aktuellen Krisen in Europa. Wir haben uns zum Auftakt für eine Frage entschieden, die uns alle gleichermaßen umtreibt: Wie überleben wir den Populismus in Europa?

Now things are different: as democracies as we know are now deemed to be impotent to solve the problems people most worried about, new political alternatives and agendas have arisen.

Why has there been a shift from left to right? Why has there been a replace of the extreme-left by the extreme-right? It is plain to see: the reason is that extreme-left and left in general joined the system, became part of the problem and no longer are (or are able to be) the solution.

4. Indeed, the political establishment – including the mainstream media – is the only one to blame for the rising up of these populisms. Modern societies are faced with new and complex problems – but the solutions found out by the politicians are always the same. No matter if you belong to the Government or to the opposition – the political discourse is exactly the same.

The Prime-Minister, the President or the leader of the opposition, either from the right-wing or from the left-wing, have the same (quite often, ridiculed and vague) speech. This is unbearable – democracy implies different alternatives, free speech, freedom of thinking. Free and open discussions lead us to better solutions. The “wait and see“ policies, not solving the problems faced by citizens, politics are the father of the new european populist movements.

5. Finally, the dictatorship imposed by political correctness culture refrains the freedom of speech of each individual and creates a culture of authority and submission. If there are a “few“ that permantly imposes their will to the “many“, this will generate a feeling of disenfrachisement in the majority of the electorate. The dictatorship of the “p.c. culture“ could be replaced by another dictatorship then – one that actually works, that is the perception of the electorate. Political correctness culture is the mother of the new european populist movements.

6. European political elites are very concerned about the “post-truth politics“ world. Well, if you you want ti know the truth, let’s face it: there will be no strong European Union unless the european member-states are strong as well.

Whether (and while) member states are weak, so is the European Union. If (and while) the constitutional institutions of member-states are facing a disruption risk, so is the European Union. It is time to rethink the European Union and replace the bureaucracy by political prudence, wisdom and efficiency. And the irony of all this is that actually threat of populism can be the real antidote to avoid EU colapse!

7. So, populism really may enhance, not destroy, the European Union – who was seeing that coming?

João Lemos Esteves, Lecture in University of Lisbon, Law School and a permanent contributor to SOL, a prestigious weekly newspaper in Portugal, where he analyses on a daily basis the politics, economics, social and cultural issues of Portugal, the European Union and the world.

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