Is European populism peaking? EU elections could hold answer

Is European populism peaking? EU elections could hold answer

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Courtesy: European Commission
Courtesy: European Commission

'The functioning of the E.U. could be hampered by these new forces, even if they start to wane at the national level over the next five years.'

NEW YORK — Voters across Europe will continue to head to the polls this weekend to elect a new slate of E.U. legislators as analysts closely watch to see if anti-E.U. populism remains in the ascendancy across the continent.

Heather Grabbe directs the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels.

“These elections matter because this could be the high point of populism in Europe, after which the mainstream parties start to up their game.”

When European Parliament elections were last held in 2014, right-wing populist groups were still a relatively minor force, but that changed following waves of mass migration in the years that followed, which helped propel eurosceptic populists into office in Italy, and into national legislatures everywhere from Greece to Poland, and from the U.K. to Germany.

Yet Grabbe thinks governance has proved more difficult than many of those populists promised, and that rising awareness of issues like climate change is demonstrating the value of collective European problem-solving in a way that blunts insular populist narratives.

“They were saying, ‘let’s stop the world, we want to get off, we don’t like globalization.’ But now a different kind of economic alternative is arising that is a whole lot more credible and relevant, and that’s green economics  something a bit like the Green New Deal in the U.S.  and I think that could be the alternative to neoliberal economics that voters have been looking for.”

Hence, Grabbe predicts Green parties and other socialists promising continent-wide emissions cuts and other environmental measures could be surprise winners when results begin to be released on Sunday evening.

But if one-quarter or one-third of the new E.U. Parliament is comprised of populists, Grabbe says that could be enough to block legislation at the E.U. level and make European politics look quite American in its divisiveness.

“The functioning of the E.U. could be hampered by these new forces, even if they start to wane at the national level over the next five years.”

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