Populism in Europe as a civilizational legacy has a deeply rooted history which dates back to Greco-Roman antiquity and as it has been recorded by classical historians like Livy, the overarching political structure of Roman republic nailed by populism that arose as a result of the loopholes of the system.

The role of Publius Claudius against Roman nobility during the late republic was a reflection of how populist discourse functioned in the classical world. Nevertheless, the principles emerged after the post second world war Europe such as the social welfare system, social democracy and cultural integration reduced the gravity of populist discourse as a powerful political tool. Moreover, the mass migration of political refugees from Eastern Europe to Western Europe during the cold war was a phenomenal factor that encouraged west and its citizens to accept refugees or asylum seekers more dearly and it was rather a display of European values.

But as all good things come to an end this wave of immigration from Non-European countries to Western Europe gradually conceived the seeds of socio-economic and political turmoil in the continent that finally paved the path for a greater revival of populist politics in Europe.  Especially the political trajectory created with the Syrian refugee crisis since 2015 in Europe has compelled the people to look for Right-wing politics as an alternative.

Recent discussion held in Warsaw, Poland between Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini and Jaroslaw Kaczynsi shows the spark of a far-right populist coalition in European Union against its centre-right more socio democratic leadership of Germany and France. The significance of this meeting lies in the fact that how EU politics has been changed in the recent years before its troubled policies over the illegal immigration and refugee crisis and this Polish Italian axis seems to create a decisive impact upon the upcoming elections to EU parliament.

As a matter of fact in the past, it never really mattered much if the Euro election was carried by the left or the right: the result was the same anyway. The parliament has always been the keeper of the federalist flame, but the unorthodox political upheavals Europe envisaged for past two years have such as BREXIT in 2016 and Trump’s victory in US presidential elections have upset the centre-right liberal orthodoxy in EU. Moreover, it is a fact not be ignored that how national politics in European countries have taken a populist bend as a consoling since most of the common people in Europe are gutted by the refugee crisis and economic deprivation.

Especially being the undisputed forerunner in EU Germany has faced severe social issues since 2015 as Angela Merkel decided to not to close Germany’s borders resulting in the arrival of more than one million people.  Last August in Italy the Migrants mainly coming from former Italian colony Eretria had been stranded at a port in Sicily before Italian deputy premier Salvini finally allowed them to disembark after Ireland and Catholic Church in Italy agreed to take most of them in.

Apart from Italy most of the European states have been exposed to the wave of populism mixed up with far-right ideological elements. For example, elections held in Sweden in 2018 September dragged the country into political limbo as the results of the elections did not leave either main parliamentary block with a majority and its far-right anti-immigrant party Sweden Democrats won 17.6% of the votes. Being a country that has resisted populist politics and far right wing ideology since the end of its notorious dictator Farco’s era, Spain to have witnessed the new wave of populism in its national level politics. The dazzling impact created by Santiago Abascal’s  Vox party at the election held in Andalusia by gaining 10.97 % of the votes and 12 out of 109 cannot be ignored despite the fact that his party is still in its infancy stage.

Populist discourse spreading across Europe has not been emerged out of the blue as it is imbued with how common people in Europe perceive the socio-economic and political circumstances currently. It was a misconception that many analysts believed that rise populism sprang from the financial collapse and unemployment because it is evident that the rise of populism has not been solely attributed to the economic crisis. If economic growth had been decisive in Poland, which enjoyed the faster growth rate in Europe between 1989 and 2015, the populist Law and Justice Party would never have become the country’s dominant political force.

The bitter truth portraying from the rising populism is non-other than Europe antipathy over mass immigration and their concern for preserving common European values. This aptly shows from how Hungarians have rallied around Mr Victor Orban as he triumphantly calls himself the defender of Christian Europe. On the other hand, such xenophobic notions like cultural preservation, the growth of Islam have been clearly captured by populist parties as drawbacks created by the apathy of the European Union and its centre-right liberal democracy. Perhaps the influence coming from Putin’s Russia can be taken as one pivotal factor that has intensified the populist discourse because president Putin’s knack on ethnonationalism and religious traditionalism seem to have alluded the populist movements in Europe.

It is a fact beyond dispute that the rises of populist political parties under its far-right ideologies in the backdrop of European Union parliamentary elections have destabilized the continuation of European integration under liberal centre-right outlook. The populist plan to expand their numbers in EU parliament in 2019 May elections have begun to upset the ostensible stability of EU and its French-German leadership or perhaps this year Europe will face the arch encounter between newly emerged far-right populism and the social democracy that has been the ruling slogan in Europe since 1968 in an open space.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Punsara Amarasinghe is Sri Lankan PhD Scholar at Institute of Law and Politics, Scuola Superiore Sant Anna in Pisa, Italy. He studied Classics, History and Politics at Royal College, Colombo, Sri Lanka prior to joining Faculty of Law, University of Colombo. After having obtained LL.B in 2015, he went on to study LL.M in International Law and Legal Theory at South Asian University in New Delhi, India under SARRC scholarship.