What to do against right-wing populists?

Fear of globalisation is the driving force behind right-wing populism while traditional values play less of a role, a recent survey carried out by the Bertelsmann Foundation shows. In view of the rising popularity of right-wing demagogues in many European countries and in the US, commentators discuss how to counter right-wing populism.

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Kurier (AT) /

You can't vote away globalisation

Precisely what the Bertelsmann study means by globalisation, which it claims is the main reason behind the growing support for right-wing populists, remains unclear, the Kurier criticises:

“Fear of social decline, losing one's job, terrorism or the digital revolution: all this is condensed into the term 'globalisation'. Isn't it irrelevant what you call it? No. Because this vagueness has very specific consequences for economic policy. Take Brexit: basically most British citizens just wanted to vote on fewer migrants. What they got is exit from the EU along with political chaos, rising prices and an uncertain future. Globalisation can't be voted out of office, nor can it be reversed through a referendum. It is our everyday reality. … Naturally there are excesses. But that is not an argument for introducing trade barriers, sealing your country off or even exiting the EU. That would only make us all poorer.”

Knack (BE) /

Don't let fear take control

Far too much attention is being paid to the so-called 'angry citizens' in the debate over the rise of populists, the Christian Democrat Belgian MP Peter Van Rompuy complains in Knack:

“Those who claim to speak in the name of the people do so as if the people were driven by nothing but anger and frustration. The fact is, however, that all they want is politicians and fellow citizens whom they can trust. ... They long for politics without clashes, that serve the common good. ... People of good will are still in the majority. But they deserve more support. ... They deserve leaders who tackle problems with a cool head in times of crisis, instead of surfing on the crest of fear. ... Only then will the siren's song of populism and extremism fall on deaf ears. It's high time politicians listened more to the voice of honest citizens. ... The silent majority must now talk - before it is no longer the majority.”

Revista 22 (RO) /

Europe's populists will join forces

Europe may change drastically in the coming months, Revista 22 fears:

“Populists and extremists are no longer peripheral groups in European politics, but are beginning to become the norm. After Brexit and Trump's election we are now on a completely different level to where we were last year. … If [the populists] come out on top [in the upcoming elections] they will position themselves alongside those in Hungary and Poland - Fidesz and PiS. … Both Orbán and Kaczyński have promised a cultural counter-revolution in liberal Europe. … The coming months will be decisive, and not just as regards national political landscapes. The European project itself would be seriously called into question should the Europeans decide that populism is the solution they need.”

Magyar Narancs (HU) /

The good-for-nothing political elites

With politicians as foolhardy and cowardly as those in charge now it is no wonder right-wing populists are on the rise across the continent, philosopher Gáspár Miklós Tamás writes in Magyar Narancs:

“Everywhere in Europe irresponsible, frivolous, conformist, ignorant, small-minded, short-sighted people are in power. ... Never before have France and the UK had such narrow-minded French and British governments. In this vale of tears, pettifogging chatterboxes and good-for-nothings like Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi almost cut a good figure. ... These governments see the people as a potential enemy that must be bribed and manipulated. More than that, the peoplel must be gagged and dumbed-down to the level of our decision-makers. ... Our anti-democratic liberal leaders are scared to death of 'populism', that is, of the people.”

Gazeta Polska Codziennie (PL) /

The arrogance of Western democracies

Western democracies are doing everything they can to cling to their power, the right-wing conservative French journalist Olivier Bault warns in Gazeta Polska Codziennie:

“In Poland and the other Visegrád states democracy is alive and kicking, while in the West of the continent it is seriously ill. Just like in the US, its media report from a one-sided left and liberal perspective. The supposed populists, who simply express the opinion of the man on the street, are being subjected to all kinds of attacks. For example the leader of the Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, is on trial in the liberal Netherlands. The verdict is due on December 9. This politician, whose party is currently leading the polls, had asked publicly in March 2014: 'Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in the country?' His potential sentence could deter anyone who has the courage to question their country's immigration policy.”

Berliner Zeitung (DE) /

Only good leftist policies can stop the right

Sound leftist policies can stop the rise of populists, the Berliner Zeitung believes:

“Everything that populism stands for is diametrically opposed to democratic leftist politics. Because the left is inclusive, and not ethnically biased or nationalistic. Its policies support the weak, the minorities, and the disadvantaged. A leftist party's programme becomes implausible when it is based on resentment. Instead it will always demand the freedom of the individual and legal equality, social justice and solidarity. ... Rather than adopting right-wing slogans to compete with the populists, [the left] should stick to good leftist policies. Because in the end it will only be able to win over its main clientele if it not only 'takes their concerns seriously' but also tackles the fundamental problem: the fact that in an increasingly complex world and an ever-more globalised economy, only the elites stand to gain. It may sound somewhat passé, but the only thing that can effectively counter populism is redistribution - from top to bottom.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Solve the problems instead of cementing power

Instead of solving the people's problems, the EU elites are pursuing objectives that only alienate the people even more, the Financial Times rails:

“Mr Renzi could have used his ample political capital to reform the Italian economy instead of trying to cement his power. And imagine what would have been possible if Chancellor Angela Merkel had spent her even larger political capital on finding a solution to the eurozone’s multiple crises, or on reducing Germany’s excessive current account surpluses. If you want to fight extremism, solve the problem. But it is not happening for the same reason it did not happen in revolutionary France. The gatekeepers of western capitalism, like the Bourbons before them, have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.”

Mérce (HU) /

The antidote is progressive populism

Right-wing populism can only be countered with another form of populism, the leftist philosopher Chantal Mouffe argues on Kettős Mérce:

“In several European countries, this aspiration to regain sovereignty has been captured by right-wing populist parties that have managed to construct the people through a xenophobic discourse that excludes immigrants, considered as a threat to national prosperity. These parties are constructing a people whose voice calls for a democracy aimed at exclusively defending the interests of those considered ‘true nationals’. The only way to prevent the emergence of such parties and to oppose those that already exist is through the construction of another people, promoting a progressive populist movement that is receptive to those democratic aspirations and orientates them toward a defence of equality and social justice. ... It is the absence of a narrative able to offer a different vocabulary to formulate these democratic demands which explains that right-wing populism has an echo in increasingly numerous social sectors.”

Postimees (EE) /

The people is not always right

The rise of populists around the world demands an answer, historian David Vseviov urges in Postimees:

“Populism has had no problem beguiling populations for hundreds, if not thousands of years. ... And it is doing the same today, as exemplified by the words with which our new president welcomed the new government: 'The people is always right'. Without explaining that it would be more accurate to say: The people 'always has the right to be wrong'. ... Populism cannot be conquered. But you can make life difficult for the populists. And it is not even hard to. You just have to solve the problems at hand according to their priority.”