How should Europe deal with right-wing populists?
Eleven million voters cast their ballots for Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National on Sunday. Although she was beaten by a large margin many commentators stress that the French presidential elections have made one thing particularly clear: how powerful populist forces can become in Europe. While some warn not to underestimate the threat populism poses to democracy, others say it enriches the political spectrum.
The desire for a strong leader
The right-wing populist threat hasn't been banished, Naftemporiki writes, and explains why so many people are voting for them:
“The citizens are turning to the parties and candidates that call into question the accepted principles of democracy and basic rights. A considerable number of voters are fascinated by leaders who show strength and make bogus enemies out of those who are supposedly in a position to endanger the identity and cohesion of the nation. Some vote for them because they share their ideas. But many vote for them to protest against a system that doesn't listen to them. They are convinced that these politicians won't do what they say they'll do. … The parliament, the judiciary and the institutions will foil their plans, so the argument goes.”
Optimism against nationalism
De Volkskrant columnist Bert Wagendorp doesn't share the pessimism and doubts about Macron and hails the start of a new era:
“The populists had hoped for much more. After the Brexit vote and the Trump revolt they thought they were the 'masters of the universe': the mysterious 'people' in whose name the rabble-rousers purportedly speak are not as easy to seduce as expected. ... You can feel the astonishment at the victory of the moderate candidate in the commentaries. Clearly we need more time to realise that populism is not an unstoppable steamroller and that an answer to it can be found. It's time to rekindle our optimism in the face of the populists' die-hard pessimism and ominous nationalism. ... I believe that Macron can show France and Europe the way. ... And I believe that we'll look back on 2017 as a turning point, as the year of the revolution. En Marche!”
Le Pen's voters must not be neglected
Politicians must not forget the many voters who supported Marine Le Pen, political scientist Valentin Naumescu urges in the blog Contributors:
“These voters are also French citizens, and they deserve credible answers to their concerns. Marine Le Pen obtained almost eleven million votes on May 7, twice as many as her father Jean-Marie Le Pen garnered in the runoff vote of the 2002 presidential elections when just 17.8 percent of voters cast their ballots for the far-right leader. The populist, extremist, anti-European wave is not subsiding. On the contrary, the numbers show that it's bigger than ever. But this spring the EU has been given a vital dose of oxygen and above all an important 'time of grace'. That gives it an opportunity to evolve into a credible organisation, adapt to the needs of the 21st century and go on providing its citizens with satisfactory living conditions.”
How populists enrich the political system
Populist forces are unfit to govern but they do give politics meaningful stimuli, the national-conservative, pro-Berlusconi paper Il Giornale writes:
“The radical parties fulfil their purpose by broadening the spectrum of political options. But neither they nor their leaders are fit to lead a country. ... That doesn't mean, however, that these parties are superfluous. On the contrary. They're a persistent, nagging voice, able to express the people's deeper feelings and needs without prejudice. That, in turn, can prevent the other parties from losing touch with the people. ... So it's not populism that died on Sunday, but the idea that populism can form an autonomous majority. And this for a simple reason: passengers in train cars can kick up a row, but you need reliable, experienced, prudent personnel in the driver's seat. Otherwise there's a good chance that the whole train will derail.”