EU elections: right-wing populists gaining ground

Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon announced at the conference of the nationalist Fratelli d'Italia in Rome that he plans to spend most of the next few months in Europe helping far-right parties with their campaign for the European elections. On Sunday he met Czech President Milos Zeman. Commentators explain why they believe his project will fail and how the EU needs to reinvent itself.

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The Shift News (MT) /

Toxic for society

Because populists only have their eyes on short-term political success they fail to address complex political and economic problems, The Shift News laments:

“Populism may seem to be a return to a more direct democracy. Leaders energise their voters, and then act on what the response is. There is a caveat: politics is a complex game that tackles complex problems. 9 times out of 10, populist politicians resort to oversimplification and emotional arguments that tap into people's irrational, short-sighted nature. For the healthy development of a nation, this is toxic. The result is that people hear what they want to hear out of politicians who are willing to give the people what they (think they) want.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

A right-wing bloc is illusory

Bannon's project of establishing an international right-wing populist movement will fail, Lidové noviny believes:

“Populist parties can convey the impression of a joint bloc only against a joint enemy, in this case the current EU. If we look at the interests of the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary or Italy we find more differences than similarities between them. The Czech Republic in itself isn't even consistent. Ex-president Klaus is a fan of the AfD and endorsed its election campaign. President Zeman is a little more restrained because the AfD is demanding that the Beneš decrees be repealed. Can a close-knit international alliance emerge from this mélange?”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Xenophobia a reaction to a lack of solidarity

In a manifesto published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other papers, a group of academics calls on Europe to re-establish the EU on the basis of greater solidarity:

“Contrary to what neo-liberal illusions would have us believe, no human society can get by without solidarity or without some shared project other than competition between its members. If it is not institutionalised democratically, solidarity resurfaces on the basis of identity, ethnicity or religion. That, in turn, paves the way for demagogues and violence. Everywhere in the world, in the Americas as in India, in Britain as in the other countries of Europe, these demagogues are forcing the social injustice on which their growth depends on 'foreigners' of all stripes and leaving its economic causes unaddressed because they all share the credo of the neoliberals.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Big parties' dominance is history

The EU will face major changes in 2019, Jutarnji list is sure:

“It's clear that after the elections to the European Parliament from 23 to 26 May, 2019, many things will change. It's a hackneyed phrase by now but the spectre of populism is haunting Europe and polls show that the EU can expect tectonic shifts, because the populist parties and Eurosceptic parties movements are experiencing a dramatic increase in support. In short, the decades-long absolute dominance of the European People's Party (EPP) and the Party of European Socialists (PES) secured through coalition treaties is over.”

Le Soir (BE) /

"We workers" becomes "We French"

Bestselling author Didier Eribon writes in Le Soir why the slogans of the right-wing populists have such strong appeal:

“Teachers and workers have disappeared from the ranks of the leadership and been replaced by members of the bourgeoisie. ... Since the Communist Party practically ceased to exist no one has come along and proposed an 'us' to the workers and popular classes. Their collective identity reconstituted itself around a nationalist and anti-immigration 'we' instead. My parents said 'we the workers' to mark their opposition to the bosses, the bourgeoisie, and the oppressors. Now they say 'we French' to mark their opposition to the immigrants. The same is happening in Germany and Italy: the leftist 'we' has been replaced by a right-wing or far-right 'we' whose enemies are refugees and asylum seekers.”

El País (ES) /

Don't mimic the far right, attack it head-on

Writing in El País political scientist Sami Naïr calls on the democratic parties to enter a pact against right-wing populism:

“The most obvious danger is that this discourse of fear and hate spreads to the traditional conservative parties while the progressives confine themselves to taking a defensive stance. It's vital that the social democratic and leftist forces form a solid nucleus of values around the defence of human rights and solidarity. ... The second dimension is strategic: to seek convergences with the conservative and liberal forces based on the defence of the European values of solidarity and tolerance. ... This objective should be achieved on the basis of a simple slogan: you can't defeat the far-right parties by adopting their discourse. They must be attacked head-on to prevent them from contaminating Europe's democratic identity.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

Populists' voters aren't stupid

Göteborgs-Posten says it is wrong to write off all those who vote for right-wing populist parties as uneducated:

“A 2014 survey by the SOM Institute on the supporters of the Sweden Democrats shows that many of them reflect the average. The less well educated are in the majority but the party's voters come from all the different income brackets. ... It is a cynical and arrogant view to suggest that the less educated can't think for themselves and let themselves be seduced. ... Yet in the course of history academics haven't exactly proven that they are per se of sound mind. ... Perhaps before the next elections we should discuss how we can protect the ahistorical highly educated from pessimistic disinformation so that they aren't exploited by political forces trying to cynically play on their fears of a 1930s Germany.”