How are populists changing political culture?

The triumph of the right-wing populists that many had feared in the European elections did not come materialise. While they did gain some ground, populists are still far from forming the strongest group in the EU Parliament. Commentators nevertheless see their influence on political culture growing - above and beyond concrete election results.

Open/close all quotes
Kurier (AT) /

Don't get too worked up

Kurier appeals for a more relaxed attitude when observing political events:

“Europe has just warded off the much decried right-wing populist threat. And now one country after another is plunging into crisis: Austria will hold elections at the end of September. Germany no doubt too as the grand coalition is on its last legs. The British have no prime minister but plenty of political chaos. The Greeks are about to vote, the Czechs are protesting their prime minister out of office, and Italy's prime minister is a puppet of its interior minister. ... Perhaps the many crises will at least teach us one lesson: that we should take a far more relaxed stance on political developments such as new faces, old conflicts, collapsing coalitions, repositionings, snap elections and changes of direction than we have done so far in these hyperventilating times.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Centrist parties helping the populists

The opportunism of the centrist parties is helping the populists gain more influence, political scientist Jan-Werner Müller comments in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“The danger for democracy is not that majorities everywhere are suddenly opting for right-wing populists. It's the fact that supposedly moderate centre-right parties are ignoring boundaries and collaborating with the populists or simply copying their agendas. ... The conclusion to be drawn here is not that right-wing populists should be completely ignored or kept out of the political confrontation. We must acknowledge that the populists speak for a vocal minority rather than for the silent majority. It is the opportunism of the centre-right mainstream that is helping them to gain real influence, be it through official coalitions or by tacitly imitation of them, both of which permanently changes the political culture.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Democrats need self-doubt

There are few differences between supporters of right-wing Dutch populist Baudet and those of left-wing US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, writes Tom-Jan Meeus, columnist with NRC Handelsblad:

“In the US elections, polarisation led to increasingly radical positions. ... Candidates who aim for a total victory fail to gain any support in the opposing camp - and therefore face total defeat. ... But rather than rejecting people with different opinions, true democrats will try to bring them around to their point of view. This, however, requires a certain measure of self-doubt - because it takes a dose of self-doubt to understand what other people believe and to test your own beliefs. ... Without self-doubt people not only lose their sense of proportion but also their ability to respect others.”