External Publications

July 06, 2015

Time to Act

The European Mainstream’s Obligation to Respond to the Rise of Populism

Populist parties are on the rise across Europe. Like a cracked mirror, they call attention to the systemic dysfunctions of contemporary Europe. Six years of ongoing economic and debt crisis with social repercussions have left citizens frustrated, leaving them with a deep sense of insecurity about the political system’s lack of responsiveness and performance. Mainstream parties cannot afford to ignore this wake-up call. Only a serious counter-strategy can win back citizen support.


Published here with kind permission of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung.

The European Union (EU) is going through the worst economic and political crisis of its history. At the same time populism is rising and has spread across the continent like a virus: The rapidly growing support for the Front National in France, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, the Danish People’s Party in Denmark or the Finns Party (formerly ‘True Finns’) in Finland – to name just a few – demonstrates the fundamental challenges that mainstream political parties have to face on the local, national and European level when confronted with populism.

Even though populist parties are not a new phenomenon, the results of the 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections underline that their success has reached a new dimension. Having accumulated around one fourth of the total votes, protest parties and anti-establishment candidates have reached a critical mass which will enable them to directly and indirectly influence the national and European political discourse. They are very likely to become an integral part of our political landscape.

This way, 2015 will be a decisive year for European mainstream parties. They will have to face major electoral showdowns with populist parties which are already impatiently gathering in the waiting rooms to power in Poland, Denmark and Spain. The outcomes of these elections will not only be the latest update on the degree of public discontent and lack of trust in the performance and responsiveness of the respective national political elites and the European Union. They will also define the direction of the EU’s institutional development and its strategies to overcome the current economic and political crisis.

In this essay, I will try to shed some light on the following questions. Firstly, as there is much confusion about the terminology used for populist parties, what is it exactly that populism stands for? What are the root causes and underlying driving forces that have contributed to the rise of populism? What is the long-term impact of populism on the political discourse and on the decision making on both the national and European level? Will support for populist parties vanish as soon as economic growth will pick up? What strategies and actions can counter populist demagoguery and what is necessary to rebuild trust in the national and European political system(s) and restore their legitimacy in the eyes of European citizens? Click here to continue reading the full article.

Bibliographic data

Heinrich Böll Stiftung European Union (May 22, 2015), 11 pp. (in English)