Never Again is Now: How to Stem the Populist Tide in the EU

This article was submitted as part of the LYMEC4EU Manifesto Challenge

 

Sunday, 9th of June 2024. EU Elections. In Germany, the right-wing populist AfD gains about 10% compared to 2019. In Austria, the right-wing populist FPÖ becomes the strongest political force with 30%. In France, it's Marine Le Pen's right-wing populist Rassemblement National. 

There is still time until June, but if one takes a look at the current polls this could be a likely outcome. Right-wing populist parties are on the rise in Europe. They are gaining momentum and there seems to be no topic for which they don’t have a presumably simple solution. The climate crisis? Fake news. The war in Ukraine? Nato's fault. The media? Manipulated. 

Non-populist parties continue to be at a disadvantage, because their solutions are, in most cases, more realistic and thus, also more complex. In other words: harder to explain. How do you justify monetary aid for Ukraine, to someone who faces unemployment? How do you convince the middle class that rising gas prices are a lesser evil than dependence on Russia? How do you communicate so concisely, simply and clearly, that someone who isn’t as immersed or interested in politics understands the meaning and importance of certain issues? Non-populist parties seem to struggle to find an answer to this question. Meanwhile, the populists make it simple: they frame themselves as the voice of the outsiders, of the unheard, as the voice of reason in a world full of presumably elitist politicians who don’t understand average folks anymore. The paradox is that those who are most likely to vote for right-wing populist parties would suffer the most if these parties came to form a government. A good example of this is Germany. 

In many elections, the right-wing populist AfD benefited primarily from the votes of the unemployed. But if the AfD parliamentary group could have its way, long-term unemployed people would be forced into community labour. The party also strictly rejects plans for the new social benefits system called “Bürgergeld” which according to Bernd Baumann, First Parliamentary Managing Director of the AfD, would only tempt people to “lay down in a hammock.” This, of course, sounds all different at election campaign events. Hence, educational work is important. Perhaps it would already help if every right-wing populist elector was fully aware of what he or she is voting for. 

A few months ago, I went to visit my grandma in Germany. She lives in the state of Thuringia. The right-wing populist AfD is on the rise there. According to latest polls, the party arrives at a total percentage of 36. I talked to my Grandma. She said she wouldn’t vote for the AfD, but that she could understand the people who did so. She explained that she had raised two kids as a single mother, worked hard all her life and never complained. Now, migrants would get a free apartment upon their arrival in Germany. I asked her where she’d got her information about the free apartments. She said a friend had seen it on Facebook. 

As I returned to Italy a week later, my father said he approved of Meloni, because she planned to lower certain taxes. I sent him a link to an article, where Meloni claimed that LGBTQ families are unnatural. He read it, then looked at me and said that it was all very well, but that it didn’t concern him after all. 

At this point, I need to admit that it concerns me. I’m bisexual and I fear to start a family with another woman as long as Melonis “Fratelli d’Italia” form the Italian government. When it comes to same-sex couples having a child in Italy,  just one can obtain legal parentage. From a legal point of view, the other remains a stranger. With right-wing populists on the rise in almost every European country, I fear that things such as LGBTQ rights could slowly become less and less and that our democratic values and beliefs could be threatened. But I also have hope, since I don’t believe that 20-30% of Europeans are truly far-right or even hold extremist beliefs. I think it is possible to encourage the voters to elect more moderate parties. In the last weeks, there have been over a hundred demonstrations against right-wing extremism in Germany. In Hamburg and Munich, the demonstrations needed to be stopped at a certain point. The crowd was getting too big.

 

References:

Görmann, M. (2023). AfD will eigene Wähler bestrafen: Wer zu lange arbeitslos ist, wird streng behandelt. [online] DerWesten.de. https://www.derwesten.de/politik/afd-buergergeld-arbeitslose-buergerarbeit-hartz4-p-id300115305.html 

Guttmann, P. (2024). Europawahl: Neueste Wahlumfrage | Sonntagsfrage #epwahl. [online] DAWUM. https://dawum.de/Europawahl/ 

Statista. (n.d.). Österreich - Sonntagsfrage zur Europawahl 2024. [online] https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/300098/umfrage/sonntagsfrage-zur-europawahl-in-oesterreich/ 

Wahlrecht.de. (n.d.). Sonntagsfrage zur Landtagswahl Thüringen. [online] https://www.wahlrecht.de/umfragen/landtage/thueringen.htm 

 

 

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) alone. These views do not necessarily reflect those of LYMEC.

 

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