Panel discusses rise of right-wing populism in Europe
Alexandra Muck | Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Professors from the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies explored the current political landscape and the rise of right-wing populism in Europe through the lens of four countries: France, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.
Olivier Morel, assistant professor of Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) and Romance Languages and Literatures, began the panel Monday night with an analysis of the political sphere in France. While he said the rise of far-right institutions is threatening, it is nothing new in French politics as the trend has been apparent for at least three decades.
“Nothing erupts by total chance or accident,” he said. “The idea that most of what we see is a disastrous, unique, unprecedented event is a fallacy.”
Citing evidence of rising hate speech, “non-verbal approaches to politics” such as marches and ceremonies, and quotes that know how to attract media attention, he said this political far-right in France is catering to the masses who are losing jobs through industrialization. Morel also said hate, especially toward minorities, is becoming institutionalized, which is difficult to undo.
Finally, in a theme reiterated by the other panelists, Morel said the European Union (EU) is now an “ideological vacuum.”
“You will not see voters get enthusiastic about the European Union anymore,” he said.
Michel Hockx, director of the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, drew on this same point when discussing politics in his native country of the Netherlands. The current populist party in the country, the Party for Freedom, includes leaving the EU as one of two primary points in its election manifesto. The other point is that it wants to de-Islamicize the Netherlands.
“The right-wing, anti-Islam organizations in the Netherlands present themselves as defenders of the Dutch vision of tolerance, liberalism, openness to the gay community, etc.”
Hockx was hesitant to use the word “right-wing” when describing the populist party, though, since he said most of the parties use right-wing ideas to gain votes.
“The situation in the Netherlands is such that is has already changed from being right-wing populism to simply being populism,” he said.
Lucia Manzi, a Ph.D. candidate in political science, focused on a current party in Italy — the Five Star Movement. She said the group serves those who feel they have a lack of representation in government and who distrust democracy by focusing on implementing direct democracy and more transparency in government.
Manzi said it is hard to define the group as belonging to the left or right since all the policy issues are voted online. Reiterating the previous statements about the EU, she said many politicians today are relying on supranational institutions.
“It is not by chance that populist movements all aim target at the European Union because the European Union has become a major political actor. Several policy decisions that are made at the country level come down or are affected by the European Union,” she said.
Manzi said while the party does not directly threaten democracy, the movement does threaten democracy in its current form, which is one based on political parties.
The final panelist, A. James McAdams, director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, discussed German politics.
He said the Alternative for Germany party is “populist, Euro-skeptic, anti-immigrant … and anti-science.”
McAdams said the movement matters, whether it wins an election or not.
“It represents a powerful influence on German attitudes about what appropriate behavior is and about the political course that the elites should follow,” he said, citing that the group legitimizes violence and sets the political tone.
McAdams said he is primarily concerned about the political state of Germany since it holds great influence over the future of Europe.
“Now that Britain has left, there is no other power that is in the position to set the tone for Europe, whether we like it or not. The problem is … the Germans just aren’t sure that they like it. This is not the Germany of old; this is ambivalent Germany,” he said.