Rise of Populism in Europe – A threat to democracy and to the EU

Subject: Political
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1658
Topics: Immigration, Democracy, Government, Refugee


Right-wing populism is becoming more popular around Europe. The rise of populism in Europe is a reaction to the different problems happening throughout the European Union community.  The underlying factors for the rise of populism are the immigration issue, the refugee crisis, terrorism and the recent economic crisis. Populist movements take advantage of difficult situations in countries to place the blame on the current political regimes, in order to reach and lure the people to support them. This study will focus on the rise of populism in Europe, with a keen interest on the happening in France and Italy. First, the study will present a political background on each country, as well as the background on right-wing populism in Europe. The study will then delve on the investigation of the rise of populism in these countries. The study will conclude with assessing the possible consequences that Europe would suffer from the surge of the right-wing movements.

Background on France and Italy

France started playing an important political role in the 17th century. The French Revolution of 1789 is one of the core political occurrences that have shaped the political landscape of France, when the country’s people rose against the monarchial rule, and a turbulent period of bloodshed was experienced in the country (Cole, 27). Therefore, France established the determination to be ruled under a system of democratic governance where the people had a say in how they were ruled in the 18th century. Nevertheless, the country experienced the greatest crises in the 20th century, characterized by the devastation it suffered from the two World Wars, as well as the loss of its overseas territories (Bell, 12). Despite the political upheavals that France has experienced throughout its history, the country has emerged strong after every challenge. The country draws on its rich political history as a dominant power, and continues to play important global sociopolitical and economic roles as a permanent member of the United Nations, NATO, G-7 and the European Union (Cole, 22). France has a long history of a purely parliamentary system, but the country has advanced towards formulating a hybrid system of presidential-parliamentary system, which has enabled the country to wither the political instabilities experienced in other nations of Europe (Bell, 14). France is governed under the 1958 constitution and its subsequent amendments, under which the country is headed by a President elected though a popular vote for a five-year term (Cole, 21). The president forms the government through the appointment of the prime minister and the cabinet, while the parliament is elected by the people, with all citizens 18 years and above having the right to vote. 

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Italy, on the other hand, is a country in Europe that has a long history of sociopolitical and religious turbulence.  However, the current system of rule and governance took shape following the defeat of Benito Musollini’s regime during the World War II (Bull and Newell, 41). The defeat paved way for the establishment of a republican form of governance, after the country abolished the monarchial system in 1946 (Mack, 36). Italy is currently governed under a parliamentary system as provided under the constitution of 1948. The prime minister is the head of government in Italy, who, together with the Council of ministers, holds and executes the executive powers of the government. On the other hand, the President of Italy is the head of state elected by the parliament, who then appoints the executive, while remaining the head of the judiciary (Bull and Newell, 42). Therefore, as opposed to remaining the head of the executive government, the President in Italy serves as a mediator between the three arms of government namely the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. The history of Italian politics has largely been dominated by the Christian doctrines until the 1990s, when independent political parties started to shape up (Mack, 33). Currently, Italy has many political parties, some of which are only active in certain regions of the country, but which play an important role in the formation of the national government. The right to vote for the Italian citizens is universal for those 18 years and above, to only elect the legislature but not the President. 

A background on right-wing populism in Europe

The concept of populism is the ideology holding that the will of the people should prevail over that of the elites and the privileged political class. The rise of right-wing populism in Europe started about 30 years ago, but the outcome of this surge is that over the past three decades, the right-wing populism have made huge gains in the local, state and national governments (Malone, 4). Right-wing populism politics in Europe is now experienced in over a dozen countries, characterized by the rise of the historically small and unknown right-wing movements into mainstream political parties across Europe (Vieten and Scott Poynting, 533). Throughout the European history, the elite and privileged class has exerted domination over the marginalized mass populations, which have often resisted, as demonstrated by different revolutions that have been staged by the people across Europe. Therefore, right-wing populism in Europe emerged as an anti-elitist ideology targeted at opposing the system and speaking for the common people (Greven, 2).  

The Rise of Populism in France and Italy

The rise of the far-right political party under the banner of National Front (FN) to the national politics in France, and its coming closer to winning the presidential elections of 2017 is a serious political change in France (Stangler, n,p.). The far-right wing FN, which is basically built on the premise of extreme position on anti-Islamic immigration, has become a major political force in France, and its influence continues to grow with every election, be it at the local, regional or the national level (Stangler, n,p.).  The FN candidate advanced to the second round of the 2017 presidential election but lost. However, the mere fact that the far-right political movement is strongly taking hold in France is a major shift in the country’s political ideology. The support of the far-right FN’s presidential candidate in 2017 was higher among the voters 18-24 years old, indicating that the popular racial and cultural anti-immigration divide is strongly taking root among the young generation in Europe (Stangler, n,p.).

In Italy, the right-wing populism surge is a phenomenon that has been defined by the rise to popularity of the previously civil movement, the Five Star Movement, into the national political scene and its continued strong influence on the country’s politics (Lanzone, 72). The Five Star Movement emerged as a right-wing civil action movement in 2005, and then became registered as a political party in 2009. However, the movement surprised many when it emerged as the most voted for political party in Italy in the 2013 general elections (Lanzone, 56). The strong political influence of the Five Star Movement in Italy reinforces the strong surge of right-wing populism in the country. The far-right populism continues to gain even more ground in Italy, following the recent Syrian immigration crisis (Lanzone, 71). 

Possible Consequences of the Right-Wing Movements Surge for Europe 

The current surge of right-wing populism in Europe spells a political transformation in the continent. In Europe, right-wing populism has largely developed as an ideology against immigration, especially from the Muslim world, and with it, issues of religious discrimination and intolerance, as well as Islamophobic cultural and racial slurs have become prominent (Schijvenaars, 192). Right-wing populism has been on the march in Europe, with right-wing political parties winning parliamentary elections in different parts of Europe, and threatening to disintegrate the European Union and the European parliament (Sandford, n.p.). The rise of the Golden Dawn in Greece, the political interventions of the English Defense League and UKIP party in the United Kingdom, and the successes of the National Front in France are signs of the right-wing populism storm blowing across Europe. The strong surge of the anti-Islamic PEGIDA in Germany and the strong political interventions of the Party for Freedom (PVV) in Netherlands, are just other few examples illustrating the rise of the right-wing populism across Europe (Vieten and Scott Poynting, 533). The Swiss People’s Party (SPP) is currently a right-wing populism party that is the most popular party in Switzerland, while right-wing political parties are the current majority parties in Norway, Belgium, Denmark and Austria (Malone, 5). Therefore, it possible for the right-wing populism surge in Europe to transform the continent’s political landscape from its historical democratic ideology, to the more dangerously anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic ideology. 

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  1. Bell, David S. French Politics Today. Manchester [u.a.: Manchester Univ. Press, 2002. Print.
  2. Bull, Martin J, and James L. Newell. Italian Politics: Adjustment Under Duress. Cambridge [u.a.: Polity Press, 2005. Print.
  3. Cole, Alistair. French Politics and Society. London: Taylor & Francis, 2017. Print. 
  4. Greven, Thomas. The Rise of Right-wing Populism in Europe and the United States A Comparative Perspective. Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 2016. 1-8. Print. 
  5. Lanzone, Maria E. The “Post-Modern” Populism in Italy: The Case of the Five Star Movement, in Dwayne Woods , Barbara Wejnert (ed.) The Many Faces of Populism: Current Perspectives (Research in Political Sociology, Volume 22) Emerald Group Publishing Limited. 53 – 78. Print. 
  6. Mack, Smith D. Modern Italy: A Political History. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1997. Print.
  7. Malone, John, “Examining the Rise of Right Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe”. Honors Theses Paper 45: (2014). 1-62. Print.
  8. Sandford, Alasdair. “Rise of populism in Europe ‘a real threat to democracy’”. Euro News, 29 December, 2017. Web. Accessed: April 11, 2018.
  9. Schijvenaars, Petronella. A review of ‘Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse’. Politics, Culture and Socialization, 6.1/2: 2015. 191-196. Print. 
  10. Stangler, Cole. “The Fate of French Populism”. The Atlantic, June 17, 2017. Web. Accessed: April 11, 2018.
  11. Vieten, Ulrike M. and Scott Poynting. Contemporary Far-Right Racist Populism in Europe. Journal of Intercultural Studies 37: (2016), 533-540. Print.
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