2021: a Bad Year for Populists in Europe

, by Dvir Aviam Ezra

2021: a Bad Year for Populists in Europe
AfD van in 2020. Credits: PantheraLeo1359531, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/license...> , via Wikimedia Commons

TNF supports JEF-Europe’s campaign #DemocracyUnderPressure that this year will take place from the 18th to the 25th of March.

This week, we are marking the Democracy Under Pressure Campaign, and recognize the dangers posed to the liberal-democratic orders by non-democratic forces, parties, and regimes.

While such dangers are and will remain present, we should also acknowledge the efforts and successes of democratic movements throughout Europe in securing basic human rights, containing populist movements, or even changing and replacing populist governments. Let us provide an overview of some of those instances:

In the Czech Republic, the populist government of the ANO party and Andrej Babiš came to an end when a diverse pro-European coalition won the elections in October. The new government immediately embarked on a pro-European course and began to prosecute and uncover several high-ranking corruption cases.

Bulgaria has experienced three rounds of elections that resulted in deadlock. However, in November 2021, the country finally managed to establish a government that includes several prominent anti-corruption parties, ending an almost uninterrupted 13 year rule of Boyko Borissov and his GERB populist party. Following the election, Borissov and several high ranking GERB members were arrested based on the warrant of the European Public Prosecutor, for corruption charges.

Moldova, a country that has for many years had it European aspirations muddled due to the prominence of the pro-Putin, anti-LGBT Electoral Bloc of Communists and Socialists, has seen a pro-European government and pro-European president come to power in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

After many worries regarding the rise of the extremist far-right AFD party in Germany, the 2021 elections actually saw its vote share decline by 20 percent, with pro-European parties winning an absolute majority in the Bundestag.

On September 26, 2021, Switzerland made a huge step towards social equity when 64 percent of voters voted to legalize same sex marriage. On the very same day, San Marino finally legalized abortions in a huge majority of 77 percent of voters.

Portuguese parliamentary elections in January 2022 resulted in much lower-than-expected results for the far right Chega party, showing that Portugal maintains a moderate and democratic political discourse.

In the meantime, public opinion also shows a substantial decline in populist beliefs across Europe. Polls by Yougov from 2019, 2020, 2021 have shown support for populist sentiments declining in France (66%, 52%, 55%), Germany (66%, 63%, 61%), Denmark (61%, 56%, 50%), Spain (75%, 68%, 65%), Italy (72%, 71%, 64%), Poland (80%, 71%, 65%), and Britain (66%, 60%, 56%). This trend in North, South, East and West Europe is undeniable.

In my opinion, the loss of momentum for populist candidates, parties, and ideologies, shows that the majority of Europeans understand that strengthening human rights and democratic safeguards, rather than dismantling them, is the solution to improve people’s living conditions across Europe. We should also consider European successes in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact of the war in Ukraine, bringing Europeans together against aggression and totalitarianism. At the same time, we must continue to be on our guard against a populist resurgence, and keep faith in our shared democratic destiny.

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