Is populism on the run?

My short contribution to the Carnegie Europe ‘Judy Asks’ column on 26 April.

No, recent elections in Austria, the Netherlands, and France highlight that populism is still an important force to be reckoned with in Europe. When then far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round of the French presidential election in 2002, there was a massive protest and he won only 18 percent of the vote in the runoff—a far cry from power.

Recently, by contrast, a populist far-right candidate came within a whisker of winning the presidency in Austria: he was defeated in a second-round runoff by only a few points.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) has the second-largest number of seats in the parliament after the March 2017 election and will likely form the official opposition once a government is established. A new Euroskeptic and anti-establishment party, Forum for Democracy, also won seats for the first time.

In France, the right-wing National Front has reached a new high with the number of votes it has won in a presidential election: 7.7 million in the first round of the 2017 contest on April 23. This figure will be even higher in round two on May 7.

While populists may have become more mainstream, they are certainly not on the run. Populists will continue to win some elections and lose others, and they will put pressure on moderate parties to adopt their rhetoric and policies. French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron highlights that mainstream parties should not give in; not all political outsiders need to be populists to win.

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