The Rise of Radical Right-Wing Populism in the EU

On March 8, IES hosted a lecture by Ludvig Norman, Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Government at Uppsala University and one of IES’ current visiting scholars. In his presentation, Norman offered a Swedish perspective on one of the most serious challenges that the EU currently faces, “the rise of radical right-wing populism”. With such a challenge occupying a central position in the current political landscape of the continent, Norman used his talk as an opportunity to highlight the mainstream political response to counteract this development in Europe. First, Norman provided background information regarding the emergence of radical nationalisms in many European countries, observing that, given the success such parties have had in increasing their presence and winning national elections, it has proven itself to be more than a mere marginal movement. Describing the European radical right as a transnational movement, he stated that, though it is not unified, there is engagement and cooperation between nations. To illustrate this, he informed the audience about two groups in the EU Parliament, one with the UK Independence Party, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and the populist right-wing party in Sweden occupying one group, and Marine Le Pen in France, the Freedom Party of Austria, and Matteo Salvini of Italy occupying the other. Together, they occupy 11% of the 751 seats in the EU Parliament.

From here, Norman transitioned to a discussion of how populism manifests itself in exercising political power. While it does not occupy an explicitly anti-democratic position, it is overall outspoken and hostile towards the mainstream press, the judiciary and outsiders in general. Citing examples from political parties in Poland, Denmark, and Hungary, Norman provided an overview to the recurrence of verbal statements in European parliament debates that reflect populist sentiments. To conclude, he discussed the different ways in which one can understand these political movements, highlighting three possible strategies to stop the growth of rightwing populism in light of the lack of a unified response across Europe. In the Q&A session following his presentation, during which the 40 in attendance had the opportunity to engage in discussion, Norman touched on the consequences of the rise in populism for his home country of Sweden. When asked about the latest European Parliament election, he stated that these elections often serve as an arena for protest votes and political debate, with politicians often discussing topics that are not even legislated at that level. While Sweden, he said, has not had a large rightwing-populist presence before, such a party has recently grown at the cost of the center-right political party. One of the major topics of political debate between the parties is immigration from predominantly Islamic countries, which has also become increasingly prevalent across the whole of Europe. Norman is confident, however, that even if the Swedish government were to take a stance to curb immigration, the country as a whole would remain liberal. In his opinion, mainstream political parties now have an opportunity to explain how they will deal with immigration and asylum policy as a way of preventing the continued rise of radical right-wing populism.