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It would be dangerous to view modern European populism as a triumph of style over substance

Wodak, R. (2014) “It would be dangerous to view modern European populism as a triumph of style over substance“, LSE EUROPP, 23 July.


The success of populist and Eurosceptic parties was one of the key narratives to emerge from the European Parliament elections in May. Ruth Wodak writes on the platforms which underpin these parties, noting that there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for why parties have gained ground in certain countries. Nevertheless she argues that it is difficult to predict where such a diverse range of movements will lead.

The results of the elections to the European Parliament in May have caused great concern in the various national governments of European Union member states, as well as in the European organisations: although expected by opinion makers and predicted by opinion polls, it was nevertheless surprising that the French extreme right-wing populist party the Front National (FN) won first place in France (with just under 24.9 per cent) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) first place in the UK (with 27.5 per cent).

The electoral success of these two Eurosceptic, nationalistic/chauvinistic and xenophobic parties dominated media reactions across Europe and beyond, leading many politicians and journalists to proclaim the foreseeable end of the European Union. In the midst of such outcries, other results were neglected and contradictory tendencies overlooked.

For example, the Austrian extreme right-wing populist party Freedom Party of Austria(FPÖ) won fewer votes than expected and took third place (with around 20 per cent); in Italy Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party(which belongs to the Party of European Socialists) almost doubled its seats whereas the extreme right lost more than 50 per cent of theirs. In Sweden, the Socialists won the election and the governing conservative party lost more than 5 per cent; in Greece, the opposition left-wing Syriza gained over 22 per cent on its vote share from 2009. In Hungary, on the other hand, the extreme right-wing party Jobbikreceived just under 14.7 per cent.


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