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In the run-up to the European elections in May 2014, we explore the dynamics of European populism. How do populist parties behave in the European Parliament? What are their goals and their methods? Do their supporters differ in their electoral priorities from their fellow compatriots? If so, how? Counterpoint is publishing a series of in-depth case studies in various key European countries, and here you will find excerpts from these studies. We will publish a series of typical exchange from the proceedings of the European Parliament - alongside focus group comments from Finnish, French and Dutch voters (including supporters for populist parties running in the European elections).

Populist snapshots: Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) in the European Parliament

This article looks at the basic framing devices of the Austrian Freedom Party's rhetoric in the European parliament, and some of their debates. It is taken from a Counterpoint series on populist rhetoric leading up to the European elections.

Shaping the vote: politics and populism in the media

Does media coverage of issues like immigration, the economy and political scandal exacerbate or merely reflect citizens’ dissatisfaction with politics? In May, a Counterpoint discussion panel explored the impact on populist politics, including UKIP, Front National in France, the PVV in the Netherlands, and the Finns Party in Finland. (Podcast 95 mins)

Populist snapshots: Front National (FN) in the European Parliament

This article looks at the basic framing devices of France's Front National rhetoric in the European parliament, and some of their debates. It is taken from a Counterpoint series on populist rhetoric leading up to the European elections.

Social democracy in Norway’s culture wars

An exploration of the various elements of Norwegian culture that have over time fostered a deep-rooted conspiratorial populism, challenging the traditional picture of Norway as a consensual social democracy.

Populist snapshots: UKIP (UK) in the European Parliament

This article looks at the basic framing devices of UKIP rhetoric in the European parliament, and some of their debates. It is taken from a Counterpoint series on populist rhetoric leading up to the European elections, including recommendations on how to respond to populist rhetoric.

We need to talk about Europe

Why are populist movements and parties appealing to increasing numbers of voters? We discuss the main traits of populist movements and parties in Europe - and what threats they bring to democratic societies (Video, 5 mins 49 secs)

Populist snapshots: Movimento 5 Stelle (Italy)

This excerpt is taken from the encounter between Beppe Grillo and Matteo Renzi on 19 February. Commentary follows.


The populist appeal – bottom-up perspectives: Dealing with ‘reasonable accommodation’ at the local level in the French Republic

Counterpoint presents excerpts from its citizen consultations in three parts of France where either the Front National has been successful or local tensions could fuel support for Marine Le Pen's party. Participants discuss when it would be appropriate to use local public venues for cultural events directly related to religious celebrations.

The populist appeal – bottom-up perspectives: Finland and the loss of moral values

These are extracts from citizen consultations in Kuopio, regional centre of 100,000 inhabitants in the middle of a vast rural area 380 kilometres northeast from Helsinki. Kuopio is famous for its easy-going, down-to-earth people, and its contribution to Finnish arts, philosophy and the nineteenth century construction of the Finnish nation-state. 

Populist snapshots: Lega Nord (Italy)

This excerpt is from a debate in the European Parliament referring to the expiry on 1 January 2014 of temporary labour restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers (on 15 January 2014). Commentary follows.

The populist appeal – bottom-up perspectives: the Netherlands, a view from the south

These extracts draw on citizen consultation in Maastricht, the capital city of Limburg, a southern region of the Netherlands that has its own identity, including its own officially recognized regional language. The region is known as a stronghold of the PVV, especially in former mining areas in the south-east.

The populist appeal – bottom-up perspectives: The ‘Participation Society’ of the Netherlands

These remarks, extracted from a meeting with citizens in Leidsche Rijn, confirm findings that only 20% of Dutch voters have trust in politics. Nostalgia for the old times when equality and consensus were at the heart of Dutch politics and life underlie the success of populism in the country.

The populist appeal – bottom-up perspectives: Finland's biggest problems

The small city of Kouvola lies in forests where once the paper industry thrived. Recently, the region has suffered from closing factories and loss of jobs. Kouvola is one of the most important strongholds for the Finns Party. The following excerpts are taken from a focus group of party supporters.

Populist snapshots: this week’s exchange in the European Parliament

An excerpt from the debate on discriminatory internet sites and government reactions (March 13, 2012, Strasbourg), followed by commentary on the political language.

The conspiratorial mindset in Europe

Scepticism is healthy for democracy, but not when it degenerates into belief in conspiracy theories. Dieudonné and Jobbik are but two recent examples that the conspiratorial mindset is alive and well in Europe.

Machismo on the move

The shifting experience of masculinity is connected to the rise of populist politics in Finland.


A different kind of populism

Does Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement belong to the political family that ranges from the French National Front to Golden Dawn, or has it invented its very own kind of populism?

Reframing Europe in unfriendly times

The EU must move fast and persistently to convince potential voters to gain confidence in its relevance and abilities. Here is how to reframe the debate.

The failure of political consumerism

When the parties claim that they hear what the public is saying about, say, immigration, the public knows it is being told what it thinks the parties want it to hear. What has been lost is any sense that the parties speak from conviction.

Who’s afraid of the populist wolf?

Populism may not be entirely coherent (what ideology is in its lived form?) but it has a consistent logic, and a line of distinction along which it treads that marks it out and accounts for its power. We should beware of falling into the many traps it creates for democrats.

The helpless and the resourceful, or the beginnings of Polish populisms

Poland has two populisms: “the populism of the dispirited”, mobilising those who struggled to adjust to life in the new Poland; and a form of neo-liberal populism, embracing free market capitalism and excluding those who did not prosper. Both have deep roots in Poland’s history.

The Front National’s new clothes

Last year, Marine Le Pen came third in the French presidential elections, following a campaign seeking to de-demonise the party and make it more attractive to a broader electorate. While it is arguable whether her strategy was entirely successful, the changes made may well have long-term consequences.


In this excerpt from ‘Sweden: the reluctant nation’, published as part of Counterpoint’s ‘Europe’s Reluctant Radicals’ project, Göran Rosenberg explores the history of the Swedish political ideal of ‘folkhemmet’ [the people’s home].

The Front of the Ordinary Man

In the wake of the Italian elections, this excerpt from ‘Stagioni del populismo italiano’ examines populism in Italy’s political past and present. How did Guglielmo Giannini’s Qualunquismo movement influence the most recent forms of populism: those of the former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and comedian-turned-politician, Beppe Grillo?

The crumbling of Finland’s consensus culture: silence into rumpus

Finland underwent a spectacular populist upheaval in 2011, when the True Finns won over nearly one fifth of the vote and went on to become the main opposition party to the current government. The prelude to this was growing disquiet towards Finland’s consensus-dominated political culture.

How populism grew its roots in the Netherlands

As politics and elite behaviour move away from consensus and inclusion, Geert Wilders has been able to capitalise on the social compartmentalisation that characterises the modern Netherlands.

Covert and hidden populism in unified Germany

Why is it that unlike other European countries, Germany has not had a long-lasting populist party. Though some contemporary German parties have ‘populist affinities and tendencies’, these are short-lived tactics used to win votes, and often associated with political scandal.

National populism and xenophobia in Greece

‘National exceptionalism’ has long served as an antidote to the many disappointments that being a Greek has often entailed. But historically, has this now opened the door to populist forces in Greece’s political culture?

Investigating the reluctant radical

Young, male and unemployed: our representation of the typical supporter of European right-wing populist parties is filled with stereotypes. Who does actually cast a radical vote?

A plague on both your populisms

Populist movements can bear a strong, but misleading, resemblance to more respectable cousins: movements for democratic accountability. It has now become fashionable even to argue that ‘some populism is good’ - because populism is seen as ‘speaking truth to power’. It’s important therefore for democrats to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. If populists can play this game, don’t the rest of us need our own enemy images?

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