Can Europe Make It?

The eternal return of populism - weekly comments roundup


A look at this week's best reader comments on our Can Europe make it? debate.


Alex Sakalis
22 October 2013

What is populism? We've been running this debate on Can Europe Make it? for a while now, but the latest addition to this debate by Cristobal Kaltwasser is perhaps the most clearly written in its attempt to extricate definitions of populism and examine why seemingly disparate political movements (such as Syriza and Golden Dawn to use but one country as an example) tend to get thrown together under the label "populist". Francesca_Lacaita offered this anecdote from Italy:

Well, Grillo's Five-Star Movement is everything but leftist. It is supported by left-wing people, which is telling of all the failures of the Italian left. But only a few days ago he attacked two 5-star senators for voting in favour of the abolition of the criminalization of "illegal" migrants. "This is not in our programme" he said, "if we had put it in our programme, we would have got a 'telephone-code' percentage of votes at the election" (i.e., below 1%). It is also anti-pluralist, a movement of "atomized" supporters who get together and agree on a supposedly "common-sense" programme. I'm waiting for someone with time on their hands to write "The Black Book of Common Sense".

while in Tolis Malakos' article on the rise of fascism in Greece, Adam Strange wrote:

Thank you for raising so many issues.


The piece raises many interesting points although it is my belief that much of Greek xenophobia / sympathy with Golden Dawn arises from the brutal austerity the Greek people are suffering right now. This has destroyed state and family support mechanisms and has brought about, an almost, dismantling of Greek society. In these cicrcumstances, people flay out at the 'other' to assert that some tiny bit od 'power' remains available to them - otherwise there is nothing. At the moment the threat is to the 'other' but it could well transform to Greeks seeing other Greeks as the 'other'. In which case, everything is lost.


You are right in maintaining that the European Union has much to offer, still, even though it has in many ways fostered the whole situation in Greece. Dr Javier Solana spoke on Tuesday at an LSE Ideas public lecture (at the LSE) on the day a Special Report on Southern Europe was published on a Strategy for Southern Europe.


In his lecture, Dr Solana speaking as an ardent supporter of the European Union, expressed his concerns at the direction Europe has taken in implementing economic policies of such severity. He maintain that Europe will move from this position. It has no choice but to seek growth. At present several EU members are part of the G8 but in 20 years, and with present policies, Solana does not expect a European country within a G5/G8 even a G15 or, whatever. He advises Eurioe to take urgent correcting action, to revive European Union democratic processes and explain to EU citizens the advantages of the Union and the 'lesser life' to be had without.


There are institutions (such as LSE Ideas) who are seeking to examine phenomena in Europe such as the new fascism. But they seek as well, to study the means by which European nations (starting with the Southern european countries) can work better together to resolve their common problems and move, amongst other things, to getting their economies (and people) to work and move towards solutions to security, energy and migration.
I enjoyed the article!

Europeans are getting poorer. Do you care? is the question posed by Darian Meacham. Jimmy 2 wrote:

We live in a time of consequences. The economy is a consequence of an inadequate and pretentious philosophy, neoliberal capitalism as a "third way." Institutional failures are at least as concerning a sign of the times as economic weakness.


Climate change, massive nuclear damage, the relatively unacknowledged accumulation of simple garbage, especially in the oceans, to say nothing of outright toxic waste are unprecedented problems that will require adult solutions no matter what form of political organization we live under.


In Canada where I live and in the US where I was born, many people would find your remark that "in a democracy, the power lies with the people" amusing if not deluded and ignorant. Democracy is not advancing in the NATO countries. The most optimistic view I can find anywhere on the internet or in my community is that it is severely challenged and in decline.

Unfortunately, some will take these difficulties as an opportunity to find a scapegoat. This process is already well under way on a number of fronts.


Canada has just signed CETA, a "free trade" agreement with the EU. But where is the demand going to come from? The EU's strongest economy is still under a US occupation left over from World War II. Britain leads the world with a "triple-dip" recession and Major League financial corruption scandals of which LIBOR has been only the most visible. Greece is beset by neo-Nazis. Solidrity with what?


If I were a member of the elite, I would be worried--and they obviously are desperate. The shortage of real ideas, the lack of imagination--especially in a system incessantly praising itself for its innovation--is arguably the most alarming sign.

Maybe it's time to find new leaders and not just the Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum of regular elections. Nothing short of fundamental change will make much difference.

to which Darian Meacham responded:

Thanks for the feedback.


The sentence was: 'the power lies with the people to determine the scope of their political solidarity." I'm interested as to why you think that this is an 'ignorant' or 'deluded' thing to say, especially within the European context. The devolution of powers and institutions, or inversely centralization, seems to be a matter of democratic politics. The same holds for the possibility of the UK to withdraw from the EU, or of various regions (Scotland, Flanders, Catalonia) to separate from the nation-states they are part of.

We interviewed unashamed "populist" Gerard Batten, UKIP MEP for London, whose singular vision on the EU and democracy inspired a large number of comments notably this comment from Damian Hockney:

As a former colleague of Gerard's in London UKIP, I found this interview useful in demonstrating why UKIP now appeals not just to "Tories in mourning" - a lot of the points he makes (eg about the dangers of big business and big money setting the entire agenda, with weak politicians trailing in their wake) strike a chord with all voters, and are certainly not what any Tory politician would say. Which is why, for example, in today's yougov poll, the breakdown shows how the under-25s are greater UKIP supporters than the 25-39s, and how LibDem 2010 voters switching to UKIP are not far behind ex Tories in number. It is also why UKIP has come 2nd in Westminster by-elections in Labour seats where Tories have not had a hope for a generation.


It would be good to see UKIP take this further. Gerard mentions concerns over NHS privatisation and the way in which the personal data held is likely to be treated - a full reappraisal of supposed 'good things' like the proposed EU-US free trade agreement as it impacts on the NHS, for example, fits in with this philosophy. The potentially catastrophic effects have been smothered by most commentators but covered well here on openDemocracy. The need for scrutiny also has the virtue of being potentially very popular.

Finally I would like to draw attention to this illustrative comment in Hassan Masiky's piece on the Moroccan view of Catalan independence by Koldo Casla:

1. I agree that Spain has a lot of work to do as far as dealing with national diversity within its borders. The current situation with Catalonia is a good evidence of it.


2. However, the situations in Western Sahara and in Catalonia (and the Basque Country) are entirely different. The former was a Spanish colony and is entitled to the right to self-determination based on International Law and recognised by the ICJ in 1975 (many readings; take Hans Corell's report: This is regardless of what one may think about the claim for independence in Catalonia, the Basque Country or elsewhere.


3. It is simply not true that the two main political parties in Spain (PP and PSOE) have supported the pro-independence movement in Western Sahara. The Moroccan regime has too much influence over Spanish politics.


Personal disclosure: I am Basque.


More on Western Sahara, international law and human rights here:

Well written, insightful and to the point - just the kind of comment we like to see on openDemocracy.

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