Populist belt from the Baltic to the Aegean

Analysis

A surge of populist political parties threatens democracy in Europe, Tony Blair's think tank warned. Blair set up the think tank this year as he shifted his focus away from private interests and into new policy ideas for centrist politicians and opposing Brexit. As Daily Mail writes in an article "A surge of 'populist' political parties threatens democracy in Europe, Tony Blair's think tank warns", a survey by the Institute for Global Change found the share of the vote taken by populist parties from both right and left has almost trebled since 2000.

The surge has seen the parties support rising from 8.5 per cent to 24.1 per cent. Over the same period, it said the number of European countries with populist parties participating in government has doubled from seven to 14 - creating an unprecedented 'populist belt' from the Baltic to the Aegean. The think tank warned that the trend looked set to continue unless mainstream political parties were able to find a way to counter the populists' appeal.

The report defines as populist those parties and politicians which 'claim to represent the true will of a unified people against domestic elites, foreign migrants, or ethnic, religious or sexual minorities'. It said they are often characterised by 'inflammatory' attacks on independent institutions such as the media or the judiciary and support for highly restrictive immigration controls and protectionist economic policies. They are strongest in Eastern Europe and current hold power in seven countries - Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Slovakia. Populists are the junior coalition partners in two other countries and the main opposition in three more.

The report said: 'Parties like Poland's Law and Justice party and Hungary's Fidesz tend to emphasise a nationalism based on soil, blood or culture; take a hard line against immigration; and have, especially in Poland and Hungary, quickly started to dismantle key democratic institutions like the free media and an independent judiciary. 'Working largely within the letter of the law, and drawing on widespread popular support, they have destroyed many of the institutions that are needed to safeguard democratic institutions over the long-run.'

In contrast to Eastern Europe, where most populist parties are on the right, those in Southern Europe are predominantly on the left, such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. However, the report said left-wing parties from other parts of the continent - including Labour in Britain - had embraced elements of populism, underlining the impact populist politics was having on the mainstream. The report's co-author, Yascha Mounk, said: '2016 was the year that populism went prime time, but as our data makes clear: this rise started well before 2016. 'The huge transformation we are seeing in European politics is long term, driven by issues such as economic insecurity; a rebellion against immigration and the notion of a multi-ethnic society; and the ease with which extreme voices can make themselves heard in an age of social media. 'This populist wave has not crested and unless politicians managed to identify and counteract the structural drivers, populism will keep garnering strength in the years to come.'