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Counterpoint’s visual tool for comparing populists at the European elections

Counterpoint's visual tool - Europe's populist parties (3)

 

[UPDATE 5/6/14: upon receiving feedback, we have revised our rating for the 5 Star Movement from green to amber on the ‘Hostile to representative democracy’ dimension. the Movement’s vision of democracy is hard to place, but it is clear that it opposes representative democracy in its current form in Italy – with leader Beppe Grillo stating, for instance, that “I will never again ask for anything from this political class. To change [Italy], politicians have to be replaced by the citizens”.]

 

A range of populist parties are tipped to perform well at this week’s European elections. As the results come in, one of the key questions for observers will be: how dangerous are these parties? Our visual tool sets out to answer this question.

For each party, we have devised a set of dimensions that we think are crucial in evaluating the threat each party poses. We have used a traffic light system for each dimension to measure the threat.

Three key messages emerge. First, these parties differ wildly: some are far more toxic than others.

Second, despite these differences, all the parties we have included have their problems. Only some are anti-democratic, racist and xenophobic. But all have difficulties making constructive democratic contributions to the political system. They have been effective at being parties of ‘no’, but that’s not what a democratic system is about; to be a legitimate part of a democratic system you need to be willing to compromise, articulate solutions and aggregate preferences: do these parties have an interest in using the power that marginalised voters give them to do more than vocalise grievances? It is also for these reasons that we are – and should be – wary of their presence in our political landscapes.

Third, this guide may indicate how these different parties should be dealt with. There is little mileage in treating the more extreme parties in our guide as legitimate political forces. They are only intent on disruption and division, and in some cases, violence. But what do we do about those parties with deeply objectionable roots that have shown a willingness to change superficially or tactically, and are busy persuading voters that they are legitimate? How do we deal with them? For a party like the Front National (FN) in France, given its roots and background, it would take a clean break: would the FN publicly and formally break with its roots (in the way that the Italian neo-fascists of the MSI did when they became the National Alliance)? Would they be willing to turn away potential members with hard-line views to justify their claims that they are no longer a party of the far right? Such actions could be a both a litmus test of authenticity as well as a way of distinguishing parties we just don’t like, from parties that are dangerous to democracy.

So how dangerous is this moment? We would argue as we have elsewhere that it is hugely dangerous but for a variety of reasons. However well these parties do over the next few days, they are unlikely to be terribly effective in directly influencing policy in the EP.  They will however be in a position to delegitimise further an institution that is already under attack: by monopolising speaking time, by making the already-slow wheels of Europe grind even more slowly (including on various necessary reform agendas), and therefore contributing to the inefficiency they devote so much of their time criticising.  In that respect they will have a very real impact on Europe. But it is clear that this is also a dangerous moment because populist parties’ successes at the EU level will put pressure on national-level politicians and policy-makers.

 

[1] Marine Le Pen’s attempts to ‘de-demonise’ the Front National have put her at odds with other members of her party. We have scored the Front National according to the leadership’s views; if we were to base the scores on the wider membership, this would give a more dangerous ranking for the party – it would, for instance, score red for racism and amber for anti-Semitism.

 

Methodology

Counterpoint is a research consultancy that helps its clients understand the social and cultural dynamics that shape risk. One of our core areas of expertise is populism. We have published over fifteen reports and pamphlet on populism and extremism in Europe, including in-depth country studies, pan-European electoral analysis, and research on populist radical right parties in the European Parliament.

This matrix evaluates the level of danger that populist parties in Europe pose across an array of dimensions. Based on our research, we consider these dimensions as the most relevant in order to determine how dangerous these parties are. On each dimension, we have ranked the party as green (we evaluate the party as posing little to no danger on this dimension), amber (we evaluate the party as posing some danger on this dimension) or red (we evaluate the party as posing significant danger on this dimension). There is of course an element of subjectivity to the rankings. But by adopting a comparative perspective we hope to give a balanced appraisal of the populist parties we include in the matrix.

We have evaluated each party according to the behaviour of the leadership, not its rank-and-file members or its voters. For some parties, there are clear and well-known differences between the approach of the leadership and others within the party. In these cases, we have made a specific note to clarify these differences.

We have included parties that are considered both populist and a form of protest. We have not included mainstream parties in our study. We have focused on populist protest parties because they are the parties we think observers will be trying to evaluate as the election results come in. (We have also included the Norwegian Progress Party in the study, despite Norway not being a member of the EU. We have done this in order to provide a comparison between the more moderate form of populism the Progress Party represents and the other parties in the study.)

Below we explain each dimension and give examples to show the differences between the red, amber and green categories.

 

Violent

Red – members of the party leadership are connected to violent acts (EXAMPLE: a Golden Dawn spokesperson attached a Communist MP on live television. There have also been arrests of senior Golden Dawn politicians in connection with the murder of Pavlos Fissas)

Amber – the party is connected with violent groups or party leaders have made comments encouraging violence, but there is little evidence that members of the party leadership are themselves violent (EXAMPLE: Jobbik is connected to banned paramilitary group Magyar Garda, but party leaders have denounced violence)

Green – no evidence of violence within the party leadership (EXAMPLE: the leadership of the Sweden Democrats has rejected violence, despite the involvement of some of the party’s politicians in violent acts)

 

Hostile to representative democracy

Red – there is clear evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party’s values are not aligned with the tenets of representative democracy (EXAMPLE: senior politicians from Golden Dawn have praised Adolf Hitler and the party logo resembles a swastika.)

Amber – there is mixed evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party’s values are not aligned with the tenets of representative democracy (EXAMPLE: The Front National has a history of holding hostile views towards representative democracy, advocating direct democracy and the use of referenda on most political issues, and overall calling for more exclusively majoritarian norms, including more movement-based politics rather than party political politics.)

Green – there is little or no evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party’s values are not aligned with the tenets of representative democracy (EXAMPLE: while UKIP has advocated referenda on certain issues, it has shown reverence for the UK’s form of parliamentary democracy, including the important role of political parties.)

 

Extremist past

Red – there is clear evidence from the party’s history that the party promoted (or promotes) values directly opposed to democracy and human rights (EXAMPLE: the Front National originated from extremist groups opposed to Algerian independence.)

Amber – there is mixed evidence from the party’s history that the party promoted (or promotes) values directly opposed to democracy and human rights (EXAMPLE: the roots of the Slovak National Party (SNS) are in the campaign for Slovakian independence in the 1990s. It has had a chequered past, with a number of splits and changes in approach. But the SNS has claimed continuity with the historical Slovak National Party, which in turn had members connected to the Nazi regime in Slovakia, and the party shown support for fascist leader Jozef Tiso)

Green – there is little or no evidence from the party’s history that the party promoted (or promotes) values directly opposed to democracy and human rights (EXAMPLE: the PVV does not have an extremist past. Geert Wilders founded the party after leaving the centre right VVD over a disagreement on the question of Turkey’s potential membership of the EU.)

 

Racist

Red – there is clear evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against people on the basis of race or ethnic group (EXAMPLE: despite efforts to conceal it, the British National Party is clearly a racist party – until recently it only allowed white members in its ranks, but was forced to drop its stipulation that members had to be “indigenous Caucasian”. The party has continued to make racist statements – for instance, wishing its members a “white Christmas” in a thinly veiled racist attack.)

Amber – there is mixed evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against people on the basis of race or ethnic group (EXAMPLE: PVV leader Geert Wilders recently caused controversy when he said he wanted “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands, but for the most part he has veered away from outright racism, arguing that he is only “intolerant of the intolerant”.)

Green – there is little or no evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against people on the basis of race or ethnic group (EXAMPLE: the leadership of the Alternative für Deutschland have steered clear of racist remarks.)

 

Xenophobic

Red – there is clear evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of people deemed to be different (EXAMPLE: the Austrian Freedom Party has used slogans such as “Secure pensions instead of millions of Asylum Seekers”. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache has told certain immigrants to “go back home”.)

Amber – there is mixed evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of people deemed to be different (EXAMPLE: the Alternative for Germany has tread carefully on issues such as immigration and the EU. On the other hand, one of it slogans is “Immigration according to qualification, not into welfare”, compared by some to similar slogans used by the German neo-Nazi NPD.)

Green – there is little or no evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of people deemed to be different (EXAMPLE: unlike other populist parties, the Five Star Movement has tended to avoid stoking fears around immigration, focusing instead on attacking corruption and the Italian political elite.)

 

Islamophobic

Red – there is clear evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of Muslims (EXAMPLE: the PVV advocates the banning of the Koran.)

Amber – there is mixed evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of Muslims (EXAMPLE: the Front National’s Marine Le Pen has made inflammatory statements about Muslims, but she has avoided the more extreme language of the PVV, preferring to couch her views in the context of French secular values.)

Green – there is little or no evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of Muslims (EXAMPLE: there is little evidence of the leadership of the Five Star Movement discussing Islam or Muslims in a negative way.)

 

Anti-Semitic

Red – there is clear evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of Jews (EXAMPLE: Márton Gyöngyösi, Jobbik’s deputy parliamentary leader, in 2012 asked for a list of Jews in Hungary posing a “national security risk” to be created.)

Amber – there is mixed evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of Jews (EXAMPLE: Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache was at the centre of a scandal in 2012 when he posted a cartoon on his Facebook page that some argued could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. However, Strache has made attempts to renounce his party’s anti-Semitic past by showing support for Israel.)

Green – there is little or no evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party stokes fears of Jews (EXAMPLE: Geert Wilders, leader of the PVV, has presented himself as an opponent of anti-Semitism and a firm supporter of Israel.)

 

Homophobic

Red – there is clear evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against gay people (EXAMPLE: Ataka leader Volen Siderov recently proposed an amendment calling for “public manifestations of homosexuality” to be punishable with imprisonment.)

Amber – there is mixed evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against gay people (EXAMPLE: the Sweden Democrats are opposed to gay adoption and gay marriage.)

Green – there is little or no evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against gay people (EXAMPLE: The PVV is a supporter of gay marriage.)

 

Sexist

Red – there is clear evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against women (EXAMPLE: The BNP leadership has a history of sexist behaviour – in one instance, leader Nick Griffin made a misogynistic comment on Twitter about television chef Nigella Lawson.)

Amber – there is mixed evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against women (EXAMPLE: last year, Finns Party leader Timo Soini criticised the gender balance of the cabinet, arguing that the dominance of women demonstrated the Social Democrats’ failure to support working class men. In response to claims of chauvinism, female party leaders argued that the party was not sexist.)

Green – there is little or no evidence – either from the party manifesto or comments by the party leadership – that the party discriminates against women (EXAMPLE: The Front National, under new female leader Marine Le Pen, shows little evidence of sexism.)

 

Democratic contribution

Red – the party makes no democratic contribution, attacking current policies but offering no realistic reforms or solutions. It is a purely destructive force (EXAMPLE: UKIP have failed to offer a clear political programme – leader Nigel Farage has rejected his party’s previous manifesto as “drivel”. UKIP MEPs do little to engage in policy work in the European Parliament, for the most part voting against any piece of legislation put to them, even those that are theoretically in line with the party’s values.)

Amber: the party makes a limited democratic contribution in some policy areas, but otherwise hampers and derails constructive political debate. (EXAMPLE: the AfD, known in Germany as the “party of professors”, has contributed an alternative perspective to the macroeconomics of the Eurozone crisis, but the party is divided over many key policy areas and its positive platform is unclear.)

Green – the party is a constructive political force that contributes to responsible policy-making and a healthy political debate (EXAMPLE: the Norwegian Progress Party is now close to being this kind of political actor since its entry into government with the Conservatives.)

 

Direction

Red – the party is transforming into a more radical and destructive political force (EXAMPLE: the PVV has radicalised over recent years, with Wilders’ language prompting defections from high-profile members.)

Amber – there is no clear evidence suggesting that the party is either becoming more moderate or more radical (EXAMPLE: the Austrian Freedom Party has made some attempts to present itself differently, but its efforts are not as extensive as Marine Le Pen’s ‘de-demonisation’ campaign.)

Green – the party is transforming into a more moderate and serious political force (EXAMPLE: Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, has made efforts to ‘de-demonise’ her party.)

 

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