Responding to Populist Rhetoric: A Guide

The European Parliament elections in May signalled a decisive shift in the political dynamics of this key institution. The significant increase in MEPs from a range of populist parties presents new challenges for the mainstream political groups, from working out how to engage with the new members of the European Parliament to developing a successful strategy for reaching out to those voters attracted to populist politics.

One of the greatest challenges is the captivating power of populist language. We intend this short publication to be a guide for politicians and campaigners who are searching for ways to respond effectively. The pamphlet comprises our analysis of populist rhetoric in the run-up to May’s European elections, focusing on the discourse of five parties: the Front National in France, UKIP in the UK, the Lega Nord in Italy, the FPÖ in Austria, and the PVV in the Netherlands. We include specific frames and narratives used by populist MEPs, case studies from plenary debates, and examples of how to build responses and counterarguments. For this pamphlet, we construct our examples from debates in the European Parliament – but we also hope that these exchanges can be a valuable resource for understanding the role of populism in the broader European context.

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