The European Union has been in crisis management mode for years. And lately, there’s a new trend in town: European populism parties.
I know what populism is but I want to hear you say it.
Populist movements tend to be anti-establishment, frustrated, and tired with the same-old way of doing things. They can be left or right leaning. Usually, it’s working class voters coming together to take their government back from the ‘out-of-touch elites’ in charge. If you think you’ve heard a politician use this line on you before, you have.
So how'd we get here?
The EU’s populist wave has been building for years. It started when the global financial crisis hit in ‘08 and then everyone woke up to a Greek tragedy. After years of living like it was a big fat Greek wedding, Greece found itself in debt. Bad. Cue bailouts, and Greece signing on to austerity measures (hint: public sector layoffs, pension cuts, tax hikes) to get its balance sheet in check.
Sh*t got real. Portugal, Cyprus, Ireland, and Spain also needed bailouts. Unemployment rates rose and pension funds took serious hits. After a few years, most countries pulled back from the brink of crisis. But the EU’s economy has never fully recovered.
Yup. ICYMI, many countries in the Mideast and Africa haven’t been ideal places to live lately. Think: weak economies, ISIS, a brutal civil war in Syria. That’s led millions of migrants and refugees to leave home for the EU. It’s the worst immigration crisis the continent’s faced since WWII. And the EU is deeply split on what to do. Some countries (like Hungary) have tried to install fences to keep them out, but others (like Germany) have rolled out the welcome mat.
So where are we now?
Take a lot of anxiety over the migrant and refugee crisis, stir in lingering economic issues, and you have populist stew. Here’s what's been going down...
The UK...as in one of the largest economies in the EU voted to Brexit. That’s thanks in big part to the rise of a populist party known as UKIP, whose anti-EU, anti-immigration message hit a nerve with a lot of Brits.
The US...as in not an EU country. But ICYMI, the US is a major global superpower – and the EU’s strongest ally and trading buddy. So when Donald Trump got elected on an anti-establishment, tough-on-immigration message, a lot of populist parties in the EU suddenly looked more legit to voters.
Italy...as in the one that said ‘arrivederci’ to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in a surprise vote in 2016. And it looks like the Five Star Movement could be ready to take over. They are anti-immigration, and have called for a Brexit-style vote on whether to stay in the EU.
France and the Netherlands...as in the ones with new leaders saying 'phew, that was close.' Both of the countries hired pro-EU leaders in 2017. But anti-immigration, anti-EU parties got significant popularity bumps and almost won.
Oy, so what happens now?
More elections. Next up: Germany and Austria. So far, populist parties with an anti-EU streak have been the popular kids at the polls. But some say their winning streak may be coming to an end. So now the global community is waiting and watching to see if voters still have populism fever.
Every time the EU fam gets together these days, it gets more and more awkward. And populism is still on everyone's minds, especially with more elections on the gcal.