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The new populist map of Europe

UnHerd's map of Europe, measured by Right-populist parties' share of seats in the European Parliament

June 11, 2024 - 11:55am

The big story of the weekend’s elections to the European Parliament was the rise of Right-populist parties. From France and Italy to Germany and Austria, anti-establishment groups increased their vote share and underlined their growing power in the wake of widespread protests across the continent earlier this year. But which countries have seen the most pronounced Rightward turn? Which is the European Union’s most populist country?

UnHerd has conducted its own analysis, combining the percentage of available seats in each EU country won — at the time of writing — by parties which are members of the EU’s Right-populist groups, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID). Our calculation has also included cases, such as the AfD in Germany and Fidesz in Hungary, where Right-populist parties are unaffiliated with the European Parliament groups.

Europe’s Right-populist league table
% of seats won in 2024 elections by Right-populist parties

In terms of proportion of European Parliament seats won by Right-populist parties, Hungary comes out on top with 52%, or 11 out of 21 available seats. This is thanks to the success of the Right-wing Fidesz-KDNP coalition, consisting of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s governing party and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), which is now unaffiliated with any of the Parliament’s groups having left the European People’s Party Group (EPP) in 2021.

France and Italy are second and third, respectively, on the populist leaderboard, following the surge of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) in the Fifth Republic and the 24 seats achieved by Brothers of Italy, an ECR member. While Poland and Austria round out the top five for percentage of seats won, a clear trend emerging is that Europe’s most established economies — France, Italy and Germany (which ranks fourth in terms of total seats won by Right-populist parties) — are among its most sensitive to populist movements.

The new populist map of Europe
European Parliament election results 2024

Politically, Europe’s map is being redrawn, and UnHerd has produced a visualisation of where this change is most apparent. While EU states in northwestern Europe are turning populist following the weekend’s results, the trend has been less dramatic in the Iberian countries of Spain and Portugal, in Eastern Europe, and in Scandinavia. This is despite farmer protests in Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria last year, not to mention the previous success of the Right-wing Sweden Democrats.

With an election already called in France, the effects of these election results are bound to reverberate around the continent for some time. Whether Europe’s map will be reconfigured further remains to be seen.

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John Tyler
John Tyler
7 days ago

Over the course of many decades, the centre of British politics has shifted leftward – the current centre would once have been regarded as distinctly left leaning. Even parties currently called right wing are strongly influenced by social ideology from the left.
The so-called “populist left” is a modern term for what was once regarded as mildly right wing. The term “populist” is often used by commentators and taken by readers to mean “extreme”. This is highly misleading. The fact that many of the recently-elected MEPs are against uncontrolled immigration and are in favour of law and order does not make them right wing; decades ago, that was the common thinking in the Labour Party age a time when they were considered far left of their present state. The only truly right-wing stance for most of these “populist” right-wingers is that they believe in personal responsibility over reliance on the state. Few of them are actually populists, i.e. promising whatever popular things people want to hear. Let’s be honest, almost all politicians are populist to a degree. The issue with our current mainstream politicians is that they listen far more intently to extremist minorities than to the population as a whole. If paying attention to the reasonable aspirations of ordinary people is automatically branded “populist” in a pejorative way then we are not in a democracy! Of course, I wouldn’t be the first to question whether our democracy has become a sham to hide the operational power of technocrats.

RA Znayder
RA Znayder
5 days ago
Reply to  John Tyler

A left winger will often say mainstream politics has shifted to the right and a right winger will say it has shifted to the left. They are both correct.
Since the neoliberal era, economics has shifted a lot to right, while in the cultural sphere we see that the status quo have adopted a, sort off, new left politics focusing on all kinds of marginalized groups and environmentalism. The reason why I think this status quo is quite persistent is because this synergy has proven to be very good at securing the power structure that appeared after the neoliberal turn. Underneath, of course, all of it is somewhat disingenuous. For example, the centre-right may say they do not like migration now but they do like cheap labor and keeping asset prices up. Or at least their financiers do. The centre-left has similar tendencies and will not touch the neoliberal power structure, instead settling for some kind of third way politics and actually not doing all that much for marginalized groups. This is also why, in practice, there is very little difference between the centre left and right.
Who increasingly do not like this consensus are the “normal working people”, who feel more or less betrayed. And this is where the populists come in. I don’t see that right wing populists are all about personal responsibility. Many – at least as far as rhetoric goes – actually claim to pursue social policies that could be identified as left wing or even socialist. Even Trump did this. Some even appeal to nativist collectivism. Of course there are some libertarians as well but I wouldn’t say that’s a strong current. Although quite frankly, populist ideology is often fuzzy, especially on economics. There are also some left wing parties appearing on stage who are now adopting very right wing populist policies such as the social democrats in Denmark.

Last edited 5 days ago by RA Znayder
John Tyler
John Tyler
4 days ago
Reply to  RA Znayder

I actually agree with much of this. Of course, there’s a great deal of crossover. Prime examples of how nomenclature can muddy the waters are our perception of the Nazi party as being fascist, when it described itself as socialist, and the ‘democratic’ label used by so many communist totalitarian regimes. One my biggest complaints is that mainstream politicians and commentators so often use terms such as ‘populist’ and ‘extreme’ or ‘left’ and ‘right’ that they are meaningless to anyone who is not deeply partisan. It’s playing goodies and baddies, 1950s western films with black hats and white ones. In other words, it devalues political discourse and is every bit as ‘populist’ as the despised populists.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 days ago

Isn’t it funny how “populist” is considered to be a bad label by the establishment media? The word comes from the same root as people or population, so implies politics that are for the people, or that put people first. Shouldn’t all political parties be populist? If they are not in the interests of people, whose interests are they serving?

Last edited 7 days ago by UnHerd Reader
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
6 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

This is why I avoid using the word as far as possible. The only things I call populist are parties/people who look to make quick gains by offering simple solutions to complex problems. And, going by that definition, almost all politicians and political parties are going to have their “populist” moments…which renders the word pretty much useless as a political weapon of war.

Paul
Paul
6 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I take “populist” to be mostly a euphemism for “opposed to the rise of political Islam in Europe, and to the immigration policies that enable it”.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
6 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

They are serving the interests of the elites, it’s always been this way. When the so called populists ever get power they will have to deal with the entrenched bureaucrats and career civil servants, special interest groups, pressure from large corporations and the big banks, international agreements and trade deals, institutions of all kinds, military industrial complex (any country) , other levels of government such as state (provincial in my place), big city municipal governments, public sector unions, legal and judicial . If they can’t meander the system nothing will get done, only babble. Good luck to them.

Matt M
Matt M
6 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I was asked to fill out a survey on UnHerd the other day. I had to position myself on the political spectrum. A few years ago I would have chosen “Centre-right” but today I would be embarrassed to be called Centre-right which smacks of Open Borders, Net Zero and various forms of Wokery. So I chose the “Far-right” option which I will wear as a badge of honour.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
6 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Populist of the left or right wing could also be taken to mean politicians who like to be rabble rousers for no worthwhile motive other than to serve their own ends. The lynch mobs were popular in certain places back in the day – but would we really want to be ruled by them?
Populist is also close to the word popular, which implies politicians who just want to seek popularity with the masses and haven’t got the bottle to tell them what they need to hear.

RA Znayder
RA Znayder
5 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I think there are a couple of implicit fears underlying to the populist label.
First, that such parties are unrealistic in their promises, contrary to the technocrats. Second, that they are not just unrealistic but disingenuous, trying to exploit primal fears and scapegoats simply to gain power. Third, that the ultimate negative conclusion of mass culture can be something like WW II.

Andrew F
Andrew F
7 days ago

What this map is missing are policies of governing parties in countries like Denmark.
The vote share of “populist right” in Denmark went down after mainstream parties adopted their immigration policies.
It would be interesting for subscribers if Unherd commissioned article about Denmark experience.
Why Dennish mainstream responded to People’s wishes whereas it is not happening in uk or Germany, for example?
Let’s remember as well that in many EU countries, voters noticed “punishment” of countries like Poland for not complaying with orders of European Commision (withholding recovery fund money etc).
So they did not vote for populist parties.
That is Fourth Reich “democracy” in action.
I am glad we left.

David Morley
David Morley
6 days ago
Reply to  Andrew F

The vote share of “populist right” in Denmark went down after mainstream parties adopted their immigration policies.

Commented to this effect before I read your post. In a democracy you really cannot keep pushing unpopular policies forever.

Matt M
Matt M
6 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

The sad thing is that the Conservatives in Britain could have done this better than anyone. They could have made immigration their number one issue and not allowed the demands from various pressure groups for more immigrants to take precedence over the people’s demand for reduced numbers. Same with illegal immigration, anti-British wokery, the trans stuff, not doing net zero. In other words they could have been a mainstream “populist” party. If they had, they would have been romping home next month rather than facing their own demise.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
6 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

The big wheels of the parliamentary wing of the party and those who do the fixing behind them are all related by family or have links to gig economy backers/funders, and all of these rely on a migrant workforce.

The idea that the Tory party was ever going to do anything about immigration was facile. No surprise at all to find it had increased after Brexit.

Matt M
Matt M
6 days ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

There is much in what you say.
I have often thought the reason the government didn’t embrace remote working.
Working from home is surely the sort of silver-bullet for housing, family formation, general happiness etc that only comes along once in a lifetime.
It might suck for twenty year olds but once you get to the age of settling down to marriage and kids, being able to move away from a flat outer London to an affordable family home in, say, Herefordshire while still earning city money is almost miraculous. You can afford more space, you can move closer to your own parents or siblings you can share the childcare. The digital revolution made it possible, the pandemic accelerated the process.
Yet the government failed to get behind it and instead insisted on returning to the office. Why?
My bet is the influence of commercial property funds on the Tory top brass.

Last edited 6 days ago by Matt M
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
6 days ago

The people are rebelling because they find the left revolting. Who could have possibly guessed that years of excess might cause the pendulum to reverse course, though the right/left binary is becoming tedious. You don’t have to be of the right to recognize that the endless immigration of third-world people unfamiliar with and often hostile to the native culture will not go well.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
7 days ago

For those worried about the “death of American democracy”, I’d like to point out that the US elected the least number of populist seats to the European Parliament of any nation.

Matt M
Matt M
6 days ago

I actually think you tied with that Island of Fascists, Brexit Britain.

David Morley
David Morley
6 days ago

I’m not sure how useful the terms left and right are in relation to these movements. A “right wing” party which rejects neoliberalism and a left wing party which embraces social conservatism might find themselves with much in common.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
6 days ago

Even though the “populists” are already doing well in Austria, I think they would do even better if they had a Meloni or Le Pen figure. At the moment, the FPÖ is just such a male space, it’s tough for women to relate to or to imagine themselves in that space, either personally or politically. It’s what you call a “Bierzelt“-Party, i.e. replicating the behaviours in your typical tent at a beer festival. The men sitting around drinking and talking to each other while the women go off separately (with the kids, if there are any). Traditional gender roles and all that.
And, to be honest, I think there are quite a few women who the FPÖ could get onside, for example by occupying the available political ground relating to female concerns about large numbers of young men arriving from places with – I’ll say it how I see it – medieval views on women. I’ve heard Le Pen gets some mileage off that.
But it has to be done in a more enlightened way which appeals to women rather than their boyfriends, fathers, husbands. In its existing form, I reckon the FPÖ would tackle the issue in a kind of beating-the-chest-we-want-to-protect-our-women-from-the-invaders kind of way. Which is, itself, backwards.

Last edited 6 days ago by Katharine Eyre
Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
6 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Superb analysis (again).
As it happens, i love beer and beer festivals, but luckily my (female) partner does too! I know exactly what you mean about male behaviour at such events, and i’ll add to that: blocking the bar in pubs, hindering those who want to get a look at what’s on cask from having a leisurely view, although i’m not averse to pushing my way through the gang of sad blokes milling around each other, jockeying for “top dog” position just as schoolboys do.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
6 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

After 20 years in Austria, I’m very good at pushing myself forward in such situations. Whether male or female, you have to – queues here aren’t the quasi-religion that they are in the UK. They’re more like somewhere you stand until you see a good opportunity to skip ahead. Being too courteous/not being able to elbow your way forward just means you get a raw deal or left behind. I just have to remember to put my British hat back on when I get off the plane, or risk being the subject of righteous tutting…

Last edited 6 days ago by Katharine Eyre
Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
6 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

We are indeed a queue-loving nation, with ordering at the bar being the sole exception.
This changed for a while in the aftermath of Covid, and some places still have a queueing system, which i suppose is fair but somehow un-British in the sense that arriving at a bar and summoning service is a particular artform in itself, and long may it remain so.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
6 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Love your comment about queues. After living in Germanic countries for over twenty years and then just having moved to the States, my wife often had to remind me that my shopping ‘cart’ (as they call it over here) is not a weapon. The supermarket experience between a Whole Foods in the US and an Albert Heijn in Amsterdam is worlds apart.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Are Americans the only ones who routinely park “shopping carts” in such a way as to block supermarket aisles and even the intersections of aisles?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
6 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Working as a barman when I was younger, I would keep a scrupulous eye on who was next to be served. Occasionally I would ask “Who was next ?” and then say to the obviously lying punters” No – it wasn’t you”. Strangely, I was never punched 


Last edited 6 days ago by Ian Barton
David Morley
David Morley
6 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

French women are tougher. They don’t sit and whinge about men interrupting them, or mansplaining and the rest. They get stuck in and take no prisoners.

I’m not sure if that is national character, culture, high value placed on intellectual debate or just a low tolerance of playing the victim. Equality in France does not mean getting special treatment – with the result that women come up to the mark.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
6 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

What’s wrong with traditional gender roles (what a phrase anyway)? It got us all here. Let’s see how the next bus gets on.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
6 days ago

Nothing wrong with traditional gender roles, provided people are not forced or manipulated into them. Nobody would get me to live in a traditional gender role, I’d learn to shoot and point a gun at them instead.
If some decent amounts of money were put into the roles of child nurse, chief cook and bottle washer – I might have been tempted to try it for size when I was still young. But I certainly would never have contemplated doing it for nothing.

David Morley
David Morley
6 days ago

What is also interesting is those countries which have taken the impetus out of right wing populism by adopting some of their policies, or leaning towards them. Denmark for instance.

Saul D
Saul D
6 days ago

A part from the reaction against Macron, the most interesting bit of the elections was what was happening to the Greens. Is some of what’s happening a push-back against Net Zero, or a negative reaction to the increased extremism of disruptive environmental activists?

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
6 days ago

Whenever people and/or populist politicians talk about the ‘establishment’, I’m never sure to which establishment they are referring. There is one that largely governs our cultural life in the arts that tends to be ‘progressive’ or left of centre – and there is the sort that represents the interests of finance and the corporate sector. Both have their cherished ideology that they want us to buy into without reserve – but the older I get the more cynical I become about their motives.
I feel more strongly that politics has become a battlefield between the two different sections of the establishment, and there is nothing in it for ordinary people like me that aren’t super rich, aren’t affluent middle class and don’t subscribe to wokery, but want to live in a society that is civilised and respects the rule of law.
Somebody once said ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’, and that is just how I view politicians. We all need to get more skilful at looking the gift horse in the eye, otherwise we are doomed to unrepresentative government that merely looks after the interests of a few select small groups – and to hell with the rest of us.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
6 days ago

Don’t get carried away, chaps!
The EU elections generally have a tiny turnout and the swivel eyed loons are the only ones who really care about this stuff. Your wet dreams about Germany and France turning to the extreme right are not going to happen. Britain is obviously about to take a sharp turn to the left and, despite the fearmongering, Scandinavians have ignored you, other than the far right crazies who choose to murder school children to try to make their point.
Hungary and Italy, those bastions of fascism, will do whatever they do and everyone will continue to ignore them.
Populism, in these cases, is simply racism, a brand that the far right is very used to pushing.