by Peter Franklin
Monday, 31
January 2022
Analysis
10:12

Across Europe, Right-wing populists are back

Hard-Right parties made significant gains in Portugal and the Netherlands
by Peter Franklin
Leader of far-Right party Chega, Andre Ventura. Credit: Getty

Portugal was one of the last countries in Europe without a significant Right-wing populist party. In the 2019 general election, the newly formed Chega party — whose name means “enough” — won a single seat and 1% of the vote. 

But in yesterday’s snap general election, things changed. The overall result was a convincing win for the governing Socialists. Most of the other parties, whether to the Left or the Right of the government, were punished by the voters for forcing the early election. Chega, however, was an exception. It won twelve seats and 7% of the vote to become Portugal’s third party. 

As in Spain, it had been assumed that Portugal was immune to the populist wave crashing over the rest of Europe. The memory of the Franco and Salazar dictatorships (which only ended in the 1970s) was supposedly too recent to give the radical Right any chance of success at the ballot box. But with the rise of Vox in Spain and now Chega in Portugal, that theory has been disproved. 

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, another turn up for the books. According to the results of the latest Peil opinion poll (charted here by Europe Elects) — two parties of the populist Right are now in third and fourth place. 

Credit: Europe Elects

In a fractured political landscape, the rise of the JA21 (“Right Answer”) party stands out. It was only formed in 2020 as a split from Thierry Baudet’s Forum for Democracy. It won three seats in last year’s general election, but its current support would give it 13 seats.

Presenting a more acceptable face to the electorate than either the Forum for Democracy or Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, JA21 is siphoning votes from the centrist and centre-Right parties in the governing coalition. The once mighty Christian Democrats are falling to pieces and the People’s Party of Mark Rutte, the long-serving Prime Minister, has also seen its support slump. If this pattern continues it will be increasingly difficult to keep the populists out of government. 

In their different ways both Portugal and the Netherlands serve as a warning against complacency. It’s true that the populist Right is a chaotic mess: populist leaders come and go; populist parties rise and fall. However, in one form or the other, the populist challenge to the establishment persists.

In France, a figure like Éric Zemmour can emerge from nowhere to mount a serious challenge for the Presidency. In America, Donald Trump is currently on course to win a bigger victory in 2024 than he won in 2016. 

The political alienation that caused populism to surge in the first place still exists — and populist politicians are still around to exploit it.

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Graham Stull
Graham Stull
10 months ago

It’s becoming a bit of a habit for me to leave this comment on such articles, but hey ho, here goes:
It is useful to understand a certain element of support for populism through the lens of authoritarianism/liberalism. One of the more interesting things to emerge out of the covid chaos has been how the so-called populists have shown a reluctance to embrace authoritiarian diktats on covid from globalist technocrats.
I have said it before and I will say it again: whatever the purported colour of the political bran, those who mess with our fundamental freedoms for political gain have lost my support. If that means I end up voting for populists, then so be it.
And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Andrea X
Andrea X
10 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

And I am sure I am not alone in saying that you should write for UnHerd 😉

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Thanks Andrea!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

And Graham went to protest in Brussels!

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
10 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Well said. Describing such protests as “hard right” is common among those drifting with the slow chug of the establishment towards some sort of socialist or even Marxist future. Anybody who so much as stands still is branded, looked upon as beyond the pale, denied access to the vast majority of MSM platforms and frequently denied employment. They are certainly prevented from publishing – with even established authors insufficiently onside finding their reputations trashed and their work pulped. So the reality of the situation is not that the “hard right” is on the rise but that the rump of honest folk is doing its best to fight the hard left, currently and undemocratically in charge of the west.

Peter MacDonagh
Peter MacDonagh
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Marxist or Global Corporations disguised as Marxists? Looks like they took the rhetoric of the left and turned it against them so that the left became the slaves of the 1% they used hate. Toss in some confusing culture war to divide and conquer.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
10 months ago

Marxism always offers the one per cent a sort of fascist choice – join us in our hierarchy of suppression or be suppressed. Lenin interviewed Russian industrialists in 1918 with a view to making the same deal. They were too Liberal to comply. Communism is feudalism and loves the one per cent, so long as it parrots the mystic doctrine and helps in stamping on the rest of us.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
10 months ago

 If this pattern continues it will be increasingly difficult to keep the populists out of government. 
I love the tacit assumption that we’re all agreed that keeping them out is what we all want. It makes you wonder who’s voting for these guys. .

D M
D M
10 months ago

I know – governments mustn’t do anything that the populus actually want !

D Glover
D Glover
10 months ago

Peter Franklin is using ‘populist’ here as the elite’s term of disparagement for ‘popular’
Ordinary people aren’t as clever as elite people, so they don’t know what is best for them. If given the chance they even vote for ‘populists’ like Trump, Farage, or Le Pen who promise them what they mistakenly want.
I suppose the elite should control which candidates are allowed to stand for election. Another word for elite is aristocracy.

D M
D M
10 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Yes and I thought we’d got rid of the concept of the forty shilling freeholder

Last edited 10 months ago by D M
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

The Global Elites not only chose who stands, they OWN those who are in power.

D M
D M
10 months ago

The old ‘left’ of my youth were economically left wing but socially and culturally conservative. However the new ‘left’ are socially and culturally ‘progressive’ ( or woke as many conservatives would say ) – and not always left wing economically. There seems to be no groundswell of support for cultural and economic progressivism amongst the populus so what is happening is hardly surprising.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago
Reply to  D M

Populist just means those against the Fas* ist Left/Liberal, Neo-Marxists usefull idiots of the Oligarch, Kleptocrat, Global Elites. (WHO, IMF, WEF and their patrons who own the global finance and corporations)

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago

Are ‘populists’ always right wing?

D M
D M
10 months ago

Populism is simply a term of disparagement for cultural and social conservatism. In fact many so called populists are culturally conservative but can accept a degree of social progressivism. Also populists can be quite liberal in the traditional sense rather than authoritarian progressive.

Last edited 10 months ago by D M
Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
10 months ago
Reply to  D M

I’ve never understood how any poltical and legal dispensation, whether ‘progressive’ or ‘conservative’, could ever be instituted by not being ‘authoritarian’.
You have only two choices: authority or anarchy. The latter claims a kind of ‘liberal’ colouring but in practice always devolves to the rule of the thug (as in ‘nature’). The only civilised choice is some kind of ‘authoritarianism’ (there are basically two kinds). What is more interesting is how ‘authoritarianism’ can be shaped differently by political ‘communities’. Where an authority is not recognised the only possible ‘liberal’ means of settling the dispute is the mechanism of free secession and separation (e.g. emigration or the distingusihing of separate domains: independence). Leftism denies this impulse by insisting that all solutions should be inclusive in nature and global in scope (hence the leftists’ natural turn towards external compulsion (being told what to do by others)). In conservative circles ‘authority’ is submitted to, if at all, because it is accepted as overwhelmingly compelling by the individual. The initiative in that case always lies in personal, self-enforced submission, even when no direct pressure is applied.

Last edited 10 months ago by Arnold Grutt
D M
D M
10 months ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

I think I understand and agree with what you say. Society is a group of people who voluntarily accept a set of rules for how they will interact . Different societies with different sets of rules can coexist provided that can accept that other societies can and have a right to exist – this is the genius of civilisation rather than tribalism. As societies get larger they have much more difficulty in holding together without falling into anarchy or fighting. The left seem to imagine that we live or can live in one universal society which is obvious nonsense. There is a very fine balance between civilisation and anarchy. Governments can help but ultimately can only exist with consent of the governed.

Last edited 10 months ago by D M
Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
10 months ago
Reply to  D M

Nice comment on the neolibs we’ve been saddled with in the West, DM. Say, does that stand for Dungeon Master, by the way?

andyonyxxx
andyonyxxx
10 months ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

The Man Who Was Thursday

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago
Reply to  D M

This is the first google I got: “a person, especially a politician, who strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups e.g. he ran as a populist on an anti-corruption platform”
What is so awful about that?

D M
D M
10 months ago

Nothing wrong at all. But the elites use the term as an insult. E.g. Boris Johnson is currently being criticised for wanting to do things which appeal to his electors to divert from his problems

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago
Reply to  D M

That is the point I am getting to….and don’t all politicians divert? And run on particular tickets? It is just a crock.

D M
D M
10 months ago

Well yes . Of course politicians run on tickets and do things to try to keep in power. Some succeed in doing things that people like and stay in power because of this but the main thing is responding to events to keep us safe and hold society together. Grand initiatives can be dangerously damaging and should be viewed with suspicion. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Honestly we still live in a relatively civilised country – we certainly don’t need major changes ( to completely change society as some politicians have aspired to !) – just some fine tuning

Bill W
Bill W
10 months ago

What is the difference between a popular party and a populist party? Or popular views and populist views. That is a rhetorical question, as think I know the answer. During my lifetime the establishment centre of gravity in so many areas has been shifted so far to the progressive cultural left, just about anything popular that doesn’t conform with the progressives’ grip on just about everything ends up being deemed populist and treated accordingly. Thank God for Brexit.

Last edited 10 months ago by Bill W
R S Foster
R S Foster
10 months ago

“- and populist politicians are still around to (exploit it) ACTUALLY LISTEN TO WHAT PEOPLE SAY, AND TRY TO RESPOND TO IT”…there, fixed it for you…

D M
D M
10 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Of course

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

Better than what we have now… woke, climate change obsessive, coronaphobe racism addicts…

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
10 months ago

Maternal democracy ( I was going to say “Paternal”, but given the ‘progressive’ history of the last 100 years or so, maybe ‘maternal’ is increasingly relevant ?).

Has Democracy always been ‘guided’, is democracy, allowed, only just as long as it’s always just a little bit and the Demos only ever have the choice of ‘correct’ options, because, when they do get a real choice, they might just get it wrong ( Brexit, Trump, Maastricht etc) ?

Is there just too much ‘uncontrolled’ information out there ? Are the masses finally finding a voice, a voice that, in the past (even yesterday) often goes unheard, because it is at odds with the establishment view of the world ?

I see a great deal of peril ahead, even if it could’ve possibly been avoided , after all ‘most’ people probably don’t overly mind a bit of Maternal/Paternal democracy, the problem is that with all the new information, and ways of getting it, democracy is being seen as anything but, and the establishment have been as slow as a striking slug when it comes to recognising the changing political landscape and that the people will no longer be quite so compliant and be fobbed off with being ignored or deceived.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
10 months ago

Many notions of left and right seem to have flipped. It feels as if we live in a post-ideological world, where the ideologies of old are only employed as smoke and mirrors, so that the dynamic of wealth concentration can continue to dominate almost unobserved.

Are there any politicians left who passionately believe in some principle or other? No, they’re all two-tongued, morally flexible managers, enjoying the spotlight, facilitating wealth concentration, hoping to get a few crumbs.

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
10 months ago

Sigh. What does “hard right” even mean? Seeing the term is highly correlated with an author who has very little understanding of what they are discussing.

maria vl
maria vl
10 months ago

Well, Portuguese Chega is more or less a (more aggressive) re-brand of CDS, the historical right-wing party that disappeared in this elections (0 seats). Perhaps, in European terms, the news should be the unexpected big majority won by the socialist party, who has been in power for the last six years (in minority governments)

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

In a fractured political landscape,
What little I know of French and German politics I’ve learned from John Lichfield and Katya Hoyer on Unherd. The best description of the politics of those countries does seem to be “fractured.”
There are so many parties of all shapes and sizes in those countries and looking at the table in this article about the Netherlands it seems to be true there too.
Europeans know their countries are broken. They recognize so many major issues facing them but it’s clear they can’t agree on what to do, hence the endless parties with endless proposed solutions. Germany now has a coalition government of people who seem to be very uncomfortable bedfellows.
Unfortunately, as with the political division in the US, at a time when the west needs a clear direction and strong leadership we’re likely to get ineffective coalitions or a US-style see-saw between left and right.
I’m glad the populists are gaining ground. If nothing else they’ll rattle the establishment, but they still seem far from obtaining a clear mandate to govern anywhere.

JP Martin
JP Martin
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

No one learns anything about French politics from John Lichfield 🙂

David Yetter
David Yetter
10 months ago

Of course it’s become easier and easier to be considered “hard right” or “far right” in Europe. All one has to do is notice that Islamic sharia (regardless of the fiqh adhered to) is deeply illiberal and come to the conclusion that Europe should not have an open door to the Muslim world and even if your other positions are absolutely centrist, hey presto! You’re far right!