In the wake of Brexit and the growing dissatisfaction of European voters, populists are gaining ground across the continent. But experts don’t seem concerned, as they see the shake-up as a healthy sign of democracy.
“Traditional parties should learn from populists,” said Paolo Graziano, a professor of Political Science at the University of Padua, speaking at this year’s State of the Union conference, organised by the European University Institute in Florence.
“Citizens are asking for more coherence, more involvement and more caring about their everyday life,” he added, noting that social media is creating a new eagerness to get involved.
Even though party membership is dwindling in most countries, Europeans are interested in new forms of affiliation through social media and alternative political networks.
Calling it a low-cost ideology, Graziano explains that populists have filled the space left vacant by mainstream parties.
Voters have a growing sense that political parties and law-making are out of touch, but not that politics is irrelevant, echoes Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute.
Feeling left behind and not listened to by politicians, Europeans have had no difficulty in identifying with the simplistic messages coined by populists, analysts concur.
Although populism varies widely between the Five Star Movement in Italy and Podemos in Spain, and the Front National in France, the pattern is the same.
“You have exclusionary populism on one hand and inclusionary populism on the other hand with Syriza and Podemos,” he stressed. “Grillo was able to succeed because he was providing an answer that other political parties were not capable of providing. Podemos did the same in Spain.”
Grillo, enraged by a series of corruption scandals, founded the Five Star Movement, which became a furious anti-establishment groundswell in just a few months. The former comedian refused to rely on the mainstream media, instead, using online meetups to gather an army of volunteers and his blog to communicate with followers.