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The Populist Assault on the European Union: the case studies of Hungary and Poland

By Emanuel Pietrobon

Introduction

The European Union is facing one of the most severe crisis of its recent history due to the ongoing
political and social conflict between the so-called populist and Eurosceptic movements and the
traditionally pro-European liberal and progressive forces.

In each EU country the consensus towards mainstream political parties, essentially pro-European,
leftists, social democrats and Christian democrats, has been recording a sharp decline in the recent
years, particularly after two main events: the economic, financial and debt crisis exploded between
2007 and 2009 and whose effects are still visible today, especially in Italy, Spain, Portugal and
Greece, and the refugee crisis, essentially caused by the NATO intervention in Lybia in 2011 and
the fall into instability of the Middle East and North Africa region due to the rise of Daesh.

At the time the response of Bruxelles in both crisis was criticized by small-sized opposition political
parties which captured a growing discontent in public opinion and civil society enormously
underestimated by the then-in charge political parties, maybe because were considered a contingent
phenomena destined not to last over years.

A decade after the debt crisis and some years after the birth of the refugee crisis, the pro-European
parties which dominated EU’s political panorama since 2000s are surrounded and threatened by
nowadays powerful Eurosceptics forces whose consensus seems to grow day per day waiting for the
European Parliament elections of May 2019, also due to foreign interventions.

In fact, Trump administration and Putin’s Russia are playing a geopolitical game in the Old
Continent by taking advantage from the disorientation and the shortsightedness of European
leadership, mainly represented by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, with the aim of causing
an implosion or a deep change in this international player, the EU, no more seen as a strategic
partner but an inconvenient and weak competitor 1.

Although the battlefield for hegemony over the EU is being moving towards Italy, France and
Germany, respectively due to birth of the League-Five Star Movement government, the turning of
the National Rally in the second largest political force, and the crisis of German government and the
growing weight of the far-right party Alternative for Germany, the Eastern periphery of EU
represents another important source of problems and challenges for Bruxelles.

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic are part of the so-called Visegrád Group, a cultural
and political alliance formed in 1991 to strengthen relationships among them in various sectors,
particularly in economy, energy, defense and culture. It would be not wrong to say that the current
popoulist wave was born in this region, specifically in Hungary.

Although Visegrád countries have been for a long time the main recipients of European
development funds and aid policies and their “economic miracles” are mostly due to this, the
approach of Bruxelles on several issues has produced a wave of resentment expressed by the loss of
consensus, prestige and influence of mainstream political parties, essentially characterized to be
pro-European, left- or center-oriented, secular, liberal and progressive.

From Visegrád countries started an important chapter of the Populist revolution due to the
rennaissance of ethnic nationalisms, the birth of anti-establishment and anti-system movements, the
use of xenophobic rhetoric by politicians and the return of churches in politics – the last phenomena
is widely underestimated and not deeply understood by Western analysts 2.

After a decade of political and cultural hegemony of left-wing, centrist and EU-oriented political
forces, the two countries have faced the rise of nationalist conservative and right wing populist
forces, namely Fidesz and Jobbik in Hungary, and Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland, which present
many elements in common such as hostility towards European Union, xenophobic rhetoric, priority
to national interests rather than EU’s, authoritarian approach over several domestic issues,
particularly justice and press freedom, economic nationalism, and last but not least, a very
interesting ideological platform based on Christian and national values aimed towards the ri-
nationalizing of the masses and fighting against what are defined the main “cultural” enemies of
Western civilization, id est: Islam, liberalism, secularism, gender ideology, and pro-choice and
LGBT movements.

The ruling parties of Hungary and Poland have become the leading voices of the anti-refugee
dissent during the apogee of the migrant crisis by refusing any solution formuled by EU based on

1
Carnieletto, M. Quell’asse tra Trump e Putin per scardinare l’Unione europea, in Gli occhi della guerra, 28-10-2018,
http://www.occhidellaguerra.it/
2
Krastev, I., Eastern Europe's Illiberal Revolution, Foreign Affairs, 16-04-2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/
quota scheme and redistribution and relocation system. In 2015 Hungarian government built a 523
kilometres long border barrier on its border with Serbia and Croatia in order to prevent immigrants
coming from the Balkan route from entering in the country.

Both Polish and Hungarian ruling parties publicly justified their strong opposition to asylum seekers
as ideologically and culturally motivated, namely mass migration from Muslim majority countries
would pose a threat to the Christian identity of Europe and to its ethnic homogeneity 3 4.

The persistent and reiterated refusal to accept the relocation of refugees finally pushed the European
Union to activate infringement procedures and sanctions for millions euro against the two countries
plus Czech Republic 5.

The measures enacted by the European Union against these countries have had the
counterproductive effect of increasing domestic consensus towards the ruling parties, whose
popularity among citizens grows continously according to periodic surveys and opinion polls.

It is interesting to see the evolution of electoral tendencies from 2010 to date in both countries. In
Hungary, Fidesz and Jobbik got respectively 52,7% and 16,7% of votes in 2010 parliamentary
elections, and got 49,3% and 19,1% in 2018 parliamentary elections. Despite the successful far right
populist positions shown by the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Jobbik, which is a political party
more extremist than Fidesz, has increased the numbers of voters and its political influence – a fact
that shows the current ongoing radicalisation of Hungarian public opinion 6 7.

In Poland the situation is even more impressive than Hungary’s. In 2011's parliamentary elections,
Civic Platform, the main liberal and pro-European political party of the country, succeeded to win a
second term, with 39,18% of votes, with PiS in second position with 29,9% of votes. In 2015
parliamentary elections, PiS won the elections with 37,6% of votes, while Civic Platform resulted
second with 24,1% of votes – a loss of about 2 million of voters from past elections 8 9.

In 2018 local elections, seen as an important test for the ruling party waiting for next parliamentary
elections to be held in 2020, PiS won 254 out 552 seats, a great performance considering that in past
local elections got 169 seats 10 11.
3
Cienski, J. Why Poland doesn’t want refugees, in Politico, 21-05-2017, https://www.politico.eu/
4
Khalili-Tari, D., Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban vows to create ‘Christian homeland’ on eve of election, in
The Independent, 07-04-2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/
5
Nielsen, N., Zalan, E. Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland face EU sanctions on migrants, in EU Observer, 13-06-
2017, https://euobserver.com/
6
Electoral results of 2010 visible at the following link: http://electionresources.org/hu/assembly.php?election=2010
7
Electoral results of 2018 visible at the following link: http://electionresources.org/hu/assembly.php?election=2018
8
Electoral results of 2011 visible at the following link: http://wybory2011.pkw.gov.pl/wsw/pl/000000.html
9
Electoral results of 2011 visible at the following link:
https://parlament2015.pkw.gov.pl/pliki/1445898069_Komunikat-pkw-zbiorcze-wyniki-glosowania.pdf
10
Polish ruling populists take most seats in regional councils, in Business Insider, 25-10-2018,
http://uk.businessinsider.com/
11
Electoral results of 2014 visible at the following link: http://www.currenteventspoland.com/analysis/polish-2014-
Fidesz and PiS have become role models for the most important and biggest Eurosceptic and far
right political parties among EU such as League, National Rally, Alternative for Germany and Party
for Freedom, and the impressive growth of the populist front gained attention of foreign
competitors, firstly Russia and the United States of America, interested in undermining and
weakening the European Union from within thanks to the help of these parties as written before.

Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist in the Trump administration and influential far
right personality, started following carefully the evolution of right wing populism in the European
Union since the first part of 2010s, and starting from the past months he has been working for the
birth of a Eurosceptic and “souverainist” bloc within the European Parliament powerful enough to
stop the primacy of traditional establishment represented by liberal and pro-European forces.

Apparently Bannon works on his own, id est without following any geopolitical scheme designed at
the White House, but his actions seem to be complementary to the ongoing “cold war” launched by
Trump administration against the Germany-led European Union mainly to contain the economic
power of Berlin and secondly to punish the excessive approachment to Iran and the Chinese Popular
Republic, the main targets of the US current foreign policy.

Bannon gave birth to The Movement, a think tank based in Brussels with the aim of helping right
wing populist political parties to gain as many votes as possible in 2019 European parliamentary
elections 12.

It is hard to believe that Bannon is working alone without following any national agenda, but in any
case the US' attention for the growing Eurosceptic movement could cause serious damages to the
stability of the European Union.

Bannon listed the ruling parties of Italy and Hungary as the most powerful forces able to break
down the current European Union representing elitarian interests and to build up a new union
representing and defending European people.

To date the souverainist and right wing populist forces keep increasing consensus and although the
clash between the two different and opposite ideas of Europe is now seeing Germany, France and
Italy more involved than any other country, Hungary and Poland remain the core from which the
populist wave has started and for this reason it is important to make an accurate analysis in order to
understand which factors have made possible the turning of the most successful results of the
European integration process into the main hotbeds of EU-sceptic and populist political parties.

elections-results-analysis.html
12
Stubley, P. Steve Bannon to set up 'The Movement' foundation to boost far-right across Europe, in The Independent,
22-07-2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/
Hungary: The turning of an exemplar model of European integration into the main battlefield
of the culture war between Europeanists and Populists

In April 2018 Viktor Orbán, leader of the right-wing party Fidesz, was re-elected for the third
consecutive mandate by winning the Parliamentary elections with 49,3% of votes. After a 8-year
political hegemony of Fidesz, Hungary is the stronghold of European right-wing populism and the
illiberal democracy model built up by Orban has become a point of reference in the populist
panorama.

Last September the European Parliament voted to sanction Hungary for undermining EU's
fundamental values by using the so-called “nuclear option”, id est the triggering of the Article 7 of
the Treaty of the European Union (TEU), mainly because of the misconduct during the refugee
crisis, but also for corruption, attacks on press fredom, treatment of minorities and gender issues 13.

Since 2014 Orban led the anti-refugee front and the building of a high tech razor wire-armed border
fence with Serbia and Croatia to stop illegal entries was only a little part of a wider anti-refugee
policy based on violent refoulements, refusal of any relocation scheme, use of para-military militias
with patrolling tasks and controversial laws acting against NGOs workers and civil rights activists,
such as the so-called “Stop Soros Law” entered into force last June.
The war against refugees sooner become a war against the European Union and George Soros, an
Hungarian-born philanthropist and financial speculator, owner of the Soros Management Fund and
the Open Society Foundations, accused of being the grey eminence behind all the problems of
Western World, from the gender ideology, to de-Christianization, to Muslim invasion. The Stop
Soros Law is aimed at limitating the operations of foreign actors, mainly NGOs, involved in
supporting migration and helping asylum seekers and establishes the rules to follow in order not to
be jailed, if the subject is a worker, or dissolved, if an organization 14.
Recently the government started to make pressure over academics and banned gender and migration
studies, a move that pushed the Soros-funded Central European University to declare as an open
possibility the closure of each activity due to the growing hostile environment 15.

The turning of Hungary into an authoritarian regime should not surprise any political analyst due to
the fact that Orban announced in July 2014 during a meeting with ethnic Hungarian living in
Romania his purpose to build an illiberal democracy able to defend itself from the dangers of the
13
Cuddy, A. European Parliament votes to trigger Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary, EuroNews, 12-09-
2018, https://www.euronews.com/
14
Koves, N., Hungary to imprison NGO workers helping asylum seekers and other migrants, The Green Political
Foundation, 26-06-2018, https://www.boell.de/
15
Novak, B.; Santora, M., University Backed by George Soros Prepares to Leave Budapest Under Duress, The New
York Times, 25-10-2018, https://www.nytimes.com/
globalization, citing Erdogan's Turkey and Putin's Russia as reference models 16.

An interesting fact that makes Poland and Hungary very similar is the central and renewed role of
religion in politics. While Poland has a long standing history of Church-State relations which made
possible for the Catholic Church to resist and survive to any attempt of annihilation tried by
Communists after World War II and to organize the successful rebellion of civil society eventually
ended with a democratic transition in 1989, in Hungary the things are different and the focus on
religion surprises.

According to the 2011 population census 54,2% of Hungarians declared themselves to belong to
Christian denominations, while 27,2% did not declare any affiliation, 16,7% declared to be not
religious and 1,5% declared to be explicitly atheist 17.

A similar, but worst, situation emerges from the 2018's report “Europe's Young Adults and
Religion” by professor Stephen Bullivant which show young Hungarians among the most
irreligious/non-religious in Europe, right behind traditionally secularized countries such as Sweden,
United Kingdom, France and Czech Republic 18.

Furthermore, only 10% of Hungarians claim to be a regular churchgoer, placing the country among
the most secularized in Europe 19.

Despite the above-mentioned figures Fidesz and Jobbik, the currently nationally major political
parties, made the defense of Christian identity, culture and values one of their most successful battle
horses and, as shown by electoral results and opinion polls, they are supported by the majority of
population.

During the 2019 speech to ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, Orban declared that the turning of
Hungary into an explicitly illiberal Christian democracy is one of his main purposes for the next
future and it is part of a wider and ongoing war against the supposed plan of liberal Europeanists of
shifting Western World towards a post-nation state and post-Christian era where countries would be
led by 1968-influenced leftists and characterized to be culturally heteregenous. Thus, he welcomed
the support coming from the United States in the person of Steve Bannon and indicated again
George Soros as the main enemy of Christian Europe 20.

16
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Speech at the 25th Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp,
Kormany.hu, 30-06-2014
17
2011 population census readable at the following link.
http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xftp/idoszaki/nepsz2011/nepsz_orsz_2011.pdf
18
'Christianity as default is gone': the rise of a non-Christian Europe, The Guardian, 21-03-2018,
https://www.theguardian.com/
19
Salyi, D., The Visegrád Group and the Question of European Christian Identity Today, Hungary Today, 14-05-2018,
https://hungarytoday.hu/
20
Hungarian PM sees shift to illiberal Christian democracy in 2019 European vote, Reuters, 28-07-2018,
https://uk.reuters.com/
As part of the Orban's culture war against the de-Christianization of Europe, recently were put some
restrictions to exhibitions accused of promoting Communist, gender and gay propaganda, such as an
artwork exposition of Frida Kahlo and a planned series of Billy Elliot by the Hungarian state opera
then cancelled after protests coming from right-wing panorama; later the Opera announced that
Christianity will be the theme of the performances for 2019-20 season 21.

Last but not least, Orban is leading a foreign policy relatively autonomous from the European
Union, as shown by the strong ties established and maintained with Vladimir Putin, even after the
Ukrainian crisis, and an underestimated strategic partnership with Turkic countries built by taking
advantage from the common cultural, ethnic and linguistic origins 22 23.

The main aim of Orban's geopolitical game is to expand Hungarian sphere of influence and turn the
little country into a regional power, without caring whether the expansionist purposes could cause a
crisis in the same European Union – this is the case of Romania-Hungary ongoing diplomatic crisis
caused by the support of Orban for autonomist aspirations of Hungarian community in Transilvania
24
.

Poland: The Holy Alliance between conservatives, far right extremists and Catholics

In Poland the political power is held by PiS, a right-wing populist and national conservative
political party, since the 2015 parliamentary elections which the party won with 37,6% of votes. It
was the first time in the post-communist Poland that a single political party succeeded in forming a
stable majority government – indeed PiS gained 235 out of 460 seats, id est 51% of the total 25.

Since then PiS has been leading a process of ri-nationalization of the masses by means of the help
of the influential Polish Catholic Church, historically the strongest national social institution, and of
the growing nationalist electorate, mostly composed by youths and lower classes of the eastern part
of the country, on the background of a gradual dismantling of the free market model built up after
the fall of Communist regime and strenghtened by Civic Platform during the decade of political
hegemony.

According to the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, PiS aims at building up a socially inclusive
economy able to improve the quality of life of Poles after years of economic liberalization and in
21
McLaughlin, D., Gender studies and Kahlo under fire as Orban eyes new ‘cultural era’, The Irish Times, 15-08-
2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/
22
Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban's special relationship, DW, https://www.dw.com/
23
Orbán: Hungarians Are the Late Descendants of Attila, Hungary Today, 03-09-2018 https://hungarytoday.hu/
24
Harris, C., Hungary and Romania in row over Transylvania autonomy remarks, EuroNews, 12-01-2018,
https://www.euronews.com/
25
Goettig, M., Barteczko, A., Poland's Eurosceptics win outright majority in parliament, in Reuters, 27-10-2015,
https://www.reuters.com/
this context should be seen the adoption of an economically interventionist approach mostly based
on the strengthening of the welfare system and on the providing of social benefits, such as the
famous “500+ Programme” aimed at facing the demographic winter by giving families 500 zloty
(the equivalent of 120 euros) a month for every second and subsequent newborn 26 27.

To date, PiS’ economic policies allowed the party to increase popular consensus, especially among
low income voters, poor workers and families, and gained success both domestically and
internationally, seen that the economic growth rate increased from 3,7% of 2010 to 5,2% of 2017,
about 4 millions Poles came out of poverty, the country keeps attracting foreign investors and is
turning into an economic powerhouse and recently has gained the status of developed economy in
the Russell Index 28.

Anyway, the most important and controversial reforms and actions made by PiS do not involve
economy, but society, fundamental rights and international relations, and the open support of the
Catholic Church to the government explains part of its high rates of consensus among citizens. In
fact, despite the driven processes of Westernization and secularization tried by the liberal parties, in
particular Civic Platform, in the post-communist era, Poland keeps being one of the most Catholic
countries of the world according to the numbers of baptized people, churchgoers and self-declared
practicing Catholics.

Many elements made possible for the Polish Catholic Church to survive the atheization process led
by the Communists since 1945 and to resist the secularization wave coming from the West after
1989: the great help, both moral and material, provided to the population during the Communist
regime, the fundamental role of John Paul II in making the Soviet Bloc falling apart, and also the
identification of Catholicism as an essential and integrant part of national identity due to a long
lasting history 29.

To date 86% of citizens declare themselves as Catholics and 36,7% of them is a regular churchgoer
according to estimates provided both by the government and the Catholic Church – numbers even
more impressive if compared with other Catholic majority countries such as Slovenia, Austria and
Spain, where less than 20% of self-declared Catholics regularly attend weekly mass and a relevant

26
Polish economy booming, geared toward ‘inclusive growth': PM, in Radio Poland, 01-10-2018,
http://www.thenews.pl/
27
More babies in Poland, one year after new payouts for parents, in Radio Poland, 31-03-2017,
http://www.thenews.pl/
28
Radu, S. Poland Graduates to Developed Status, in <<US News>>, 02-10-2018, https://www.usnews.com/
29
Wierzbicki, A. Present condition and role of the Catholic Church in Poland, in <<La Stampa>>, 03-05-2018,
https://www.lastampa.it/
part of them can be defined as religious for culture, id est without a true faith 30 31 32.

To the contrary, in Poland Catholic moral and value code keeps being stricly observed and respected
by the population, due to the above-mentioned reasons, and so the majority of believers show rigid
views and positions about topics like homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, traditional family, use of
drugs, and so on.

In such a context of traditionally radicated and religiously motivated social conservatism, PiS has
took advantage from the growing discontent caused by the liberal orientations of Civic Platform, in
particular about sensitive issues such as abortion, lgbt rights, mass migration from Muslim
countries, public space for religion, and made a tacit alliance with the Catholic Church and extreme
right youth movements, by presenting itself as a defensor fidei, id est defensor of Christianity,
supposedly threatened by European liberalism and Islam.

In order to do so PiS refused to accept any relocation in the country of refugees from Africa and the
Middle East by preferring opening borders to Ukrainians asylum seekers fleeing from Donbass, to
reform judicial system and put it under a major political control with the presumed aim of defending
better the interests of ordinary citizens from legal abuse and jucial misconduct, to extend public
control over media in order to make information less arbitrary and more objective.

Furthermore PiS endorsed many other battle horses of influential and rising extreme right parties
such as National Movement and League of Polish Families, for example the zero tolerance on
crime, anti-Semitic and anti-Russian rhetoric, defense of Catholic values and building of a new
generation of Polish patriots. As a result, PiS attracted votes from a growingly important electoral
basin and weakened far right political scene but with time inevitably stiffened its ideological
platform 33.

PiS and Catholic Church are fighting together two important culture wars: the first one against the
so-called ideology, the second one against the dubbed Islamization of Europe. During the Civic
Platform era Catholic Church denounced the dangers for traditional family and Catholic society
coming from the spreading and promotion of homosexuality and demanded unsuccessfully the ban
of gender and queer studies, but everything changed with the entering into charge of PiS.

In fact, one of the first actions made by president Andrzej Duda was the veto to a bill aimed at
facilitating gender reassignment procedures.

30
CBOS potwierdza. Zdecydowana większość Polaków uznaje się za katolików, in <<wPolityce>>, 12-04-2012,
https://wpolityce.pl/
31
Polonia: Istituto statistica Chiesa cattolica, “calano i fedeli alle messe domenicali” ma resta “una profonda
devozione popolare”, in <<Agensir>>, 10-01-2018, https://www.agensir.it/
32
Bullivant, S. Tre grafici per spiegare perché l'Europa non è più un continente cattolic, in <<Tempi>>, 25-03-2018,
https://www.tempi.it/
33
Charnysh, V. The rise of Poland's far right, in Foreign Affairs, 18-12-2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/
Furthermore, despite the line of acceptance many times expressed by Pope Francis I about refugees,
part of high hierarchies of Polish Catholic Church agrees and supports the migration policy adopted
by PiS, an event that caused a direct clash with the Holy See. In October 2017 Catholic
organizations and right wing movements sponsored the “Rosary at the Borders”, namely a huge
massive public prayer to which about one million people would took part, according to organizers,
in up to 4 thousand prayer zones and 320 churches placed along the 2 thousand mile border by
demanding salvation for Poland and force to fight against secularization and Islamization 34.

The event has had an international echo and represents an important signal of the power and
influence of Catholic Church in nowadays Poland, but also the position of an important part of
Catholic establishment about refugee topic.

Apart from the xenophobic drift, the ruling party's tries to take control over judicial system and
media freedom have been the main causes of the ongoing conflict between Polish government and
the European Union which eventually led the European Commission to take the country to the
European Court of Justice, which ruled that the judiciary reform violates rule of law and must be
suspended, and to launch an infringement procedure ended with the activation of the Article 7(1) of
the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) for the first time.

The controversial reform entered into force on 3 April 2018 and has been accused by opposition
parties and the European Union to undermine the principles of division of powers and judicial
independence because of the lowering of the retirement age of Supreme Court judges, including the
First President of the Supreme Court, which forced 27 out of 72 current judges to retire, and the
greater political power over judicial appointments 35 36.

The powerful American non governmental organization Freedom House denounced in a long report
37
the situation of press freedom in Poland after the coming in power of PiS . Indeed, right after
October 2015 PiS replaced the managing leadership of public television and other media
broadcasters with loyalists in order to turn them into the main propagandistic channels of the
government with the official purpose of depoliticizing public media, accused of being excessively
liberal and left-oriented.

For all these reasons Poland is considerable as the main hotbed of right-wing populism of Eastern
Europe along with Hungary and despite the authoritarian shift, PiS remains still very popular among

34
Berendt, J., Specia, M., Polish Catholics Gather at Border for Vast Rosary Prayer Event, in The New York Times,
07-10-2017, https://www.nytimes.com/
35
Stone, J. European Court of Justice orders Poland to stop purging its supreme court judges, The Independent, 19-10-
2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/
36
Rule of Law: European Commission refers Poland to the European Court of Justice to protect the independence of
the Polish Supreme Court, in European Commission, 24-09-2018, http://europa.eu/
37
Chapman, A., Pluralism under attack: The Assault on Press Freedom in Poland, Freedom House,
Poles according to periodic surveys and opinion polls and as shown by the recent results of local
elections.

Conclusions

To date Hungary and Poland are under the threat of the triggering of the Article 7 of the TEU which
implies the loss of the right to vote in the Council, whose activation procedure has been requested
precisely from European Parliament and European Commission, for violating rule of law and
common democratic values; specifically both ruling parties have been accused of undermining
fundamental EU values, attacking liberal democracy, eroding fundamental civil rights, taking
control over judicial system and media system.

Both countries are considered the main core of the ongoing right-wing populist wave that is shaking
up the European Union and their model of illiberal democracy is seen as a point of reference for the
main populist political parties currently present in the EU. In particular seems to be a common
element of the populist forces to accuse media and judicial system to be excessively alligned over
leftist and liberal positions, and both Fidesz and PiS justified their reforms as a way to depoliticize
them and make them less arbitrary and more impartial and reliable.

Both countries show processes of ri-nationalization of the masses by means of right-wing


propaganda, reforms concerning teachings in schools and universities, use of a political discourse
based on a friend-enemy logic in which the “other” is often depicted as a lethal enemy for the
country, the important help of churches and far-right electorate, this last one has been recorded an
important increase from a decade to date in both countries.

Despite the pressure under form of sanctions coming from European Union, the popular consensus
for Fidesz and PiS keeps growing as shown by the most recent electoral performances and opinion
polls, although the countries are home of the most pro-EU inhabitants.

Even in the traditional strongholds of Europeanism like France and Germany, far-right and hard
Eurosceptic political parties such as National Rally and Alternative for Germany have succeeded in
turning themselves into the main opposition forces, a sign that the rise of populism is not related to
cultural context (post-Soviet bloc) or economic situation (underdevelopment or developing
economy), so political analysts should start looking at it as an historical phenomena more complex
than it appears.

It is evident that populist movements could not evolve into a real threat for the European Union
without a foreign intervention, but the mistakes made by Europeanists forces played a central role in
making possible for small political parties without any relevant popular following to become strong
opposition forces or ruling parties.

Italy, along with Poland and Hungary, represents probably the most iconic success of the anti-
establishment populist forces against mainstream political parties supported by more than 30% of
the population. After a 7-year era characterized by the alternance of technical and liberal left-
oriented governments, the most important national political parties, the Democratic Party and Forza
Italia, lost the 2018 general elections, because the majority of the votes went to the League, a far-
right regionalist party, and the Five Star Movement, an anti-system party mixing right-wing and
left-wing populist views, which eventually decided to form a coalition government, known as the
“government of change”.

Unlike the predecessors the League-5 Star Movement government has begun a direct clash against
the European Union, specifically against Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, with the main
purpose of putting the national interest ahead of the European one and to get the freedom to follow
an autonomous agenda on foreign policy and domestic topics, in particular economy and migration
management.

Just like Fidesz, League and 5 Star Movement have shown interest in Bannon's project and their
electoral victory has been well welcomed both in the United States and in Russia, but the bilateral
relations with Germany and France soon got worse mainly due to the hard line of the Ministry of
Interior Matteo Salvini about refugees.

To date Italian government has been showing interest in deepening the relations with Visegrad
Group countries and Salvini already had a meeting with Orban to discuss how to fight together the
refugee crisis at a domestic and European level.

Populists of all the Europe Union have already signed cooperation agreements and alliances with
the purpose of working together on a wide range of issues, and not only immigration, and their
common objective to give birth to a strong anti-establishment front within the EU in the coming
2019 European Parliament elections is likely to take place and not only because of the popular
discontent for mainstream political parties recorded in many EU countries but also due to high
degree of foreign interference in this period of weakness which makes EU particularly vulnerable.

Everything could be happen in the next European Parliament elections, but the mainstream political
parties accused of being part of the so-called establishment of liberals and bankers have to
understand that the time of dialogue between opponents has begun since the emargination and the
maintenance in silence to the opposition of their rivals has been one of the main causes of their
great failure in containing the populists wave.

Even if the future of the European Union did not speak the language of populism, it is clear that the
“establishment” have to face and discuss with the populists, which are voices of a reality deeply
changed and in need to be understood after being ignored for years, in order to give stability,
contain resentments from below, and pursue the building of a true European Community united by
common interests.

About the last topic, the emerging of populist political forces could become a great opportunity for
the entire European Union, because an intelligent confrontation based on mutual respect and
dialogue between the main powers and the peripheric actors currently unhappy for the distribution
of power could lead to the building of a more equal union, and so to a stronger geopolitical player in
the international arena.

Bibliography and references

Galston, W., The rise of European populism and the collapse of the center-left, in Brookings.edu,
08-03-2018
Harris, C. Explained: the rise and rise of populism in Europe, in EuroNews, 15-03-2018
Becker, J. The rise of right-wing populism in Hungary, in SEER, Vol. 13, No. 1, Political changes
and the role of institutions (2010), pp. 29-40
Hume, T. Poland's populist government let far-right extremism explode into mainstream, in
ViceNews, 09-05-2017
Krastov, I. Eastern Europe's Illiberal Revolution, in Foreign Affairs, 16-04-2018
Wolf, M. The economic origins of the populist surge, in The Economist, 27-06-2017