The world is characterized by a deep political-economic crisis, and it seems endless. This crisis has compromised the social and civil development that was believed to be unstoppable. This event has involved the entire European continent, where it has registered a twist on voters preferences. In fact, voters are found to be more and more intolerant of politics and discouraged by the persistent downturn. New parties, defined as populist, are emerging and flourishing all over the European continent, and they are challenging the traditional political route and undermining the political stability within each state.

It is not an easy task to provide a precise definition of the term populism, and it is easy to get off track when it comes to studying three centuries of political literature. “Ideological attitude”, “political movement”, “form of political procedure” or again “socio-cultural movement” are some of the definitions used by linguistics to explain the etymology of the word populism. Although it is impossible to find a homogeneous and shared definition of the term populism, it is important to note a common aspect: people are the guardian of positive values. It is also well-known that these positive values, among which freedom, differ from the values of the elite, whose main goal is to win and maintain power, and thus limit freedom. Populism recalls a romantic idea of people, who decide to keep out those who are considered outsiders and may consider them as an enemy.

Populism draws a strong demarcation line, it builds a dividing wall within the society, and only those who are inside the line are protected because they are part of an indivisible whole, and they perceive themselves as the bearer of positive values. On the other hand, those who are left outside the demarcation line are considered as enemies or negative identities who undermine the basis of the community by representing different values and traditions.

The existence of “political barriers or walls” are fundamental for the destiny of populism; in fact, when the demarcation line is weak, the idea of a cohesive group collapses. This historical period is characterized by a severe economic crisis, which has been deteriorating Europe for more than eight years. This has led to a corrosion of trust between citizens and political institutions, and that is when the populist movements emerge and blame the European institutions and the globalization. Within the European Union, the populist movements oppose the political establishment, which is accused of having betrayed the values of each single nation in the name of the “European dream” by corrupted bureaucrats and executives, who only care of multinational interests and banks.

During the crisis, the European organization has grown weak; the so-called “old Europe” was built on economic security and firm social status. Nowadays, these have been replaced by a “new Europe”, characterized by a social transformation that has left European citizens confused. This has generated a crisis of representation and, therefore, skepticism and mistrust toward institutions and politicians has grown. The great migratory flow from Africa and the Middle East to Europe has caused a dangerous attitude toward foreigners, seen as a threat to the national unity. Furthermore, the situation went from an initial “principle of exclusion” to an exasperated nationalism. The ongoing economic crisis in the Euro area and the increasing political division within the European Union, especially regarding the refugee crisis, has led to a period of great uncertainty and Euroscepticism. To deal with the growth of populist parties, the European institutions need to elaborate efficient solutions to restore a climate of trust and respect.

About the Author
Beatrice Guerra is a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying political science and currently serves as the IRC’s events intern.