Uneven and Combined Populism in the European Union

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Floris BISKAMP, University of Kassel, Germany
While there are some very general theoretical claims about populism (e.g. those connected to the names of Mouffe and Eribon), empirical research (e.g. that connected to the works of Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser) shows a more complicated picture, suggesting only medium-range theories can hold. I combine these medium-range theories with research on EU’s economy and politics in order to develop a more systematic understanding of populisms in Europe as uneven and combined populism.

Most European countries have witnessed a surge of populism – but the populisms differ strongly from country to country. While the most successful populists in most countries are from the right, those in Greece and Spain are from the left. Moreover, there are significant differences among right-wing populists. While some stick to a neoliberal agenda, others reworked their position in an almost socialist fashion. These programmatic differences correspond with different social bases.

Yet, in their unevenness the populist movements are combined in many ways. The most obvious combination is that populists on the right collaborate and learn from one another, as do those on the left. These direct combinations account for similarities but not for differences. There are, however, indirect links that partially explain why certain types of populism are more successful in some countries than in others. These indirect links are to be found in the economic and political system of the EU. Different countries have very different positions within these systems – some running trade surpluses, others deficits, some being net contributors of EU funds, others net recipients, some wielding more, others less political power. Using the cases of Germany, Greece, and France, I argue that their respective positions within the European system make the success of different kinds of populisms likely. These populist successes in turn have ramifications for the political and economic system.