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The European Union and the Populist Challenge
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September 21, 2017
Inroads Journal
EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium

(Word Count: 2,000)

Contemporary societies, it is often claimed, are marked by a “populist zeitgeist.”1 Populism is a global phenomenon, but it comes in many forms and shapes. Even if populist parties and movements espouse views that tend to straddle the left-right dimension, it is common to distinguish between left-wing and right-wing versions of populism.2

European populist movements started out as fringe groups, but their views are today becoming part of the mainstream. With some exceptions, the trend is for established parties to move closer to populist positions, notably on immigration and cultural diversity. Moreover, populist support correlates with a significant decline in social democratic party support, as many populist parties fashion themselves as the real workers’ movements.3 In a number of cases, populists have entered governments or are wielding direct influence on governing parties, although it is only in eastern Europe (Hungary and Poland) that populists, of the right-wing variety, are running governments.


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