Sunday

23rd Jul 2017

Interview

'Populism is not a disease'

  • A National Front meeting. "We have different forms of populism and they raise very important issues," says Paolo Graziano. (Photo: Blandine Le Cain)

”There is a tendency to see populism as a disease and a problem, and not as something to be understood”, said Paolo Graziano, professor of political science at the University of Padua, Italy, in an interview with EUobserver.

Speaking at the yearly State of the Union conference at the European University Institute in Florence, Graziano delivered his analysis of the role and the reasons for populism.

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  • Paolo Graziano is professor of political science at the university of Padua, Italy. (Photo: EUobserver)

The Italian academic set out that: "We have different forms of populism and they raise very important issues that regard all the citizens and all the political parties, and this is why they should not simply be treated as a problem".

”There is a tendency to call everything that is different negative. This is human behaviour that goes beyond politics, but it is particularly true with respect to populism”, Graziano said.

”The first reaction is that we have to get rid of them”, but he explained that this attitude only added to the notion that it is ”them against us, the elites”.

It was important, he argued, to remember that there are different forms of populism.

”We have Podemos [a Spanish left-wing party] on the one hand, which is clearly populist in a number of areas, but then we also have [Marine] Le Pen [the French far-right leader]. As researchers, we are starting to work on defining different types, we have exclusionary populists and inclusionary populists".

”The world is becoming increasingly complex and globalisation has created winners and losers. Put together with social media, it is really creating a challenge to traditional parties,” he said.

Populist ideologies are "thin", but social media helps the new political entrepreneurs to become credible with very personalised communication.

He added that the rise of populism is also a sign that we are entering a new phase of party politics.

”Let’s take the phenomena of [Emmanuel] Macron [the French centrist presidential candidate]. It is the first time in French politics to have a candidate that comes before the party is created”.

”We see that well-established and well-structured party systems change so dramatically that the winner of an election is not a politician by profession. He is not coming from a political party, although he did have a government position, still it is a dramatic change in the way politics is done,” Graziano said.

The professor added: ”In the near future, I really see some fundamental challenges and fundamental change in how parties function beyond left and right. It’s about co-existing more than integrating people".

The difference, he outlined, was between maintaining local communities versus opening them up.

"We had similar pressures on the political systems back in the 1930s and a breakdown of democracies," Graziano said.

Opinion

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This attitude and position from mainstream political leaders represents as much of a challenge and threat to human rights values as do the populists themselves.

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Despite her defeat on Sunday, the French far-right leader could still stand to benefit if the new president, Emmanuel Macron, fails to improve the economy and manage the country better than his predecessor, warns political scientist Brigid Laffan.

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Leading MEPs and legal watchdogs have raised the alarm on Polish judicial reforms, but the European Commission declined to speak out so far.

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