The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) study says that populism in Europe is currently at its highest level since the 1930s.
The study, entitled "Societies outside Metropolises: the role of civil society organisations in facing populism,” reviewed the rise of populism in the EU.
The EESC’s Diversity Europe Group analysed how and why it had emerged, and the role that civil society can play in countering it.
The average populist vote in EU Member States now stands at 24 percent, up from 8.5 percent in 2000.
The report says that right- or left-wing populists are members of numerous European governments while, in other Member States, populists “also influence the agenda, as members of the opposition, forcing moderate parties to embrace extremist policies.”
“In this context, Euroscepticism is often the direct result of populist resentment. While economic progress and social stability have an essential part to play in addressing the concerns that give rise to Euroscepticism, these factors alone are not enough.”
“Civil society organisations have to take action to communicate a more positive message about the value and importance of Europe and to bring Europe closer to its citizens,” the report adds.
“The only way to counter populism is through our democratic system; the very system that populists are trying to undermine” Arno Metzler, President of the EESC Diversity Europe Group
Commenting on the findings, the President of the EESC Diversity Europe Group, Arno Metzler, said, "The preservation of liberal democracy is everyone's business.”
"I believe that the only way to counter populism is through our democratic system; the very system that populists are trying to undermine.”
“The EU must not only speak to people but must actively listen and engage in dialogue. European civil society should help the Union to reach out to citizens, thus preventing and limiting the appeal of populist parties," he continued.
The report says that populists “prefer mono-culturalism over multiculturalism, national interest over international cooperation and closed borders over the free flow of people.”
PRESERVING THE STATUS QUO
Other issues behind the rise in populism is the desire to preserve the status quo and the need to protect traditional values, monocultures or particular identities, said the report.
The study compares regions with a high populist vote from four EU countries, with one of the regions in each case being at the “lower end of the scale and the other at the higher end.”
They are Klagenfurt-Villach and Niederösterreich-Süd in Austria; Drôme and Aisne in France; Udine and Reggio di Calabria in Italy and the Polish regions of Płocki and Nowosądecki.
Populist voting in France, it says, shows that the national vote share for populist parties is lower in France than in any of the other three countries considered.
“This may be reflective of its relatively healthy economic status, although it is clear that recent economic crises have taken their toll on public opinion. However, local socio-economic conditions may play a role.”
The report goes on, “Populist parties in Aisne, the less socio-economically successful of the two regions, consistently receive a vote share around five percentage points higher than those in Drôme.”
Metzler said that populism and Euroscepticism have to be combatted, first of all, at national level.
"As members of the EESC, we have a double responsibility: we have to step up our activities to link the European level and the national level and to work more closely together.”
“Only by strengthening networks, by offering a better explanation of Europe's important role and by bringing Europe closer to its citizens can we help to reduce the misplaced fears that populists are so successfully manipulating,” Metzler added.
The results come in the same week that a European Parliament survey suggested that populist and nationalist political parties will perform well at the European elections in May.