Right turn: why are populists and conservatives on the march in Europe?

In recent years, European countries have faced significant political changes. Many countries have witnessed the rise of conservative nationalist and populist right-wing political parties in the political arena. The first right-wing populist wave swept across the European Union from 2015 to 2020.

In 2019, the trend seemed to decline, and social democratic forces came to power in many European countries. However, over the past year, the political landscape has been changing: right-wing and populist parties have won in Sweden, Finland, and Italy.
Andriy Matviychuk
Another "right turn" in Europe. Why once again?

In recent years, European countries have been facing significant political changes. Many countries have witnessed the emergence of conservative nationalist and populist right-wing political parties. The first right-wing populist wave spread through the European Union from 2015 to 2020.

Poland elected a far-right government in the 2015 elections, and the following year, the United Kingdom left the EU. Further, right-wing populist elections took place in Austria and Italy, and Hungary re-elected Viktor Orban's Fidesz party in 2018.

After 2019, the growth trend of right-wing parties seemed to decline. The left parties began to build strength again, for example, in the 2020 Lithuanian parliamentary elections, the center-left party "People" received the largest number of votes, and in January 2021 in Portugal, a left-wing bloc, including the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Communist Party of Portugal (PCP), was able to form a government.
But the escalation of the pandemic and Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine led to major geopolitical, economic, and cultural shifts that most left-wing European governments were not prepared for, and which were quickly seized upon by right-wing populists and nationalists.

For instance, last year Sweden replaced its left-wing government with a right-wing one, followed by elections in Italy that produced the first ultra-right government since the end of World War II. Meanwhile, Spain's left-wing government is under pressure, with the right-wing Popular Party and the ultra-right Vox party ahead as the country heads to the voting in December.

The most recent example of the rightward turn was the parliamentary elections in Finland, where Sanna Marin's party lost, despite the fact that it was able to get more MPs into parliament compared to the previous elections. The loss was due to the growing popularity of the right-wing NKP party and the election failure of Sanna Marin's coalition allies.

Johanna Aunesluoma, a professor of political history at the University of Helsinki, noted that about a third of the votes went to the left-wing parties, and two-thirds to the right. It was a "big turn from left to right," he told The Associated Press.
What is the reason for the loss of the left in Finland?

Despite the fact that Marin gained popularity due to the way her government handled the Covid-19 pandemic, her strong support for Ukraine from the European Union after Russia's full-scale invasion last year, and the country's joining NATO gave Marin great popularity not only in Finland but also around the world. But this election was mainly about economic issues. Therefore, Finns were more concerned about the growth of public debt, inflation and other economic problems than geopolitical conflicts. However, most of the problems with the economy and inflation were closely related to the war in Ukraine. Still, the tendency for the population of European countries to get tired of politics and increase demand for internal economic problems is visible to the naked eye.
Why did the second wave of right turn begin in Europe?

It can be caused by a number of factors, such as the economic crisis, social dissatisfaction, migration and refugee crises, fear of globalization and changes in the cultural landscape.

Amidst the war in Ukraine, Europe is facing many economic difficulties, rising unemployment due to the severance of economic relations with Russia and the reorientation of its energy sector. Right-wing populist political parties are using these factors to attract voters by promising change and protection of national interests.

In his latest research paper "The Leftist Brahmins vs. the trade right", economist Thomas Piketty presents an interesting theory of how we ended up here. By analyzing election results in France, the UK and the US and comparing them with data on voter income and education, he found that in the 1950s and 1960s, left-wing parties received most of their support from poorer, less educated voters. Since then, the left has gradually become associated with well-educated voters, creating a "multiple elite" party system in the last two decades: highly educated elites now vote left, while high-income elites vote right.
З того часу політичні ліві поступово стали асоціюватися з добре освіченими виборцями, що породило партійну систему «множинної еліти» в останні два десятиліття: високоосвічені еліти тепер голосують за лівих, тоді як еліти з високим рівнем доходу голосують за правих. Також праві популісти заради перемоги на виборах часто прибігають до дезінформації та пропаганди. У цьому їм часто допомагала росія через свою мережу закордонних інформаційних каналів, які користувалися досить великою популярністю в Європі до їх заборони на території Європейського Союзу після початку повномасштабного вторгнення.
In addition, right-wing populists often resort to disinformation and propaganda to win elections, and Russia has often helped them with this through its network of foreign information channels, which were quite popular in Europe before they were banned from the European Union after the start of the full-scale invasion.

An example of such disinformation can be found in the campaign for the 2016 Brexit referendum, when right-wing populists such as Nigel Farage and others used disinformation about the benefits of Brexit, such as fake numbers about the money the UK pays to the EU and other promises that looked attractive to pro-Brexit voters.

Disinformation and fakes are also popular in Hungary, especially with Viktor Orban, the right-wing populist prime minister. He has used disinformation and manipulation of the media and social media to consolidate his power. He has used fake news and biased facts to discredit the opposition and created threats from migration and the fight against "globalists," which has helped his Fidesz party win a large number of seats in parliament and strengthen his authoritarian rule.
While it is important to acknowledge that not every right-wing or populist election victory comes from disinformation, such victories often come from real voter disappointment. And if Brussels does not try to listen to the voters and find out and solve the problems in the European Union to stop the second wave of populism, no one knows what the near-inevitable third wave might bring.
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