European Populists and How to Fight Them

When Macron won the French Presidency, the feeling of relief was overwhelming: the worst potential scenario was avoided. Extremism was defeated, optimism and pro-European views had emerged, and a young, charming, and charismatic leader was elected. This followed the victories of the Netherlands and Austria in defeating far-right populist parties. At first glance, it now looks like the world – or at least Europe – is back on the progressive path, and that the Brexit, Trump’s election, and Turkey’s referendum were simply bumps along the way.

However, when taking a step back, partaking in the celebration was difficult for us, not only because of partially diverging political views, but also because of some catastrophic data. Despite the fact that Macron won 66.1% of the votes (20.8 million) – which was way above expectations – Le Pen managed to get an unprecedented number of votes (10.6 million), hereby doubling her father’s results of 2002. Additionally, the level of abstention was the highest it has been since 1969, with 12.1 million people abstaining, and 4.07 million votes blancs or nuls. A worrying trend is emerging.

Yes, Macron won by a landslide. No, this is not enough; it is disastrous that Le Pen even reached the second round, and even more appalling that she won more than a third of the votes. Although Macron maneuvered successfully to position himself as the only solution in an incredibly polarized political climate, many still felt unrepresented, leading some presidential candidates not to give voting instructions (i.e. Mélenchon).

Hence, those results should be analyzed as part of a wider scheme: in their last elections, the Netherlands, Austria, and France saw a sustained growth in extremist parties’ support. Additionally, in Italy, despite the general expectation that Renzi (Partito Democratico) will come out victorious in the next general elections, the populist 5-star movement is polling at over 30%. This raises deep concerns on the future of our countries and our continent. So yes, extremism is being defeated in some European countries, but for how long will this still be the case? The disruptive trends (e.g. globalization, terrorism, and refugee crisis) that led to their surge, are not going away anytime soon. As a result, if the new generation of progressive leaders fails to effectively tackle these challenges, a radically different scenario can be expected in less than a decade. For example, a paralyzed Macron government – in the event of disappointing results in the legislative elections – will boost the Front National’s performance everywhere in France. In this op-ed, we mentioned only a few European countries, but so many others are moving in similar nationalist directions, just like Hungary and Poland.

We need to realize that it is the duty of our generation to take up responsibility now, and that posting on social media is not enough anymore. Start organizing, thinking and acting to reshape the way political parties work and should work!

This is what Volt wants to do. Volt thinks beyond winning the next elections and wants to restructure the way the political balance currently works in Europe. Volt has a unique selling point, which is that it aims at proposing new ideas, fighting for you, and opposing hatred both at the European level, and in each and every member state. Volt gives a voice to our generation and our beliefs in order to shape a better future for Europe. We need each one of you to join our fight, regardless of your age, background, and experience: you can and should make a difference. We need passion, energy, and willingness to change what needs to be changed. This way, we will evolve from a group to a movement that will be able to overcome the strongest barriers. The future is in our hands; it is time to act.


By Colombe Cahen-Salvador and Andrea Venzon