The Right-Wing Authoritarian Threat to Europe

Right-wing authoritarian populism has twice as much of a presence as left-wing authoritarian populism, but the latter has seen its support double since 2010 while the former has stagnated.

Roughly 20 percent of the European electorate – 55.8 million people – voted for both left-wing and right-wing populist parties in the last wave of general elections across the continent.

Atlas Network partner Timbro has mapped the standings of authoritarian populist parties in all parliamentary elections from 1980 to June of this year in its recent Authoritarian Populism Index 2017, with special coverage featuring this past year’s developments. This builds off the massive success of last year’s inaugural index, which was prominently featured in the lead story of The Economist.

“From a classical liberal perspective, authoritarian populism poses a major threat to both individual liberty and property rights by advocating unchecked majority rule and an ever stronger state, at the expense of minorities, individuals and companies,” said Karin Svanborg-Sjövall, CEO of Timbro. “Europe has a rich history of wars, dictatorship and abuse of power, and it is very disconcerting to see how little the principles of rule of law, checks and balances and an international order seem to matter to a great number of people.”

Key findings from this year’s index include the development of authoritarian populism dislodging liberalism as the third-most represented ideology in European politics, behind conservatism/Christian democracy and social democracy. Right-wing authoritarian populism has twice as much of a presence as left-wing authoritarian populism, but the latter has seen its support double since 2010 while the former has stagnated.

Svanborg-Sjövall hopes the index will accomplish two things: “First of all, it is the first, and most comprehensive study made that illustrates the aggregate support for the illiberal values that right- and left-wing populism collectively embodies over time, by measuring voter support for these parties in European democracies. In that sense, TAP [Timbro Authoritarian Populism Index] is more of a map than a guide, which makes it useful for cooperation with international partners who have much better knowledge of what the proper response should be in the individual countries concerned.”

“Second of all, we hope that TAP can help spur a debate not only on the importance of advocating for constitutional reform – of institutional ‘speed bumps’ that can help limit the impact of these movements but also on the core values at stake: limited government, individual liberty and property rights.”

There are 7,843 total seats in the national parliaments of the 33 countries included in the index, and 1,342 are held by authoritarian populist parties. Of those, authoritarian populist parties are part of the governments in Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Norway, Slovakia, and Switzerland, with such parties holding majorities in Hungary and Poland and a near-majority in Greece.

The Fidesz party holds 114 of 199 seats in the Hungarian National Assembly and has majorities in 19 of 19 county legislatures, 20 of 23 urban counties, and the Budapest city council; the PiS (“Law and Justice”) party holds 234 of 460 seats in the Sejm (lower house of Polish parliament) and 64 of 100 seats in the Polish Senate; and the Syriza party, or “Coalition of the Radical Left,” holds 144 of 300 seats in the Hellenic Parliament.

Recent elections in The Netherlands and France may have seen their populist prime minister and presidential candidates lose, but populist parties on the right and the left won greater percentages of the vote in both countries – with 28.1 percent of voters recently voting for such parties in France, up from 21.7 percent in 2016, and 16.9 percent doing the same in the Netherlands, up from 10.1 percent last year. With authoritarian populist parties holding power in seven of 28 EU Member States, the threat their ideologies pose to liberty has not diminished since last year’s index.

Timbro is engaged in several other fights to advance economic freedom in Sweden specifically and Europe generally. They have linked increasing tendencies toward populism as a result of overbearing taxation and bureaucracy that slow down growth and entrepreneurship. They have also spoken to the merits of European cooperation, while noting its flaws.

“Timbro has been a major player in the transformation of Sweden from a thoroughly socialist country in the 1970s, to a much more (though still heavily over-taxed) market-oriented and less collectivist society,” Svanborg-Sjövall continued. “But one of the biggest wins was our advocacy for private choice in the welfare sector, namely the school voucher system, that enables hundreds of thousands of kids to go to the school of their choosing, and not that of the local bureaucrats.”

The European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER), a creation of six leading think tanks in Europe, provided research summaries and graphics of Timbro's index.

Read more about: Authoritarian Populism Index 2017

Read the full publication (link in Swedish)

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