What to Make of the European Elections

The sheer scale of the European elections, coupled with the huge differences among the parties that were on the ballot from Sweden to Greece, makes it possible to find evidence for just about any story about the results. Perhaps because the rise of far-right populism has, three years after the surprise victory of Brexit and the shock election of Donald Trump, come to look rather old hat, many publications have opted for a more refreshing narrative: What we saw on Sunday, they say, was a populist wave that ended “in a ripple,” or, more simply, “the populist surge that wasn’t.”

This narrative points to some important facts. Far-right populists had a disappointing night in a number of big countries, including Germany and Spain. Their advance slowed or went into reverse in a few smaller countries where they once looked as though they could pose a real threat, including Denmark and the Netherlands. And though their overall ranks have swelled, they are in no position to take down the European Union anytime soon.

At the same time, these facts only add up to an optimistic takeaway if one’s baseline for populist success is unmitigated triumph. The real story here is that right-wing populists are still growing—and have already established themselves as a fixture on the political stage.

When the far-right Freedom Party joined the Austrian government as a junior coalition partner in 1999, the shocking news of its ascent dominated European headlines for months on end. Statesmen across the continent vowed that they would never treat extremists as legitimate leaders of European nations. The member states of the EU unanimously imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria.

There were good reasons to hope that the populists’ success in Austria would remain a strange aberration. In that year’s elections for the European Parliament, far-right extremists failed to break into the double digits in any other country; nowhere did they win an outright majority. Read more via The Atlantic