Hoe kan Europa zich verweren tegen de populisten? Een terugblik op een bewogen verkiezingsjaar.
Michael Cottakis vergelijkt de strategie van toenadering van extreem-rechts door centrum-rechtse partijen (Kurz) met de meer rechtstreekse aanval van populisten door Macron.
Sebastian Kurz employed some skill in preventing the far-right Freedom Party from emerging first at the recent elections in Austria. But this political manoeuvring comes at a cost. His method for tackling populism is the adoption approach. The strategy attempts to borrow many of the populist’s arguments, rendering his/her political party toothless in an election (…) The re-branding of his Austrian People’s Party forestalled a tougher stance on immigration, while he borrowed the far-right’s polemical rhetoric on EU ‘Zentralisierung’, or ‘centralisation’. By the end of the campaign, the dividing lines between the centre-right and far-right were sufficiently blurred for one to ask: which is the populist?
Emmanuel Macron used different tools. His counter-vision approach involved debunking the tenuous promises made by his populist adversary Marine Le Pen, while offering attractive alternative arguments. This is the harder of the two to pull off. It requires an individual of political skill and personal charisma with the courage to confront the populist head-on, without fear of disturbing the ideological balance of one’s party. In his presidential election campaign, Macron offered a text-book example of how to deploy the counter-vision. He directly attacked Le Pen and her anti-euro arguments – and skilfully exposed their paucity. In so doing, he provided a convincing defence of France’s role in the European Union, while appealing to French patriotism.
Cottakis vindt de aanpak van Kurz, die hij elders ook terugvindt bij centrum-rechts gevaarlijk.
The Kurz approach, if followed by others, will equate to a gentle ‘hollowing out’ of the European Project from within. Europe might be spared the Austrian Freedom Party, or indeed the Front National in power. But, if the Austrian and French centre-right adopt their policies anyway, what difference does it make?
For the time being, the adoption strategy seems more popular among Europe’s centrist parties than the counter-vision. Beyond Kurz, the best-known exemplar is the British Conservative Party, with Brexit the sorry outcome. In the Netherlands, Mark Rutte has demonstrated a clear rightward shift in his positioning on immigration, while Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU has not been immune from the temptation to deploy the strategy.