Populists and technocrats: the future of European politics?

Thursday 8 October, 18.00 until 19.30, Kultura Liberalna, ul. Chmielna 15/9, 00-021, Warszawa International Satellites

Tickets are free and there is no need to reserve a place.

Across Europe, established political parties are being challenged by new political forces and personalities. In Poland, rock star Paweł Kukiz has come third in the presidential race gaining over 20 per cent of the vote, almost from nowhere, to attract high opinion-poll ratings with a simple demand to reform the electoral system. In Italy, comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement, formed in 2009, won 25 per cent of the vote in 2013 national elections. In Spain, Podemos, launched in 2014 in response to the Indignados movement protesting against austerity, received almost eight per cent of the vote in the country’s European Parliament elections just four months later. More long-established outsider parties, like Britain’s UKIP and France’s Front National, have enjoyed considerable electoral success, topping the European Parliament polls, while in Greece, SYRIZA has become the governing party, as has the Scottish National Party in Scotland.

Many mainstream politicians have tried to write off such successes as mere volatile protest votes. In some cases this seems to be true – a few months after the election. the support for Kukiz almost evaporated.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice-chancellor and head of the Social Democrats, set the tone for the debate about democracy in Europe last year by dismissing Eurosceptic parties on both left and right of the political divide as ‘stupid’ – implying that those who vote for them are also stupid. Yet the electoral success of such parties and movements has become too great to ignore. Even when one loses its support, another one will probably soon take their place.

Yet alongside this political earthquake, there are signs that democracy itself is under attack. In many countries, unelected technocrats have taken on many roles that were previously undertaken by elected politicians. In extreme cases, unelected governments have been installed. A government of technocrats was imposed on Greece at one stage of the crisis there and the previously radical SYRIZA government has fallen apart, with Tsipras calling an election to win a mandate to impose further austerity. In Italy, Mario Monti was installed as prime minister of Italy in 2011 and led a government of unelected professionals until 2013. Moreover, with more and more power being exercised from Brussels than by national parliaments, the electorate’s ability to influence policy seems to be getting weaker.

Why have populist parties become so popular? Does this mark the beginning of the end for many established parties or is this merely a period of change? Should we really take seriously some of these movements when they may disappear as quickly as they emerged? Are these election results becoming academic when more and more power is being handed over to technocrats? What is the future for democracy?

Rick Lyman
journalist; Central and Eastern European bureau chief, New York Times

Dr Łukasz Pawłowski
managing editor and columnist, Kultura Liberalna

Nathalie Rothschild
freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio

Dr Ben Stanley
lecturer, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, SWPS University in Warsaw

Rob Lyons
science and technology director, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum

Produced by
Rob Lyons science and technology director, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum
Dr Łukasz Pawłowski managing editor and columnist, Kultura Liberalna

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