The 2010s Were the Best Decade for European Populism Yet

(L-R) Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, President of the French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party Marine Le Pen, leader of Bulgarian Volya (Will) party Veselin Mareshki, deputy chairman of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) Jaak Madison, and leader of the Czech Freedom and Direct …
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

The rise of anti-globalist populist and sovereigntist movements has been a defining feature of the past decade in Europe, from the Brexit vote to the emergence of new political parties across the continent.

Populist parties have existed in many European countries for decades but aside from some, such as the Austrian Freedom Party under Jörg Haider in the early 2000s, few have enjoyed widespread popular support or held power within a national government before 2010.

The 2010s, sparked largely by the European migrant crisis of 2015 that saw over a million asylum seekers pouring into Europe after German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the borders, have seen the creation or rise of anti-mass migration parties and movements whose chief focus is sovereignty for their nations.

In the UK, the Brexit movement saw its first major win during the 2014 European Parliament elections when the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) under Nigel Farage became the first party other than Labour or the Conservatives to win a nationally held election since 1906.

The win largely influenced Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to call for a referendum on European Union membership which saw 14.7 million people vote to leave the EU, for Cameron to resign and Theresa May to eventually take his place.

While Prime Minister Theresa May spent years unsuccessfully trying to negotiate a deal to leave the EU that parliament would approve of, 2019 saw a second wave of victories for Brexit, including another European Parliament election win for Nigel Farage, this time with the Brexit Party, and the December national election that saw a strong Tory majority for Boris Johnson who has promised to finally deliver Brexit by the end of January 2020.

In Austria, the 2010s were a rollercoaster for the Freedom Party (FPÖ) which was able to gain votes each election until 2017 when the party, under the leadership of Heinz-Christian Strache, was able to form a coalition with the Austrian People’s Party and its leader Sebastian Kurz.

The coalition represented the first time the FPÖ was part of a national government since the days of Haider in the early 2000s. But the government, despite being popular, was brought down due to a scandal known as the “Ibiza affair” which led to the resignation of Strache as Vice-Chancellor and as leader of the FPÖ.

The FPÖ has not equalled its 2017 performance under its new leader and former presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, but remains an established force in Austrian politics.

Germany, which has been the central point of the migrant crisis due to the actions of Chancellor Merkel, saw the creation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in 2013.

Following the migrant crisis, the AfD saw massive gains in regional elections, even defeating Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in her home state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in September 2016.

The party saw another strong result in Germany’s national elections in 2017, securing 12.6 per cent of the vote and 94 seats in the German parliament and became the official opposition after the CDU formed a grand coalition with the Social Democrats.

The AfD has become incredibly popular in former East Germany, recently showing a strong performance in Brandenburg and Saxony in 2019 and at least one 2018 poll showed the party to be the most popular in the region.

For Hungary, the 2010s have undoubtedly been the decade of Viktor Orban who has seen election victory after election victory since becoming Prime Minister in 2010.

The Hungarian leader has also led a successful campaign against the NGO empire of Hungarian-American left-wing billionaire George Soros who announced that he would be moving his Open Society Foundations (OSF) from Budapest to Berlin in 2018.

Seen as an example by many other pro-sovereignty parties in Europe, Orban’s resistance to mass migration by building a highly-effective border fence in late 2015 and his Fidesz party’s pro-family and pro-Christian policies have influenced others across Europe.

One of the figures to praise Orban and receive praise from him in return has been Italian Senator Matteo Salvini who has turned the previously northern Italian separatist League, formerly the Northern League, into a national force and entered government following the 2018 national elections alongside the anti-establishment Five Star Movement as Italian Interior Minister.

What Orban managed to do on land, Salvini set about doing the same at sea and greatly reduced the number of illegal migrants entering the country by restricting port access to migrant transport NGOs operating in the search and rescue (SAR) zone off the coast of Libya, reducing migrant deaths in the process.

Salvini also promised to enact similar pro-family policies that would see Italians with large families be given the option to receive grants of land in the rural areas of the country.

The coalition of the League and the Five Star Movement, however, was not to last with disagreements following Salvini’s victory in the 2019 European Parliament elections leading to its collapse in August.

The popularity of the League has remained constant since it left government, while the Five Star Movement, the winner of the 2018 election, has seen a dramatic decline and only around a third of Italians support the current Five Star-Democratic Party leftist coalition as migrant transport NGOs have been given a green light to operate again.

Marine Le Pen, a close ally of Salvini, has also seen a dramatic rise in popularity in the 2010s and while she finished second to Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 presidential election, her party now consistently ties for first place with Macron’s La Republique En Marche! (LREM) in polls and beat Macron in the 2019 European elections.

Le Pen was also able to reshape the Front National into a major political force and in 2018, rebranded the party as the National Rally (RN).

While Germany took in the largest number of migrants in total during the 2015 migrant crisis, it was Sweden which took in the highest number of migrants per capita.

The populist Sweden Democrats (SD) under the leadership of Jimmie Åkesson have seen dramatic growth in the last decade due to their criticism of mass migration and their tough stance on the growing trend of violent gang crime plaguing the country, which has seen a recent significant increase in bombings and explosions.

In 2010, the SD won just 5.7 per cent of the vote in the national elections and have managed to become the largest party in the country in a recent poll that put the party at 24 per cent, ahead of the ruling Social Democrats.

One of the youngest populist parties in Europe to see electoral success has been VOX in Spain which was formed in December of 2013 and went from receiving just 0.2 per cent in the 2016 national election to becoming the third-largest party in Spain in 2019 winning 15.1 per cent of the vote and 52 seats in the Spanish parliament.

VOX is both anti-mass migration and pro-national sovereignty but one of their most notable stances has been their intense opposition to the independence of Catalonia.

In 2019 shortly before their election gains, VOX leader Santiago Abascal told Breitbart London that not only did he oppose the independence movement, but that he would also seek to make separatist parties illegal in Spain.

The 2010s have seen the best years yet for the pro-sovereignty populist movement with several parties finishing the decade as the most popular in their respective nations.

Whether or not they are currently in government or heading for gains in upcoming national elections, the populist movement has become an established political force throughout Europe making the 2010s the decade of populism.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


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