July 8, 2016 Print

Authoritarian populism is one of the greatest contemporary threats to liberty — a worrying trend that is on the rise in Europe. In recent elections, a fifth of all European voters have cast their votes for populist parties, and a third of governments in Europe are dependent on populist parties. Timbro, an Atlas Network partner organization based in Stockholm, Sweden, recently released the Timbro Authoritarian Populism Index 2016 to chronicle the popularity and influence of populist parties in 33 European countries from 1980 to 2016.

“We have mapped all parties with an authoritarian or totalitarian ideology, both left-wing and right-wing, throughout Europe over almost four decades,” said Dr. Andreas Johansson Heinö, the director of publishing at Timbro who is responsible for the index. “A comprehensive view is needed to understand what the populist challenge means and how it can be answered.”

Support for populism is at an all-time high in Europe, the index reveals, and this trend is not confined to just one end of the political spectrum — populism is both a left-wing and a right-wing phenomenon. Populism has grown at the expense of other forms of extremism, with communist and fascist parties earning only 2 percent of the vote at the same time support for populist parties has surged. Authoritarian populism is also a pan-European phenomenon, with populist parties gaining significant voter support in all but three countries.

“The authoritarian populists lack respect for the need to have democracy in order to prevent abuse,” said Timbro CEO Karin Svanborg-Sjövall. “In Poland the courts were recently attacked, and there are more examples. Therefore we need proper speed bumps in politics — in Sweden as well.”

The index has received widespread acclaim, and Atlas Network partner Civismo has already translated it into Spanish, as well as producing its own version for the regions of Spain.

“Timbro’s Authoritarian Populism Index provides European citizens with a long-term perspective on the troublesome rise of extremist parties that pose a significant threat to our freedom,” said Diego Sanchez de la Cruz, director of Civismo. “Civismo decided to adapt the Index for Spain, not only by translating the original work by Timbro but also by developing our own subnational version. The result has been very positive. The report became a trending topic on Twitter and was featured on prime time TV shows, as well as in radio stations and newspapers. Releasing one week before our general election helped strengthen our campaign against populism and for liberal reforms. The electoral outcome has been satisfactory and Spain seems to be curbing the rise of populism, at least for now.”

Several countries within Europe now have dangerously high electoral support for populist parties, the index documents. For example, the Fidesz Party holds 114 of 199 seats of Hungary’s National Assembly.

“Authoritarian populism is running high in Hungary,” said Máté Hajba, director of Free Market Foundation, an Atlas Network partner based in Hungary. “It is a unique situation, as the party in power is populist, and they still manage to retain their popularity by making people afraid. It’s much easier to stand against something than to stand for certain values, but I believe Hungarian society really needs a positive message and a complete change in the political environment.”

Both Sanchez de la Cruz and Hajba were in Stockholm for the presentation of the Timbro Authoritarian Populism Index on June 20, and each spoke about their countries’ unique experiences with the rise of populist parties.