Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Europe’s populist tide has turned – leaving Brexit Britain washed up

Italy’s elections are the latest sign of many that populist insurgent parties are losing their grip. The European Union is growing stronger, argues James Newell** 



Riding the tide of popular protest against established institutions and parties, Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S) came to prominence in 2012, promising a new form of nonideological politics based on direct democracy and opposition to elites. In local elections earlier this month it came a poor third in most of the 160 larger municipalities where voting took place, making it through to the runoff ballots, held at the weekend, in only 10 cases.
True, in these cases it did well, winning in eight of them. But there was nothing unusual about this, for it is a protest party drawing support from across the left-right spectrum. So it almost always does well in runoffs. The headline result has been the success not of M5S but of the centre right, along with the increased vote share of the two established (centre-right and centre-left) coalitions. This is not dissimilar to what happened in the UK on 8 June, when the Ukip vote collapsed.

M5S has been quite resilient in the face of evidence that seems to fly in the face of its claim to stand for a new, more honest politics. But this time it has been handicapped by a lack of well-known faces, by its disastrous administration of Rome, and by internal conflicts. As it has penetrated political institutions, it has been called upon to make choices it could avoid as a mere protest movement, shouting from the outside.

As elsewhere in Europe, the Italian populists have found themselves grappling with the classic dilemma that arises when such parties join coalitions: do they make concessions in the interests of stability, hoping thereby to retain the support of moderates? Or do they threaten government stability so as not to lose the support of diehards?

They have suffered as a consequence, and the pattern is repeated elsewhere. In Norway, the Progress party has slipped back in opinion polls from the 16.3% of the vote it won in 2013, having been damaged by its unsympathetic response to the refugee crisis as well as its record in government. In Latvia, the National Alliance has seen a steady decline in its poll ratings, down to 9.1% from the 16.6% it won in 2014. In Finland, support for the Finns party dropped from 17.7% to 10.7% over just six months in 2015.

Though a number of western democracies have recently seen elections or referenda that have been widely dubbed as “populist revolts”, much depends, in interpreting the outcomes, on one’s chosen points of reference. Nothing makes this clearer than the result achieved by Corbyn’s Labour last month: yes he lost, but he has been immeasurably strengthened because he did so much better than expected. Trump, who by contrast won, did better than expected; but still, he lost the popular vote by some 2 million. Norbert Hofer, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen were all decisively beaten.

All these results have significant implications for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and the future of Europe. On the one hand, governments under pressure from anti-establishment parties may be tempted to resist concessions to the UK in order not to encourage anti-European forces within their own borders.

On the other hand, if the growth of such forces has reached a peak, as recent results suggest they may have done, then the size of the obstacles in the way of European integration ambitions has been reduced. Either way, the European project is perhaps more secure than has been widely assumed; and it would still be relatively secure even if parties such as M5S were to find themselves doing better than they have done this week. In government, M5S would be uniquely badly placed to withstand the threats deriving from the capital flight and economic turmoil its promise of a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro would probably bring. And it would have to overcome a whole series of constitutional obstacles (not least the ban on referenda on international treaties) in order to hold such a vote in the first place.

At a time of uncertainty, when even the smallest political shifts can seem portentous, last Sunday’s local elections in Italy bode well for Europe. The same cannot be said for the UK which now looks likely, in the event of Brexit, to find itself left out of an EU that is increasingly integrated, and increasingly powerful.

** This blog post was originally published on 27 June 2017 in The Guardian

Monday, 5 June 2017

Populists are not taking over Europe, but neither are they on the way out

Populists must be taken seriously as builders of organisations, shapers of political agendas and, increasingly, as parties in power - argues Daniele Albertazzi.**


The political developments of the last year or so have inspired a flurry of articles and analyses on the future of populism in Europe. However, too often the term “populism” is deployed in inconsistent, loose and undefined ways; moreover, the commentary tends to be characterised by unfounded claims about, either the populists’ alleged successes, or indeed their impending demise.

Populism is not the attempt to put forward “popular” proposals, nor is it about appealing to emotions during campaigns, or else every politician should by default be called a “populist” and the term would become useless. Moreover, the essence of populism is not necessarily overpromising. Whether we conceive of populism as a “thin”, simplistic ideology attaching itself to other ideologies (for instance, socialism and nationalism), or “just” a rhetorical style, its core argument is that the people, depicted as virtuous and homogeneous, are always pitted against a set of elites, who are depriving the people of everything they own - from their material wealth to their very identity. In other words, the core of populism is its anti-establishment rhetoric and anti-elitism.

Following the events leading to Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the USA, it may be understandable to find so many commentators buying into a narrative whereby Europe would be on the verge of being “swept” by a populist tide. This narrative often reveals the Anglo-centric perspective of its proponents, as it is predicated on an understanding of political competition whereby only two/three actors can have a go at forming the government, usually on their own. But since the majority of European electoral systems have strong elements of proportionality, and in several of them (such as, for instance France, Germany, Belgium and, more recently, also the Netherlands) mainstream parties would find it very difficult to engage in forms of collaboration with their populist competitors, the picture on our continent seems in fact more nuanced. This, however, does not mean, as some commentators have concluded after Macron’s victory in the French Presidential election, that populism must now have “peaked”, let alone that it is on the way out. Assertions of this kind are not substantiated by the electoral data, nor indeed by a simple consideration of how often populists have been included in governing coalitions in recent years.

As far as elections are concerned, European populist parties have quite simply seen their vote share increase steadily and consistently since the 1970s. Even the recent and much discussed “defeats” that populists are alleged to have suffered in the Netherlands, France and Austria were very honourable indeed. Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom increased its tally of seats, the Austrian Norbert Gerwald Hofer came very close to being elected President of his country with 46 per cent of the vote, and Marine Le Pen attracted a much higher vote share than her father ever did when attempting to capture the French Presidency in the past.

As for populists accessing governments, all the signs are that they have a realistic hope to go on being included in government coalitions in several countries in the future.This has happened on numerous occasions in the recent past, and shrinking support for moderate parties militates in favour of populists remaining “coalitionable”.

Indeed, in countries as diverse as Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Hungary, Poland, and others, this has happened fairly recently - not to mention nations such as Denmark and again, the Netherlands, in which populists have provided essential external support to executives. If this were not enough, in many European countries it is the populist parties that are now the most seasoned and durable parties of all, sometimes benefiting from very rooted and efficient organisations. In other words, they are most certainly not “new” challengers – quite the opposite in fact.

The time has therefore come to take populists seriously as builders of organizations, shapers of political agendas and, increasingly, as parties in power. Their success may be far from inevitable, but they are definitely here to stay.

**this blog was originally published on the University of Birmingham website.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

IPSG is the PSA Specialist Group of the Year!

The PSA has awarded to us the coveted Specialist Group of the Year prize 2017!

In its letter to the group's convenors, the PSA spoke highly of our activism and the high quality of the work that we do over the year.
Prof. Matt Flinders (PSA Chair) awards the prize to IPSG conveners 
It recognised that we have been "working with other specialist groups, putting on international conferences, including some great speakers and guests, whilst also promoting diversity and supporting early career academics". 

We are delighted that the work of our members has led us to gain this recognition from the PSA and aim to continue doing our best to promote the study of Italian politics in comparative perspective. 
We are committed to continue to organise international events, collaborate with other specialist groups and, more generally, play an active role in the promotion of the study of politics. 
We remain particularly interested in welcoming PhD students and young researchers to our group and provide them opportunities to organise/participate in events with us so as to acquire experience and develop networks. 

Join us at this most exciting time for our group by contacting our membership officer Dario Quattromani, or simply log into the PSA website, then click on this link, and hit the 'request group membership' button! 

Jim Newell (IPSG Chair and founder), Arianna Giovannini & Daniele Albertazzi (IPSG Convenors), Laura Polverari (IPSG Secretary)



Sunday, 2 April 2017

IPSG at PSA Annual Conference, Glasgow (10-12 April 2017)

The Italian Politics Specialist Group has organised a wide number of panels at this year's PSA conference focussing on timely issues, with contributions from international academics: 

The full conference programme is available at this link, and on the PSA website.

The IPSG will hold its Annual Business Meeting on Tuesday 11 April (12:30-13:30, Conference Room 8). We encourage anyone interested in Italian and comparative politics to attend the meeting: this will be an excellent opportunity to get to know the IPSG executive, and familiarise with the wide range of activities that we are planning for 2017 and beyond. Existing, new and perspective members are welcome! 


We look forward to seeing you in Glasgow!



PSA 67th Annual International Conference

10 – 12 April 2017, Technology & Innovation Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
#PSA17

Politics in Interesting Times




Sunday, 26 February 2017

Great success for our conference in Turin!

The PSA Italian Politics Specialist group held its annual conference, entitled European Democracy Under Stress, at the University of Turin (Italy) on the 13th and 14th of January 2017. The event was organised in collaboration with the Department of Cultures, Politics and Society (DCPS) at the University of Turin, the PSA Anti-politics Specialist Group and the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at the Universidade Nova De Lisboa, with the support of the PSA Pushing the Boundaries Scheme.

Simona Piattoni (Professor of Politics, University of Trento and President of the Italian Political Studies Association) opened the conference with a compelling keynote entitled ‘Revisiting democratic principles in times of heightened interconnectedness’.  
Prof. Franca Roncarolo (Head of DCPS, University of Turin), Prof. Simona Piattoni (University of Trento, SISP President), Dr Arianna Giovannini (IPSG Co-convenor), Dr Matt Wood (APSG Convenor)

Throughout the two days, scholars from across Europe presented their research, and the conference provided a forum for debating the complex and multiple pressures currently faced by European democracies. It also hosted a workshop on experiments of deliberative democracy in Turin, delivered by leading experts at DCPS.

The event closed with a roundtable discussion with Alfio Mastropaolo (Professor of Politics, University of Turin), Daniele Albertazzi (Senior Lecturer in European Politics, University of Birmingham) and Anna Masera (Editor-in-chief of the Italian daily La Stampa and director of the Master in Journalism, University of Turin) – which focused on lessons from comparative analysis, and helped to set an agenda for future research.

Dr Matt Wood, Prof. Alfio Mastropaolo, Dr Daniele Albertazzi, Dr Anna Masera



The conference was a great success: it attracted a large audience and it offered the opportunity both to develop international research networks and to promote the work of the PSA abroad. The organisers are planning a series of blogs drawing on the papers presented in Turin, and they are preparing a proposal for a special issue. They have also set the foundations for creating an institutional link between the PSA and the Italian Political Studies Association.


Luigi Einaudi Campus, University of Turin

Luigi Einaudi Campus, University of Turin




Conference Dinner


Saturday, 14 January 2017

"European Democracy Under Stress" - Conference Programme



The Italian Politics Specialist Group is delighted to open the registration for its annual conference:



                                               


EUROPEAN DEMOCRACY UNDER STRESS

13th-14th January 2017- Department of Cultures, Politics and Society (DCPS), University of Turin


A conference organised by the Political Studies Association’s Italian Politics and Anti-politics Specialist Groups, with the support of the PSA Pushing the Boundaries Scheme, and the Faculdade de Ciencias Sociais e Humanas, Universidade Nova De Lisboa


European democracies are under pressure. The rise of alternative left and right political parties and new populist parties, discontent with traditional ‘slow’ political processes and growing preferences among citizens for internet and social media-driven movements and the increasing success of ‘antipolitics’ rhetoric have seen politicians across European liberal democracies struggle to retain their relevance in an increasingly globalised, fast-paced social and economic world. Moreover, European leaders are facing increasing difficulties to deal with a growing confluence of crises, including an unprecedented influx of refugees, discontent at harsh austerity measures imposed on EU member states, and more broadly dissatisfaction with the European integration project. This is clearly manifested in the growth of euro-sceptic parties and anti-EU feelings even in traditionally ‘Europhile’ countries, and in the recent ‘Brexit’ referendum in the UK. The dynamics and forms of these pressures are multidimensional and compound: they have different roots and have taken different paths across Europe, and yet they converge in challenging political structures and the very institution of democracy.

The aim of this conference is to offer a distinctive approach in capturing such complexity, inviting contributions from scholars across Europe that will: reflect on the causes, symptoms, effects, and long-term consequences of the so-called ‘democratic crisis’; develop explicitly comparative insights into the European ‘democratic crisis’, within and between countries as well as at the transnational ‘European’ level; offer an opportunity to ‘redefine’, in the light of current changes and challenges, the key concepts (e.g. anti-politics, politicisation/de-politicisation, populism, political participation, and the very idea of ‘democracy’) underpinning the debate on ‘democratic crisis’.

The conference will open with a keynote address by Simona Piattoni (Professor of Politics at the University of Trento, and President of SISP, the Italian Political Science Society), entitled 'Revisiting democratic principles in times of heightened interconnectedness'.
The event will include panels with papers from international scholars, as well as a workshop on experiments of deliberative democracy in Turin (‘A deliberative experience: two editions of the Turin Deliberative Budget. Promises and pitfalls from different democratic perspectives'), delivered by Stefania Ravazzi and Gianfraco Pomatto (members of the Department of Cultures, Politics and Society at the University of Turin).
The conference will close with a roundtable entitled 'European Democracy Under Stress. Lessons from comparative analysis'.
Panellist include Alfio Mastropaolo (Professor of Political Science, University of Turin), Daniele Albertazzi (Senior Lecturer in European Politics, University of Birmingham) and Anna Masera (Journalist, editor-in-chief and public-editor, La Stampa; director of the Master in Journalism, University of Turin).

The full conference programme is available at this link and below.


The conference is free of charge but attendees must register at this link. Registration will be open until Friday 6 January 2017.

If you have any query about the conference, please do not hesitate to contact the organisers.
 








Friday, 13 January 2017

'Trumpismo': America's new era of Berlusconismo?

The rise of Trump has brought to light uncanny similarities with the rise of Berlusconi in Italy. This has not gone un-noticed. The sometimes troubling likeness has brought Berlusconi back into the limelight, along with a renewed look at the affects of Berlusconi's policies on the Italian economy.

Radio Open Source has done a profile on 'Trumpismo' as it relates to 'Berlusconismo,' calling their segment: "Silvio Berlosconi: The Godfather of Trumpismo"

A panel of journalists weigh in on the issue, including Italian/American journalists Sylvia Poggioli and Alexander Stille; Italian journalist and Berlusconi critic, Sabina Guzzanti; and longtime financial and political journalist and former editor of The Economist, Bill Emmot.

Listen to our own Dr Daniele Albertazzi, senior lecturer of European Politics at the University of Birmingham as he discusses the 20-year era of Berlusconi, how the left is at a loss for words, and how a succession of Italian leaders have failed to pull the country together.


For the full story, click here.