European Parliament elections 2019: Meet the EU countries bucking the populist trend

Carnation Revolution's 43rd anniversary in Lisbon, Portugal
Carnation Revolution's 43rd anniversary in Lisbon, Portugal Copyright REUTERS/Rafael MarchanteA girl holds a carnation during a march marking the Carnation Revolution's 43rd anniversary in Lisbon, Portugal April 25, 2017
Copyright REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
By Isabel Marques da SilvaJoanna Gill
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

Portugal, Luxembourg, Malta and Ireland have little or no far-right populists to speak while the rest of Europe is seeing a rise in support for these groups.


In the run-up to EU elections this weekend, the rise of far-right parties has dominated headlines from east to west.

But there are some smaller EU states that are bucking that trend.

In the Brief from Brussels, we look at where populism has failed to take hold and the reasons why —starting with Europe's western-most point.

Portugal's socialist government has become a case study for Europe. Prime Minister Antonio Costa managed to reverse EU austerity measures in four years with the backing of two radical left parties.

Unemployment is back to 6% and the economy is growing faster than Germany's.

The left-wing believe it is their handling of the crisis which stopped the far-right from winning votes.

"Here in Portugal, we were able to avoid that tendency of nationalism and extremism because we govern for the sake of the people," said Pedro Marques, Socialist candidate to the European Parliament.

"At the European level, for too long... since the euro currency creation and even worse during the financial crisis and subsequent response to it... the inequalities in Europe have been accentuated."

Portugal is one of the four EU member states without far-right parties in parliament. The others are Ireland; Luxembourg and Malta.

All of them have powerful neighbours. Being an EU member gives them more of an equal footing.

Besides the financial crisis and geography, another issue plays a role in support for the far-right: migration.

However, Nicholas Whyte, a political analyst at APCO Worldwide, says that in those four countries it is not a problem, but an advantage.

"Malta has his own very specific Mediterranean culture but is a place of commerce, of trade, that always had to be open to other influences to survive," he said.

"Luxembourg, likewise — and in the past few years has become richer and richer— has pulled in more and more migrant workers to support its economy. Ireland and Portugal, on the other hand, these are countries with a history of migration outwards and people have since come back to Ireland and to Portugal to build their economy, to build the country up."

These countries are not immune to populism. Sometimes it takes a charismatic leader.

In Portugal, sports commentator Andre Ventura is running with Basta! (Enough!), a coalition of movements with far-right affiliations.

In Ireland, businessman Peter Casey makes no apologies for describing himself as a "racist". After losing the presidential election he is running to become an MEP.

But if charisma is not enough to get nationalism rising, what about the possible interference coming from beyond Europe?


"If I was the Russians and thinking about where to invest my efforts, I must admit I do not think that Ireland, Portugal, Malta or Luxembourg would be very high on my list; so possibly that is part of it. At the same time, one does not want to exaggerate the Russian factor. It is certainly there, but the factors that drive all these questions are, in fact, indigenous in the end," added Whyte.

Altogether, these four countries represent only 44 of the 751 MEPs and they sit mostly in the middle of the political spectrum.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Germany and France agree Ukraine may strike Russian military targets

Lack of parental leave ‘discourages’ youth from running for elections

Alvise Perez: The Spanish outsider wanting to capture discontent in European elections