Populism Watch: Europe, Populism and the Model of Macron

Change is afoot in Europe. On the same day last week, Spain ousted the populist Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in favor of the socialist Pedro Sánchez, while Italy welcomed the first populist government in Western Europe. In the coming months, PPI will track the tides of populism across Europe in real-time and provide updates on this blog.

One key country resisting populist forces is France. In electing Emmanuel Macron president, French voters rebuffed both the far-right populist Marine le Pen and the ultra-left demagogue Jean-Luc Melenchon. The key, argues Progressive Policy Institute President Will Marshall, lay in Macron’s ability to tap into the voters’ mood for radical change without embracing the populists’ reactionary demands. Instead, Macron derived his agenda from the pragmatic elements of both the Socialists and the center-right Republicans. Second, Macron’s economic agenda focused on reducing stagnation by simultaneously shielding individuals against market fluctuations while liberalizing France’s economy. Third, Macron forged consensus among progressives and traditionalists by fusing a hopeful and forward-thinking narrative with classic ideas rooted in the spirit of the European Enlightenment.

Following in Macron’s footsteps, the task ahead for progressives is to channel the insurgent mood in both America and Europe in more constructive directions. That means speaking to voters’ common hopes and aspirations, not the animosities that divide them.

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