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The Rise and Logic of Right-Wing Populism

15.08.2022 - Over the weekend, the Opinion Festival took place in the small town of Paide in the heart of Estonia. Traditionally, the 2-day event concluded with a debate between the leaders of different political parties. A variety of hot topics and relevant problems were discussed. As expected, views on climate change differed quite a bit, with a lot of controversy surrounding it.

Martin Helme, the leader of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia was the loudest voice. Even considering different steps of the Green Deal was not an option for him. "Do people know that there are more polar bears than ever before," Helme asked. "Everything is fine with the climate. I do not agree that we let people become poor with abstract climate talk. There is no such thing as a climate crisis, it is the biggest hoax ever invented in the world. You have been told this to make you poor."

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia has been described as a right-wing populist party, which currently holds the second largest support (19.8%), according to the latest Norstat poll.

It is likely that every European country has a similar party, some are marginal and really small, others are the biggest opposition parties, and some even hold government positions. That populist ideology picks up every possible topic, which brings a certain group of voters with them. And there are always right-wing tendencies in every country.

It appears that the support of these parties averages somewhere close to a fifth in different countries. The Conservative People's Party of Estonia received 17.8% of the votes at the last Parliament Elections, The Finns Party 17.7%, French National Rally 18.68%, Italian Lega Nord 17.37%, Sweden´s Democrats 17.53%, but then the Swiss People's Party 25.6% and Fidesz in Hungary 54.10%.

In the case of Estonia, they are even higher in the polls between elections, and although that doesn't translate into real political power, it does give them support in social discussions. It is important also to remind that when the Conservative People's Party was, for the first (and only) time in the government and was holding the position of Minister of Finance, Estonia made its historical lowering of the alcohol taxes (in August 2019).

When it comes to making evidence-based policy decisions, these right-wing political movements highlight the challenges presented by these various ideologies and methodologies. Their positions on climate change cannot be swayed by more evidence because they "know" that "there are more polar bears than ever before".

Back in 2015, republican Senator James Inhofe brought a large snowball on the Senate floor as a real life example that the globe is not warming.

How do you respond to that? These are the challenges when we also think about alcohol and drug policies in our country. As a result, we are seeing, and will likely see even more in the future, positions and views that are based on beliefs, wishful thinking, and personal preferences rather than on actual evidence.

Lauri Beekmann

Executive director, NordAN

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