The European Parliament Election in Central Europe: Coping with the rise of the populism

Jozef Hrabina,
PhD. Candidate of Department of Situational Analysis MGIMO University

Introduction - populism on the rise even in central Europe

Recent European Parliament elections have confirmed trends of internal political development within the European Union. The populism is on the rise on both the left and right side of the political spectre. What makes space for assumption, that populism is a future political language in the Western hemisphere.

 Central Europe is not a special case and copes with the Western trends in political campaigns. Therefore, the populist parties are increasingly successful, while this trend was evident in EP elections. The average percentage gain of populist parties in Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and the Slovak Republic was more than 50% for both left and right populist parties. There are also standard political parties such as Smer-SD applying populism as the main form of their political language. As a part of the current trend, such form of communication is becoming a new normal in political culture within Europe and the North-West Hemisphere.

Therefore, I outline the research question as follows, is Central Europe coping with the western trends in the rise of the populism? Therefore, my main argument is that Central Europe is witnessing the rise of the populism, which is not necessarily the right populism and there are also leftist movements using the populism as a form of communication in their campaigns. There is also a problem with division onto the left and right parties. Whereas, the bedrock of political discussion in Central Europe has shifted from traditional political discourse dividing parties onto the left and right to division onto conservative and liberal parties, establishment and anti-establishment parties, traditional and populist parties. The core debates comprise mostly the cultural issues such as immigration, LGBTI agenda, abortions and traditional values.

I will use the qualitative method of data analysis. The comparative method will be used in comparison to the election results amongst the Central European countries. As Central Europe, I consider Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia as they are well-established members of the EU. I am using the qualitative method to apply the theoretical framework of populism to gather data from the Central European countries elections results.

What is populism is?

The main problem of the contemporary discourse addressing populism is the two-way definition, which results in confusion not only in public but also in politics and academia. The first one is the popular one, used by media to mock anti-establishment parties across the liberal democracies. The latter is the result of the overlap in marketing and political science, or put political marketing in real life. While the first one is mostly addressing the right-wing or conservative parties, the latter is more academic and addressing the whole political spectre. If one wants to see the populism as the political trend, it is necessary to apply the latter definition.

This definition frames the populism as a form of political language used in political campaigns. Since the political campaigns have become a permanent phenomenon in the west, the populism is becoming omnipresent too. In other words, populism is a form of communication. This form of communication comprises the critics of established parties, or the system in general1, simplification of realities and the last but not least is the form of data collection and resulting methods of targeting voter with the message and the strategy in general.

The spread of technology such as social media together with increasingly used data mining in marketing overlapped to political marketing. The notorious cases of personal data stealth to create voter profile and to target voter the message based on his personal data mined from his social media are pointing the direction the political marketing goes. Thus the Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ were pioneers in modern data collection used by many marketing-oriented companies today. This model of a political campaign is called voter preference-based strategy. The main aim of such a strategy is to obtain as much data as possible about voter preferences and then compose a message the party communicates. This is what makes populists parties so successful and also the reason why these parties are called populists- they are practically the voters wish.

The other technological advantage is artificial intelligence. Such intelligence allows political marketers to divide voters into the groups based on their preferences and then artificial intelligence is targeting these groups with the message of their preference.

In sum, populism is an increasingly used form of strategic communication in politics. The populist based communication is voter oriented. Thus the composition method of such communication is based in deep market/ electorate research with very efficient voter profile composition. Once the party creates a voter profile, it derives the message which voter or group of voters prefers. Moreover, targeting groups of voters are done by artificial intelligence which if ordered can disseminate different messages to various group of voters, what makes the communication more personalised and at the same time spread of different messages to targeted groups enables parties to target a wider range of electorate. The last but not least, there is a strong anti-establishment sentiment in the populistic rhetoric. Most of the populist's parties whether right or left, are prone to build on unreal promises and critics of current or former elites. What mostly stems from the lack of responsibility for the current state of affairs in the state where they run for elections.

Results of the election

The Austrian election ended by the victory with 34,55% of Sebastian Kurz´s party OVP often labelled as the right-wing populist party2. The FPO labelled as far-right took second place with 17,20%. The third-place took progressive liberal party NEOS with 8,44.

The election in Hungary won Fidesz run by prime minister Victor Orban with 52,66%, while the united opposition front Momentum gained 9, 93. The third was far-right Jobbik with 6,34.

In the Czech Republic, the current governing party ANO under Andrej Babiš leadership gained 21,18%, progressive liberal party Piráti 13,95 and right-wing populist SPD 9, 14%.

Slovak EP election won coalition of newly formed progressive liberal parties Progressive Slovakia and Spolu (PS/SPOLU) with 20,11% ahead of the ruling party Smer-Social Democracy with 15,27. Both parties are using tools of populist communication. The PS/Spolu is liberal anti-system party, while social democrats are targeting most vulnerable groups with simple rhetoric, which is also the case of far-right LS-NS which took third place with 12,07%.

Poland sees clear domination of governing party PiS, which is being criticized for its anti-system approach undermining democracy and freedom in the country. These characteristics aren´t common only to the populist´s parties, but popular anti-European Union rhetoric makes the PiS a populist movement.


The EP election results are pointing out three important phenomena regarding the growth of populism. First, the populism is a „multispectral“ form of communication. All victorious parties in Central Europe regardless of the political spectre, i.e. liberal or conservative (right-wing) were using populist rhetoric. That being said we reached the second conclusion and thus, the populism has become a mainstream form of political communication. A final conclusion is, therefore, the consequence of using populism as a form of political speech. By precise formulation of the voter's wishes, the populist movements are flaming the emotions within the electorate. What results in  creating a counteraction from the opposing side. If we take a closer look at the election results, for every extreme there is a counter extreme withing the close range. Therefore, the preferences of the progressive liberals cope with the preferences of the far-right. This phenomenon is caused by a combination of extreme emotional rhetoric which meets with counter-emotions. In sum, this particular moment makes populism very dangerous, what one could observe after the US presidential election in the form of rallies against the results.

Note and References

  1. Anti-establishment; however, there are cases such as Smer-SD in Slovakia, or Fidesz in Hungary which are ruling parties for a long period of time. The criticism of the liberalism, or the EU as the system/establishment is the bedrock of the populist communication In these cases.
  2. M. Scheritz, Das Establishment schlägt zurück, Zeit online, <>
  3. Translation Pirates. The party initially fought for freedom of using internet and protesting against regulations of internet piracy.