Weekly briefing: Anti-establishment in the EU

A weekly round-up of relevant IEP data providing insight into the world around us.

May 31, 2019: This week, citizens of the European Union voted to reject the status quo.  The highest voter turnout in two decades turned to the polls to elect the 751 Members of the European Parliament who will represent more than 512 million people from 28 countries. The traditional centre-left and centre-right parties lost their 40-year majority as voters abandoned the established norm to diverge to the left and right sides of the political spectrum. Far-right representation increased after the election, but the swing was not as hefty as analysts anticipated it would be. Most notably, Italy’s Matteo Salvini’s Eurosceptic party Lega and Britain’s Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party championed successes for the anti-EU voters.  In contrast, a desire for a pan-European approach to political issues like climate change was clear in the upswing of support for the greens. The emphatically pro-Europe Green Party showed competitive successes over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union across Germany, and Greens in Britain came ahead of the Tories.

Europe by the numbers

3 years of deteriorations in peacefulness leading up to the 2018 Global Peace Index

10 years of being the most peaceful region in the world

20 of the top 30 most peaceful countries are in Europe

2005: the year ‘Acceptance of the Rights of Others’ began deteriorating in Europe

61% of countries in Europe have deteriorated in peacefulness since 2008

Converging trends in peace, diverging trends in politics

On the 2018 Global Peace Index (GPI), Europe’s regional levels of peace deteriorated for the third straight year.

The broad trend in Europe over a decade has seen a convergence in peace between the top and bottom scoring countries. The most peaceful countries in the region, most of them in Western Europe, have declined in peacefulness, while those with weak scores, many of them in Eastern Europe, recorded the most notable increases in peacefulness.

Political divisions eroded the peacefulness of Western Europe, notably in relation to rising nationalism. Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Italy and Germany all declined in peacefulness in the year leading up to the 2018 GPI.

The simultaneous strengthening of political stability and deteriorations in political terror in Europe is an observation for concern. In countries like Poland, divisive but increasingly entrenched governments have improved stability while increasing terror, possibly indicating that their opposition is losing faith in the democratic process. Roiled by the Catalan independence vote, Spain was among the world’s five biggest deteriorations. This is the first time a major western economy has earned this dubious distinction.

Populism in Europe as a threat to Positive Peace

Populist parties are anti-establishment from the basis of their policies. Some of the established norms they oppose are the institutions and structure that assist in the promotion and maintenance of peace. Of the eight pillars of Positive Peace, the rise of populism had the most significant effect on Acceptance of the Rights of Others. Every global region has experienced a deterioration in Acceptance of the Rights of Others since 2013. However, North America and Europe were leading regions.


Immigration and terrorism are perceived to be the two most important issues in the European Union. This combination of concerns acts as potent fodder for populists. This trend reverses considerable efforts of collaboration and regional integration since World War Two.