Addressing populism

Photo by Scott Webb on

(#7 of our Together-Ensemble series)

There is something common to all the themes of together ensemble, the desire to make you discover something new from a reality that we have known for years. A desire to raise awareness of things that seem to be going wrong but we are not sure IF and how to deal with them.

Including this growing perception that populist parties find more support among Europeans – from the least educated to the best, to the most fearful to the most daring, from our wisest people to the most naïve,  and all ethnicities, religions, etc. There is not one type of voter and there is not one type of populist politician.

For this reason, populism is not easy to frame, it is even a moving target.  Let me use this definition from Euronews:

“Populists seek to appeal to ordinary people who feel their concerns have been ignored by the “establishment” and their parties are often dominated by a charismatic leader.”

And before we continue, I have a question for you: “Is democracy threatened or is there in the rise of populism a message for us, in the form of a call for change on our way of listening, communicating and of leading?

I would say that we have something serious ahead. Populism is everywhere. It is rising and influencing politics (or even taking over).

But, there are also opportunities if we act from a place of equity while walking, on the basis of a value that is dear to us, “diversity”. And whenever there are concerns, we’d better hear them and act on them.


  • Anthony Zacharzewski is an international leader in democratic innovation and government reform. HE presented new approaches to democratic governance that are better suited to the 21st century.
  • Elisa Vecchione is policy analyst at the JRC, working in the field of citizen engagement and deliberative democracy. She shared with us the importance of technical competence and of science.
  • Marco Ricorda is a communication expert, political communication blogger and a Communication Officer for the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD). He has been a Member of Cabinet for President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, Head of Social Media for the ALDE group and Guy Verhofstadt, digital communication strategist for the European Commission and the Bruegel economic think tank. His role was to provoke some reactions.. and we understood his call for actions and not only in the area of communication.
  • Tom Brake is a former Deputy Leader of the UK House of Commons. He was the Brexit spokesperson of the Liberal Democrats until December 2019. He had been an MP for 22 years. He told us why not paying more attention to populism led him to lose his seat.

You can watch the webinar part here. Please note that this is internal “raw” material, not originally intended for external publication, but knowing the difficult context and associated challenges, we have decided to make it available to all. It is offered by the European Commission with a view to encourage everyone to take similar initiatives to encourage a benevolent direction. (video will be added soon).


Over 120 colleagues had registered for this session, of whom 70 attended the webinar live and 32 took part in the workshop the same afternoon.

  • Possible causes: The public debate is low now, very simple answers of populists who tell people what they want to hear. Lack of involvement and control over the decisions being made. Lack of response to the biggest problems identified by citizens (such as immigration). Failure of liberal system and what doesn’t work so well these days in liberal democracies. The inability of acknowledging and apologizing for failed policies of the past. The overreliance on expert based opinions that back up political decisions. Populism can be a consequence of events of the past whereby a sentiment of frustration is created. This frustration leads to a will of payback today. Populists thrive in an environment where other parties and parties in power are not vocal enough in denouncing the “scapegoatism” of minorities and myth busting. Economic consequences of 2008 crisis but also humiliation that may have started long ago and has been transmitted along generations. Populism is addressing everybody’s inner fears. General feeling of insecurity: unemployment, lower pensions, terrorism, change, COVID, climate change. Humiliated people are tempted to seek revenge and can be manipulated by populists who claim they understand their humiliation and will get them compensated.
  • Benefits of populism: It is also a gift: it does provide a “civilised” platform for disagreement (instead of e.g. riots). Because populism exploits weaknesses in Liberal democracy, its ascendancy might be seen as a valuable opportunity to appraise and improve status quo.
  • Risks: Populists provide simple answers but then cannot be implemented in a complex reality. Populism gives people a quick fix, but the consequences will be more detrimental in the long term. “The little populist in every of us that needs protection and comfort that ‘I am right’.”
  • Ways out: The EU dropped the policy of subsidiarity in 2005 – something to go back to and look at to understand if and how it has contributed to rising populism. Address the emotions. When people speak with their heart, we should speak to their heart in return, not to their minds. Give citizens a greater sense of control and involvement. Identify the issues, which are most important to citizens and take tangible actions to deal with them, while confronting false information. Build an open and participative system at local, national and European levels. Myth busting and getting facts out is important. Get arguments, to better communicate. Counter narrative against populists. Pick the issues which have most impact to citizens and address them. Need to address not just material issues but also the sense of grievance or status and related anxiety. Support others – messengers – to speak on EU Institutions’ behalf. Addressing people that perceive their own future is getting worse or without a sense of hope because of globalization. Use humour, including self-humour. We should be demonstrating what the alternative to the EU is — if people are afraid of the alternative, they will be more inclined to fight for the EU. Focusing on the positive AND negative emotions.#proudANDashamed. We need to tackle inequality, gain trust, bring tangible local figures, tackle local issues, work on a smaller scale. More tangible policies and initiatives, that get closer to the people. Create more awareness of the actions taken by the EU in a tangible way. Recreate the perception of EU citizens about the EU by actions on the field. Education: Schools should develop analytical capacity
  • But be careful: Dangerous to work with emotions, can also fall on the manipulative side. also, importance of education, accountability and personal responsibility for leaders. So, promote the facts with positive emotions and examples. We have to tell positive stories with people to inspire, give hope to fight fear and anger. It is clear that emotions are a contested terrain. For example, one ‘positive’ video mentioned as a ‘positive emotions’ video, can raise two opposite reactions. Another discussion was about populism exploiting emotions. Do we want to use the same strategy – emotion exploitations? This is not a trivial question. The bigger challenge is diversity of intellectual approach – the deformation professionnelle that makes people who work with academic and policy evidence all the time overvalue academic and policy input and undervalue emotional and personal stories. I do not mean that as a criticism, it’s natural – but it needs an effort to fit those other sorts of evidence into the decision making process. Therefore, we really need to regenerate an institutional culture based on diversity through day-to-day interactions, Not just on paper (e.g. strategy), also in practice…Need strong leadership to create new channels and new approaches that can break out of historic problems or ‘stuck’ politics. More diversity when recruiting staff
  • Possible acts at a personal level: Don’t be afraid to engage in discussions with your closed one, however sensitive they are. Do not be afraid to hurt your close ones’ feeling. Agree that they are correct, but from their own point of view. There are many different points of view. Be tangible.

Related links:

  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

And my next article will be about the future of work, another stimulating topic for all of us, I am sure!

2 responses to “Addressing populism”

  1. So, in short :
    -Reach out to fascist populist leaders such as Elon Musk (whom you have been tweeting at as if he were the leader of a cult), who claim they want to allow everyone to express themselves although they, in fact, are xenophobic, racist, misogynistic power hungry men, who won’t share power, who won’t listen, who won’t collaborate. The same exact kind of leaders we already have, Julie.
    -Tweet at angry far-right citizens expressing their racism, intolerance and hatred, and politely reassure them :”We share your views” instead of refusing to give in.

    Far right men will continue to colonize everything, they’ll censor all the leftists, all the women, even those who politely beg to them, Julie.
    Typical submissive right-wing woman. They are laughing at you, Julie.


  2. Hello Maria, You were quick to put me in a box. If you looked at my blog, you would see that I have nothing in common with right-wing people, whether male or female. That my passion is to study the behaviors, the mindsets related to my vision of a more collaborative world that would meet all its mega challenges, including growing injustices. That I work with people around the world on this issue. And that my only goal with people like Elon Musk is to understand them better but not only to make them invest on Earth instead of wanting to go to Mars, because here there is a lack of money to make the changes I want for this world .
    Because my ambition is crazy, I want love, solidarity, collaboration, shared leadership and all the conditions to make this world a better place for everyone. A few days ago I was called leftist, I can tell you that I am much more nuanced than that, and even then if I have to justify myself – because you are accusing me of something that I find quite unbearable, especially , as I am not only very independent, I am also a single woman by choice (so me an accomplice of all kinds, just not possible at all, prove to me that you are more independent than me in your thinking – I would love to continue the discussion on how far we can go to be truly aligned).
    From my past, I learnt that those who do take immense risks because they are far more judges hence our society like them more too. But I decided I would do, and I am not ready to quit because someone is quick to put me in a box. You really have no idea where I am coming from for saying these things. And if some laugh, well at least I am not invisible – which is a key prerequisite for my fight – as you can easily imagine.


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