The main research questions of this paper are how mainstream European Parliament parties conceptualize populism, and how they respond to the rise of populism. The paper, which has come out of the Horizon 2020 project “Demos”, is based on semi-structured interviews with top officials of non-populist parties in the European Parliament (“Europarties”), such as the ALDE, EPP, the Party of European Socialists and the European Greens. The research technique of the paper is thematic analysis, performed on the responses obtained from the aforementioned interviews. Europarty officials identified populist parties by associating them with core themes such as anti-migration, Euroscepticism, and the tendency to make undeliverable policy promises. As for the effectiveness of anti-populist strategies, the interviewees converged on the idea that the problems posed by populists cannot be ignored and that clear and concrete policy solutions are what mainstream parties need, if they are to defend themselves against the evasive political discourse of populist parties.

  • Non-populist parties in the European Parliament may use three strategies to prevent the rise of populists, namely clashing with, marginalizing, or co-opting the populists.
  • Non-populist parties may prefer to incorporate selected questions raised by the populists into their political agendas, and provide non-populist replies to them.
  • Mainstream parties seem aware that while populists may not win arguments over concrete policy measures, they might win voters’ hearts.

Read here in pdf the Working Paper by Dimitri A. Sotiropoulos, Senior Research Fellow of ELIAMEP; Professor at the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens.