There is a tendency in current constitutional thinking to reduce populism to a single set of universal elements. These theories juxtapose populism with constitutionalism and argue that populism is by definition antithetical to constitutionalism.Footnote 1 Populism, according to this view, undermines the very substance of constitutional (liberal) democracy. By attacking the core elements of constitutional democracy, such as independent courts, free media, civil rights and fair electoral rules, populism by necessity degenerates into one or another form of non-democratic and authoritarian order.
In this article, I argue that such an approach is not only historically inaccurate but also normatively flawed. There are historical examples of different forms of populism, like the New Deal in the US, which did not degenerate into authoritarianism and which actually helped the American democracy to survive the Big Depression of the 1930s. Looking at the current populist map, we can also find examples of such democratic populists, which seek to protect and defend democracy by making it more responsive, equitable and inclusive (Sanders, Warren, Podemos, Syriza). Hence, it is wrong to argue that there is something intrinsic to populism, which makes it incompatible with constitutionalism. As Joseph Fishkin and William Forbath argue, many populist movements in the US contributed to the creation of the “anti-oligarchy” concept of constitutionalism, which sought to empower and protect the democratic nature of the American constitution.Footnote 2 We must therefore distinguish between the two different faces of populism: the authoritarian and the emancipatory face of populism. While the former contradicts the key principles of modern democratic constitutionalism, the later seeks to resuscitate the same principles from the grip of the unaccountable “moneyed elites,” threating to undermine the very nature of democratic republic.
Populism is Janus-faced; simultaneously facing different directions. There is not a single form of populism, but rather a variety of different forms, each with profoundly different political consequences. Despite the current hegemony of authoritarian populism, a much different sort of populism is also possible: Democratic and anti-establishment populism, which combines elements of liberal and democratic convictions.
Currently we live in an age of populist resentment toward the liberal international order and its core constitutional form—liberal constitutional democracy.Footnote 3 The populist surge is global. Political parties, movements or leaders such as Trump, Kaczynski, Orban, Erdogan, Putin, Salvini, Morales, Maduro, Marine Le Pen, Wilders, to name just a few, claim to be the sole “true” representatives of their peoples against the corrupt elites.Footnote 4 What is peculiar about the current populist surge is the dominance of authoritarian over democratic flavors of populism. The authoritarian populists not only attack the policies that are based on core institutional pillars of this order, but quite often they also challenge the very foundations of liberal order as such.
How is it that nativist, authoritarian populism has become so powerful? The populist backlash in essence represents a delayed Polanyian response to the destructive forces of the unfettered logic of free markets.Footnote 5 As Karl Polanyi demonstrated in his Great Transformation,Footnote 6 when markets become “dis-embedded” from their societies and create severe social dislocations, people eventually revolt. In many countries, populist parties are the only ones to argue that there exists a real alternative. They protest against the “consensus at the center” among the center-right and center-left around the idea that there is no alternative to neo-liberal globalization.
A nationalist, authoritarian populism, combined with either economic protectionism or almost left-wing-oriented social policy, promises to protect the ordinary people abandoned by the liberal elites. With the eruption of the migration crisis in 2015, such socially-oriented xenophobic nationalism provided an ideal fit connecting the demand and supply side factors and driving increasing numbers of voters away from the political center to more right-wing extremes. As the mainstream center-left discredited itself with its unrelenting pursuit of neo-liberal reforms, the populist parties could claim to fill the void left by other mainstream political parties. In the words of Cas Mudde, “the populist surge is an illiberal democratic response to decades of undemocratic liberal policies.”Footnote 7
Without understanding the political economy of the populist revolt, it is difficult to understand the true roots of populism, and consequently, to devise an appropriate democratic alternative to populism. Yet, surprisingly few studies of current populist explosion venture into this direction.Footnote 8 Most accounts try to explain populism as “the result of impersonal forces,” of “globalisation” and “technological change,” or even worse, as merely a failure of representative politics, without properly addressing the structural roots of populism, embedded in the political economy of modern capitalism.
What committed democracts of different political camps need to articulate is a coherent alternative to the failed neoliberal economic policies of the last three decades. What counts this time are sensible economic, social, environmental and migraton policies promising to improve daily lives of ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, the politically weakened mainstream parties—the traditional standard bearers of the post-World War II “embedded liberalism” consensus — are now on the defense. Instead of offering novel institutional solutions, the mainstream seems extremely vulnerable to the populist challenge coming both from the extreme right and extreme left. Instead of surrendering to the populists’ false promises of quick fixes, the democrats have to reinvent themselves. They must respond to the social anxieties that are helping fuel nationalist populism and offer a vision of new alternative future. Such vision can draw from a rich tradition of democratic populism and its version of anti-establishment constitutionalism.
B. Is populism (always) antithetical to constitutionalism?
In its broadest sense, populism is an ideology or political movement that “considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, the pure people versus the corrupt elite, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people.”Footnote 9 Populism seeks to speak in the name of the common people. Its distinctive features are the prioritization of popular sovereignty, direct democracy and a strong emphasis on anti-elitism. Beyond these shared common features, populism emerges in a variety of forms. While populism is hostile to elites, it is also vague and moralistic and as such quite easily instrumentalized by almost any type of ideology, both left and right. Following Paul Taggart’s definition of populism,Footnote 10 I argue that populism is chameleon-like, ever adapting to the colors of its environment. It has no core values and a very thin ideology. Hence, there exist several rather different varieties of populism: agrarian, socio-economic, xenophobic, reactionary, authoritarian and progressive populism.Footnote 11 In order to fully understand the logic of the different populisms, we have to approach them as socially and historically contingent categories. Besides the global factors mentioned earlier, we also have to study local conditions and factors, which help explain a variety of forms that populist movements assume. As Anna Grzymala Busse argues, rather than analyzing populism per se, we should recognize that it takes a variety of guises.Footnote 12
Curiously enough, despite the variety of forms that populism can assume, there is a tendency in current constitutional thinking to reduce populism to a single set of universal elements. These theories juxtapose populism with constitutionalism and argue that populism is by definition antithetical to constitutionalism.Footnote 13 Populism, according to this view, undermines the very substance of constitutional (liberal) democracy.
According to Jan-Werner Müller, populism has an “inner logic” that consists of two essential elements. The first key ingredient of populism is moralized anti-pluralism. According to Muller, populists are not only anti-elitist, but always also anti-pluralist. Leaders like Orbán, Kaczynski and Trump claim that “they, and they alone, represent the people.”Footnote 14 In their worldview, there are no opponents, only traitors. The opposition leaders are delegitimized through being cast as not caring about ordinary Polish and Hungarian citizens, but only about the interests of various “liberal” elites. Hence, on Müller’s reading, populism’s essential trait is a rejection of pluralism.
The second element, the noninstitutionalized notion of the people, means “that the populist asserts or assumes that there is a singular and morally privileged understanding or will that has not been manifest through the formal structures of democratic choice.”Footnote 15 The role of the populist leader is to do what the people want. The formal structures of liberal democracy have to be put aside if they are preventing the populist leader to fulfill his role. Populist leaders distrust all the traditional institutions of liberal democracy that stand between them and the wishes of the people. As a result, many of the populist parties openly flout the rule of law and explicitly reject the values of liberal democracy. A corollary of this element is the strong personalization of power, reflected in the fact that strong leaders like Orbán and Kaczyinski have managed to concentrate almost unlimited political power in their hands.
Portrayed in this way, populism becomes almost identical to authoritarianism and dictatorship. The hallmarks of populist style in power are colonization of the state, mass clientelism and mass corruption, and the systematic repression of civil society.Footnote 16 It is no surprise then that Müller views populism essentially as “a permanent shadow of modern representative democracy, and a constant peril.”Footnote 17 In light of the particular type of populism that has evolved in East Central Europe, most notably in Hungary and Poland, most of Müller’s claims seem accurate. The new authoritarian populism in ECE differs from other populisms because it combines the elements of populism, ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism. The authoritarian populists in Hungary and Poland have successfully institutionalized, through legal reforms, a new version of semi-authoritarian regime, which is halfway between “diminished democracy” and “competitive authoritarianism.”Footnote 18 Following a similar script, which consists of sustained attacks on rule of law institutions, civil rights and freedoms, the media and electoral rules, both leaders in a relatively short period of time dismantled almost all the key cornerstones of democracy in Hungary and Poland.Footnote 19 While Müller’s definition accurately captures the “inner logic” of one particular type of populism, authoritarian populism, it leaves out many other possible types of populism, which do not necessarily share the same characteristics.
In his critique of Müller, Bart Bonikowski argues that populist claims need not lead to authoritarian governance and that authoritarianism can rely on a variety of other legitimating discourses besides populism.Footnote 20 Furthermore, Bonikowski points out that “populism has also been employed by mainstream politicians who operate within the constraints of democratic institutions. And even when populist movements have radical origins, the resulting political outcomes can be benign with respect to democratic stability.”Footnote 21 In this vein, Bonikowski mentions the People’s Party in the United States and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom. Marco D’Eramo and Daniel Steimetz-Jenkins criticize Muller’s definition of populism for excluding a a figure like Bernie Sanders from the ranks of the populists.Footnote 22 Mark Tushnet offers the most poignant critique of such a “generic” approach to populism:
Most academic writing has focused on the right-wing versions. That writing generates critiques of what the authors describe as generic populism, critiques that the authors then apply to left-wing populism. It seems to me, though, that the critiques are mostly concerned with the “right-wing-ness” of the object of study, but present themselves in politically neutral terms-presumably because direct political criticism would seem unscholarly.Footnote 23
In a similar fashion, Thomas Frank criticizes Yascha Mounk and William Galston, who in their account of populism almost completely ignore other historical versions of populism. Frank lists several historical figures associated with progressive and democratic populism in the United States: Andrew Jackson, the Populist Party, and FDR. Frank also reminds us of an alternative definiton of populism, offered by historian Lawrence Goodwyn; in the opening statement of his book, The Populist Moment, Goodwyn argues that “This book is about the flowering of the largest democratic mass movement in American history. It is also necessarily a book about democracy itself.”Footnote 24 For Goodwyn, populism represented “a vision of democratic participation that was actually more advanced than what we settle for today. Far from being a threat to democracy, Populism was democracy’s zenith.”Footnote 25
Building on this tradition of democratic populism, Dani Rodrik argues that economic populism, which puts the people’s interest before the interests of autonomous regulatory agencies, independent central banks, and global trade rules, can sometimes be justified:
In such cases, relaxing the constraints on economic policy and returning policymaking autonomy to elected governments may well be desirable. Exceptional times require the freedom to experiment in economic policy. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal provides an apt historical example. FDR’s reforms required that he remove the economic shackles imposed by conservative judges and financial interests at home and by the gold standard abroad.Footnote 26
In line with Rodrik’s position, Robert Howse distinguishes the policies of good (economic) populism from bad (political) populism. The policies of good populism, according to Howse, “will be consistent with inclusion and pluralism-on the economic side, as Rodrik suggests, these would be New Deal-like initiatives that tax and regulate the wealthy, large businesses, but all the while allowing them to participate and continue to thrive in the polity.Footnote 27 Moreover, Howse identifies Bernie Sanders’ proposal to redistribute wealth without being confiscatory, to constrain the excesses of contemporary financial capitalism, not to nationalize the financial system, and to replace private with public capitalism, as belonging to this version of good/economic populism.
Looking at the current populist map, we can also find examples of democratic populists who seek to protect and defend democracy by making it more responsive, equitable and inclusive. Pippa Norris and Ronald Englehart argue that “populist parties, leaders and social movements with more liberal values are less common as a type but their support has also grown in recent years in several European states. These typically blend populist discourse railing against corruption, mainstream parties and politicians, capitalism combined with the endorsement of socially-liberal attitudes, left-wing economic policies and participatory styles of engagement.”Footnote 28 This category includes Spain’s Podemos party, Greece’s Syriza, the Left party in Germany, the Socialist Party in Netherlands, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the United States. These examples of democratic, liberal, socially inclusive forms of populism quite clearly show that authoritarianism and anti-pluralism are not necessarily the key elements of populism. Despite the current hegemony of authoritarian populism, a far different sort of populism is possible: democratic and anti-establishment populism, which combines elements of liberal and democratic convictions.
C. The dominance of right-wing authoritarian populism
What is peculiar about the current populist surge is the dominance of authoritarian over democratic populism.Footnote 29 How is it that nativist, authoritarian populism has become so powerful? Without understanding the political economy of the populist revolt, it is difficult to understand the true roots of populism, and consequently, to devise an appropriate democratic alternative to populism. Yet, surprisingly few studies of current populist explosion venture into this direction. Most of the accounts try to explain populism as “the result of impersonal forces,” of “globalisation” and “technological change,” or even worse, as merely a failure of representative politics, without properly addressing the structural roots of populism, embedded in the political economy of modern capitalism. Samuel Moyn and David Priestland criticize approaches which focus only on the perceived threat of populism to liberal fundamentals and argue for a stronger emphasis on “the deeply rooted forces that have been fueling right-wing populist politics, notably economic inequalities and status resentments.”Footnote 30 In what follows, I offer a brief political economy analysis of the populist backlash in Europe.
The European Union is facing an unprecedented political crisis. This club of liberal and democratic countries has been confronted by a nationalist and populist backlash that threatens the core principles at the very heart of the EU.Footnote 31 Capitalizing on the European sovereign debt crisis, the backlash against refugees streaming in from the Middle East, public angst over the growing terror threat, and Brexit, previously fringe populist political parties are growing with alarming speed. Populists not only attack policies that are based on core institutional pillars of the European integration project, but quite often they also challenge the very foundations of the project as such.
Part of the blame for the populist upsurge falls on both center-right and center-left party leaders who have failed to respond effectively to the European debt crisis. This fact is often obscured by the current focus on the migrant crisis as the single most important contributor to the populist surge. As Vivien Schmidt correctly argues, it is “neo-liberalism gone too far“Footnote 32 that is the major contributor to the anger fueling the rise of populism in Europe. There are also other rival theories attempting to explain the current rise of populism, which point to a variety of structural factors, ranging from the effects of globalization and global trade on income distribution,Footnote 33 to a decline in the subjective social status of white men,Footnote 34 and, last but not least, to culture—where populism is a reaction against progressive cultural change.Footnote 35
Although the roots of populism are complex, austerity and neoliberal structural reforms are undoubtedly one of the most important underlying factors. The ruling parties’ obsession with fiscal austerity and with supply-side policies of privatization, deregulation, and liberalization, effectively triggered a “lost decade” of economic stagnation, rising unemployment, increasing poverty, and dwindling EU solidarity that paved the way for the poisonous ultra-nationalism now on the rise.Footnote 36 All this has driven trust in the EU to an all-time low and fueled pathologies not seen since the 1930s, placing the European integration project on truly precarious ground. The new populist “zeitgeist” is best described by Jan Zielonka, who argues that “under attack is not just the EU but also other symbols of the current order: liberal democracy and neo-liberal economics, migration and a multicultural society, historical ‘truths’ and political correctness, moderate political parties and mainstream media, cultural tolerance and religious neutrality.”Footnote 37 Moreover, while populism comes in many versions, what almost all populists in Europe share is the rejection of “people and institutions that have governed Europe in the last three decades.”Footnote 38
In many countries, populist parties are the only ones to argue that there exists a real alternative. They protest against the “consensus at the center”—between the center-right and center-left—around the idea that there is no alternative to neo-liberal globalization. In the eyes of populists, the European project is the embodiment of a ruthless process of globalization responsible for intolerable levels of inequality, declining trust in democracy, a rising danger of terrorism, and increasing fear of loss of one’s “national” and “cultural” identity. Many major populist parties in Western Europe today are both anti-Eurozone and anti-European. On the left, only populists in Greece and Spain support both the euro and the European project. On the right, only two major populist parties (Germany’s right-wing AfD and Italy’s Five Star Movement) are not outright anti-European, but they are both against the euro.Footnote 39 The populists in the East have gone even farther in their confrontation with the EU. They frontally assault core EU values, contest the legitimacy of EU institutions and policies, and, at home, dismantle constitutional democracy.
A stronger showing of the right-wing populists in Europe is largely attributable to the decline of social democratic or center left. Support for parties that once commanded over 40 per cent of votes has dropped precipitously. The French Socialist Party, for instance, dropped to 6 per cent in the last parliamentary elections. The Greek PASOK fell from 44 per cent to only 6 per cent, and the Dutch Labor Party (PvDA) from 27 to 6 per cent.Footnote 40 As Sheri Berman argues,
Many traditional social democratic voters now vote populist; social democracy’s embrace of a “kinder, gentler” neoliberalism opened a policy “space” populists filled with welfare-state chauvinism; and social democracy’s fading electoral fortunes have rendered majority left government and, in many European countries, any stable majority government impossible, making it more difficult to solve problems, increasing dissatisfaction with democracy and support for populism further.Footnote 41
The populist backlash in essence represents a delayed Polanyian response to the destructive forces of the unfettered logic of free markets.Footnote 42 As Karl Polanyi demonstrated in his Great Transformation,Footnote 43 when markets become “dis-embedded” from their societies and create severe social dislocations, people eventually revolt. Despite important differences between the new populist forces in Europe, they have “more in common than we think. They are all pro-welfare (for some people, at least), anti-globalization, and most interestingly, pro-state, and although they say it sotto voce on the right, anti-finance.”Footnote 44 As Chantal Mouffe argues, populists are not against the European project as such, but only against “the neo-liberal incarnation of the European project.”Footnote 45
Vindication of “the social” by the populist forces does not mean only a defense of social rights but also a demand for greater autonomy of Member States on cultural (identity) and economic issues.Footnote 46 The populists do not seek to completely dismantle the EU. They do, however, demand that their national sovereignty be “restored” and oppose any further attempts toward an “ever closer union.” Much like in the 1930s, the protagonists of “the social” appear in different political forms, ranging from the extreme right to the extreme left on the political spectrum. While populist forces often pose legitimate political questions about the current state of democracy in Europe, their solutions tend to be controversial.Footnote 47 Their visions of emancipating “the social” often bear an uncanny resemblance to illiberal and authoritarian ideals from the 1930s.
E. Why only alternative economic and social policies can stop the rise of populism in Europe
In order to defuse the steady rise of populism in Europe, European democrats should articulate a coherent alternative to the failed neoliberal economic policies of the last decade. What counts this time are sensible economic, social and environmental policies promising to improve daily lives of European citizens. The EU needs to regain credibility by delivering simple and palpable benefits, such as good salaries, decent pensions, high-quality social services, and high environmental standards. In other words, it needs to improve what political theorists define as “output legitimacy.”Footnote 48 Only an economic policy that promotes growth, better jobs, wages, and social inclusion can stem the nationalist tide. To prevent history from repeating itself, Europe must act now.
Since the beginning of the Eurozone crisis in 2009, governments across Europe have single-mindedly embraced fiscal austerity. This has meant double-digit government spending cuts, and the elevation of the austerity paradigm spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to an essentially “unbreakable law.” The new Fiscal Compact, a treaty signed by all EU members except the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic, effectively outlaws the counter-cyclical economic policies espoused by Keynesianism, and establishes austerity and balanced budgets as the new fundamental principles of the EU constitutional order.Footnote 49 The problem is that this myopic austerity focus rests on a misdiagnosis of the euro crisis, has backfired economically, and has triggered grave social and economic repercussions in indebted countries.Footnote 50 Nevertheless, austerity remains the virtually unchallenged “official” EU economic doctrine. What Europe needs more than anything is a new anti-austerity coalition, focused on growth and social justice. Only a Europe willing to revert back to some basic Keynesian policies of economic stimulus, as the US government did at the outset of Barack Obama’s presidency, combined with economic innovations that include much-needed investments in infrastructure, education, and social programs, can restore Europe to stability, and reverse its dangerous nationalist surge.
Barry Eichengreen offers an economic explanation on why only a re-nationalization of fiscal policy can stem the tide of European populism.Footnote 51 His core thesis is that the evidence for large cross-border spillovers of national fiscal policies is weak. At the same time, the core questions of fiscal policy—whom to tax, how to tax, and how much to tax—are one of the most sensitive political and social questions, which are quintessentially national prerogatives. When cross-country spillovers are small but national preferences differ, the best option is to leave the decision-making at the national level. He concludes: “For fiscal policy then, the appropriate reform is less Europe, not more Europe.”Footnote 52 Similarly, Vivien Schmidt notes that “the EU needs to give back to the member-states the flexibility they have had in the past to devise policies that work for them.”Footnote 53 To this end, a more bottom-up and flexible reinterpretation of the rules of Eurozone governance is required: “[T]he Eurozone already has an amazing architecture of economic coordination, reaching into all the Eurozone ministries of finance and country economic experts. Why not use that coordination to ensure that countries themselves determine what works for their very specific economic growth models and varieties of capitalism?”Footnote 54 The existing framework of the European Semester,Footnote 55 redesigned in this way, could help Member States to get back on the path of sustainable growth. The fiscal councils could be supplemented by new competitiveness councils to act more as industrial policy councils rather than structural adjustment hawks; in Schmidt’s words, “such a bottom-up approach is likely not only to promote better economic performance but also much more democratic legitimacy at the national level. This is because it would put responsibility for the country’s economics back in national government’s hands at the same time that it would encourage more legitimising deliberation at the EU level.”Footnote 56 But in order to be redesigned in the suggested way, the European Semester would require simultaneous changes of SGP rules as well. As Mark Dawson argues, the European Semester “was envisaged as a measure to buttress and strengthen the Eurozone economy in particular and to recognise the need for heightened EU supervision of domestic budgets.”Footnote 57 As a result, it is deeply embedded in the balanced budget fundamentalism of the SGP.Footnote 58
However, none of these suggested reforms will work if the troubled countries remain overburdened by excessive debt and if they are left bereft of significant investment funds provided by banks or the state. For all this, the European Stability Mechanism is simply not enough. The EU needs to reinvent new forms of solidarity. As Schmidt suggests, new instruments such as Eurobonds, Europe-wide unemployment insurance, EU investment resourcesFootnote 59 and an EU self–generated budget are needed. The first step in this direction was made in 2015 through the establishment of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), part of the Investment Plan for Europe (the so-called Juncker Plan).Footnote 60 EFSI is an initiative launched jointly by the European Investment Bank and the European Commission to help overcome the current investment gap in the EU. However, as a recent study of the political economist Cornel Ban shows,Footnote 61 most EFSI loans and guarantees so far have gone to countries in a relatively strong economic position, with the exception of Italy and Spain, which at the time were undergoing steep recessions. In other words, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland received most of the loans, whereas the Baltic countries, Hungary and Romania received dramatically less. As a result, “the countercyclical pattern looks quite patchy.”Footnote 62
One possible lesson to draw from this quite limited example of European “Keynesianism” is that the creation of a new anti-austerity coalition will not be an easy task. As Jeffrey Frieden and Stefanie Walter show, the outcome of the crisis has been quite unusual “because the costs of the crisis resolution have been borne almost exclusively by the debtor countries and taxpayers in the Eurozone.”Footnote 63 The rift between the debtor and creditor states that emerged as the consequence of this outcome implicates “powerful national interests and equally powerful particularistic special interests.”Footnote 64 It is one thing to say that the survival of the Eurozone is in the interest of both groups of countries but quite another to persuade German, Dutch, Austrian and other mostly Northern European surplus countries to agree to a more debtor-friendly version of adjustment policies.
What the EU needs is not only more financial resources, but also new ideas about how to create more inclusive, diverse, and pluralistic European societies and economies. Here I agree with Aglietta, who argues:
Integration in the absence of a Europe-wide development strategy succeeded only in concentrating industrial activity in the regions where it was already strong, while the periphery lost ground. To counter this slide into long-term stagnation will require a development project capable of relaunching innovation across the whole range of economic activities, driven by investment largely anchored at regional and local level, with a strong environmental component.Footnote 65
If countless billions were found to prop up large European financial institutions, it is not implausible to think a small fraction of that sum could be devoted to such a development project. The future of the EU will be determined by the ability of European political forces and civil society to articulate and push forward alternative scenarios for such “possible Europes.”Footnote 66
Unfortunately, the politically weakened European mainstream parties—the traditional standard bearers of the post-World War II “embedded liberalism” consensus—are now on the defense. Instead of offering novel progressive solutions, the mainstream seems extremely vulnerable to the populist challenge coming both from the extreme right and extreme left. Instead of surrendering to the populists’ false promises of quick fixes, the mainstream has to reinvent itself. It must respond to the social anxieties that are helping fuel nationalist populism. Populist leaders are promising better pensions, health care and more jobs, an agenda that is winning over the abandoned working class communities that were once a stronghold of the European social democratic and other progressive parties. Leaders of socially oriented, pro-liberal parties can reverse the nationalist trend by returning the EU to its initial role as the promoter of European solidarity and equality. Job training and ‘green’ growth are just some of the possible public investments in this direction. As Greece’s humiliating defeat by the German-led austerity coalition illustrates, this will take a concerted, Europe-wide initiative.Footnote 67 If European democrats of various political colours do not start offering a more compelling agenda, Europe is on a dangerous political path.