Foreign Policy Digital

Is There a Secret Recipe for Preventing Far-Right Populism?

Portugal, Ireland, and Malta are Europe’s last countries without extreme nationalists in parliament. Here’s what they can teach others—and what they can’t.

Ireland, Portugal, and Malta might seem to have little in common, but they are members of an exclusive club—one that’s been getting smaller in recent years. Together with the small states of Iceland, Monaco, Lichtenstein, and Andorra, they are the only remaining European countries without far-right parties in their parliaments; nor does it seem these three countries will elect such parties in the European Parliament elections held from May 23 to 26.

As nationalism—often with xenophobic and authoritarian tones—surges almost everywhere across the continent, are there lessons to be learned from the small group of holdouts? Yes. Can those lessons be applied elsewhere? That’s more complicated.

The first similarity that Ireland, Portugal, and Malta share is that their citizens have generally favorable perceptions of their political systems. They also all share are first and second in the whole EU, with 93 percent and 91 percent, respectively, saying their country has benefited from EU membership, while Portugal finds itself seventh overall among the 28 EU countries at 78 percent. Nicholas Whyte, a Brussels-based political analyst for APCO Worldwide, a consulting firm, noted that the non-far-right club consists of relatively small countries, where national politics are less likely to breed the kind of alienation that larger, more remote systems can produce.

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