These characteristics are shared amongst all populists, be they right-wing, left-wing, neither, or regionalists who, moreover, vary considerably. But until 2020, what was most striking was their notable progress across multiple countries. This was made particularly obvious in the 2019 European Parliament elections, where right-wing populists were the most numerous and the strongest. Admittedly however, unlike in Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic, most of these right-wing populists are not in power, except for the Lega Nord in Italy, (later known simply as Lega). This latter one has been in government coalitions four times, the last one between 2018 and 2019. But although they are in opposition, right-wing populist parties do have an influence on the way politics is done. In fact, several opponents of populism, such as Matteo Renzi in Italy between 2014 and 2016, Emmanuel Macron in France during his 2017 presidential campaign, and Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, did deliberately use a populist style to win, or even to govern, as Prime Minister Johnson has shown.
So then, what happened in 2020? Covid-19 and the defeat of Donald Trump in the United States. Both seem to signal a turning point for populists, the beginning of their decline, according to the dominant discourse in most media. The pandemic seems to have exposed many of their inconsistencies, incoherences and demagogy, whether they are in opposition or in power.
In countries such as France and Italy, where populists are powerful - the Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon's France insoumise for the former, Matteo Salvini's Lega and Giorgia Meloni's Fratelli d’Italia for the latter - their criticism of the health measures taken by governments has not gained ground. The populations still tend to approve of the measures and restrictions, massively in Italy, and largely in France. The recurring attacks of these same populists on foreigners and migrants are also less audible now that everyone’s number one priority is health. Their incessant denunciation of the experts and scientists also falls short because, ultimately, the experts are listened to, even if they sometimes deliver divergent and debatable analyses. Just before last summer, the populists constantly lambasted the European Union's inability to act, some hoping that this would be the straw that would break the camel’s back and lead to the disintegration of the EU. However, the Next Generation EU plan pulled the rug from under their feet. Trump’s defeat was an additional trauma for the populists who much appreciated him, and for whom he had become a herald of their policies. Matteo Salvini had even supported his campaign in Italy, symbolically donning a "Trump 2020" mask, while Marine Le Pen is still having a hard time admitting Joe Biden's victory.
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