SUPPORT for populist anti-EU parties will keep growing across Europe in the coming years admits Tony Blair's think tank, in bad news for Brussels.
The Institute for Global Change says the surge in popularity for these formally fringe parties threatens to destabilise democracy across the continent.
A new report reveals the share of the vote taken by them has almost trebled since 2000 – rising from 8.5 per cent to 24.1 per cent.
And the number of countries that have populist parties forming part of their government has doubled from seven to 14 – creating an unprecedented "populist belt" from the Baltic to the Aegean it said.
Without a way to counter their appeal mainstream political parties are set to continue to haemorrhage support to them during elections in 2018 and beyond.
Many of those parties, from Italy’s right-wing Five Star Movement to left-wing Podemos in Spain and Greece’s Syriza, are strongly Eurosceptic, creating the potential for more countries to follow Britain out of the EU.
The report defines as populist those parties and politicians which "claim to represent the true will of a unified people against domestic elites, foreign migrants, or ethnic, religious or sexual minorities".
It said they are often characterised by "inflammatory" attacks on independent institutions such as the media or the judiciary and support for highly restrictive immigration controls and protectionist economic policies.
They are strongest in Eastern Europe, currently holding power in seven countries – Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Slovakia.
The report said: "Parties like Poland's Law and Justice party and Hungary's Fidesz tend to emphasise a nationalism based on soil, blood or culture; take a hard line against immigration; and have, especially in Poland and Hungary, quickly started to dismantle key democratic institutions like the free media and an independent judiciary.”
The report's co-author, Yascha Mounk, said: "2016 was the year that populism went prime time, but as our data makes clear: this rise started well before 2016.
"The huge transformation we are seeing in European politics is long term, driven by issues such as economic insecurity; a rebellion against immigration and the notion of a multi-ethnic society; and the ease with which extreme voices can make themselves heard in an age of social media.
"This populist wave has not crested and unless politicians managed to identify and counteract the structural drivers, populism will keep garnering strength in the years to come."
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