The new political parties and movements that have appeared in recent years are often described as “populist”. However, the use of words like “people” does not necessarily mean that a discourse is “populist”, since practically all political groupings appeal to the people in one way or another. In Laclau’s words (2005), the people “is never a primary datum but a construct”, and the elaboration of this construct is of prime importance in present-day democracies, in which there are always sizeable groups of people who do not consider themselves to be represented. However, in the current political scenario, new political movements typically attempt to attract citizens by using emotionally charged populist discourses claiming that they alone can be relied on as trustworthy representatives of the ordinary person. In this, they offer citizens new ways of understanding themselves, new perspectives for envisioning the public sphere and relating to the entities or institutions within it.
On the other hand, populism can also be understood as a speech regime (Blommaert 2004), a set of rules which define the way of communicating and positioning oneself in the public sphere. Specific populist projects take shape in performances, vocabularies and mediatized practices, which privilege a specific image of “the people” and its relationship with groups or individuals who, it is supposed, make up a homogeneous class (intellectuals, elites, banks, etc.).
Although populist discourses contain certain inherent contradictions – in democratic states, strictly speaking, “the people” always rule, because the will of the people is given full expression in general elections – it seems that this does not detract from their persuasive power. Unlike the populist discourses of pre-democratic eras, in which the “demos” was defined in contrast to absolute monarchs, or those of colonies, in which the will of the people contrasted with that of the imperial oppressors (Billig 1995), these new populist discourses have to seek for more complex arguments to define the “we” and the “other” needed to build the self-construct of the “people”. According to Wodak (2013), populist discourse based on simple dichotomies and identity statements is characteristic of far-right groups. However, the same author also points out that parties that are closer to the traditional left often also make an appeal “ad populum”. It would seem to be evident that the familiar dichotomies of the past do not offer a stable framework to interpret our new political groupings in terms of “the people” on the one hand, and “the establishment” on the other.
This project aims to shed light on the new political discourses in the European public sphere, and thereby to contribute to the design of new European integration policies, since there is a broad concern that the rise of loosely defined, radical or even extremist groups might destabilize the complex situation facing European democracies still further. In this context, it is essential to know more about the new political parties that have arisen in different European countries, and to understand how these groups are managing to communicate with citizens.
The project is also intended to further collaboration with researchers outside Spain, so that we can take in the broad panorama of the discourses of new political parties and movements across Europe as a whole.