Podgorica, 16 November – A professor in Comparative Politics from Nottingham University, Fernando Casal Bértoa, held a lecture titled “The crisis of representative democracy and rise of anti-establishment parties” at the Faculty of Political Science in Podgorica.

Casal Bértoa talked about rise of populist movements around Europe using the examples of France, Austria and Germany and other countries. He said that 2016 and 2017 had been bad in that respect and that democracies had been seriously challenged.

He then explained the situation with traditional political parties through a number of trends and data. Trust in parties has been declining for years now. According to Transparency International, political parties are considered to be the most corrupt institutions in 51 countries.

“People are more likely to believe that there is life on Mars than trust political parties. This is problematic,” said Bértoa.

He also pointed to the declining level of party membership in every single European country. He said that people are not identifying with parties any more, they do not feel represented, they do not feel that there is a party close to them. Therefore, the data shows, people are not voting, and the numbers of voters are declining.

When they vote, people are more likely to change their party. There are also more and more parties forming, which makes the formation of a government more difficult. It now takes a year or more to form a coalition government.

But that is not the worst news, explains Casal Bértoa: most of the new parties for which people are voting are populist, extremist and anti-system parties that want to get rid of democracy or the liberal system. To date, there has been an increase in every single European region in voting for these parties, especially since 2008.

Most scholars think that support for these parties is a challenge to democracy and research shows that the higher the level of success of antiestablishment parties, the lower the level of democracy.

Casal Bértoa listed several of the most popular causes that academics offer as explanations, such as the economy, the factor of alignment, societal changes and the economic crisis.

Casal Bértoa claims that the data shows that the economy is not the main issue and that fragmentation and volatility is important. He explains that the level of institutionalisation of political parties has dropped. On the other hand, in almost all the countries, this institutionalisation of the party system has led to the survival of democracy. Therefore, he concludes, political parties and their institutionalisation is important for democracies.

He is proposing “a change in diet” for the parties to resolve the current crisis. Casal Bértoa believes that traditional parties need to transform, become more institutionalised, more transparent. Parties have to show the voters that they are reliable, to regain the trust of the public, to learn how to compromise. “We need parties that have long-term plans, that are not thinking only about the next elections,” claims Casal Bértoa.

Casal Bértoa concluded that populist parties are not the illness itself, just the symptom of the illness of traditional parties and he believes that traditional parties are the solution.

“Populism can be beneficial to democracy because it can give opportunity for traditional parties to react and reinvent themselves, before it’s too late,” said Casal Bértoa.

The event was part of a series of lectures organised by the EU Info Centre in which professors from EU universities are giving talks at Montenegrin universities.