How can progressives reclaim action in times of growing right-wing populism? Study case in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany

Based on comparative analysis in these four countries, Christian Krell, Henri Möllers and Niklas Ferch proposed five strategies to change this alarming situation.


Right-wing populist parties are on the rise almost everywhere in Europe, including in the Scandinavian countries, where Social Democracy has had the most decisive influence on the development of a solidary society and an inclusive and emancipatory welfare model.
Several initiatives have been attempted by progressive parties in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany, without any greater success.
Based on comparative analysis in these four countries, Christian Krell, Henri Möllers and Niklas Ferch proposed five strategies to change this alarming situation.


Policymakers face increasingly substantial difficulties in forming government coalitions vis-à-vis aspiring competitors who have emerged on the far right. The upcoming election in Sweden on Sunday, will probably confirm the problematic development. In light of the rise of right-wing populism in Germany and its growing presence in parliaments and discourses, what can be learned from the Nordic?

Stick to your guns – consciously!
Progressive forces must develop their own socio-economically oriented narrative, which corresponds to their own normative core (i.e. non-exclusionist policies) and does justice to the claim of equality within Social Democracy. Here, the crucial difference to other political forces remains a unique selling point of progressive forces.

Be effective!
Without using populist simplifications, it is important to assign meaning to one’s own political actions and to convince the population that the societal and economic circumstances are manmade and, accordingly, subject to political decision-making. First when it becomes clear that a political movement can actually be effective, there is a reason to turn to the respective party.

Be recognizable in democratic pluralism!
Through a “social democratization” of the Christian Democrats in Germany with a simultaneous convergence of the social Democrats toward neoliberally inspired economic and social policies, the diversity of positions within the established party spectrum appeared exhausted. This apparent similarity among the established parties gave room for actors that presented themselves as fundamental alternatives to traditional political parties. Accordingly, the recommendation – and not only for progressive parties – is to take a clearly recognizable and definable position in the party competition, with a return to one’s ideological and normative core.

Provide inclusive visions for identification!
As we have seen above, progressive parties usually address socio-economic issues. In contrast to the exclusionary identity offer of the right-wing populists, it is of crucial importance that this offer of identity is open and inclusive, that it does not depend on ancestry, blood or ethnicity, but on the potential for anyone to become and be part of the common. Therefore, it is not about a common origin, but about deciding together in favor of a shared future. The phrase used in the German case of the Rhineland-Palatinate Prime minister Malu Dreyer – “there is enough homeland for everyone” – presents just such an open range for identification.

Provide an own frame for migration and integration!
The topic of migration and integration is and has been relatively small compared to many other policy fields. Nonetheless, it can be considered the home turf of right-wing populist parties. Taking over the discourses and narratives is thus problematic. Ignoring the topics cannot be considered a successful strategy and co-opting/adopting the policies also does not work, there is a need for genuinely progressive, coherent and credible frames. And a rich source for these is the normative core: such as solidarity, Justice and equality, can serve as the basis of such a framing – taken both on their own and in their interconnectivity.

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