Populism and fundamental rights - suburban and rural areas (own-initiative opinion)

EESC opinion: Populism and fundamental rights - suburban and rural areas (own-initiative opinion)

Key points

Populist parties made significant gains in the 2019 European elections. The EESC is seriously concerned by this development and calls for major initiatives to address it, starting with efforts to better understand its underlying causes.

The causes behind the success of populist movements and parties are manifold. In the most general terms, it is driven by processes of globalisation affecting all types of developed countries. More specifically, populism can be explained by both cultural and identity factors as well as socio-economic developments. Finally, the populist threat is particularly pronounced in the "places that don't matter", regardless of whether they are on the periphery or in the very centre of the European Union.


  • considers that particular attention should be paid to the situation of civil society organisations which are hit particularly hard when the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy deteriorate. CSOs are currently experiencing shrinking space for their activities in many countries. The further rise of populism is also likely to mean less economic stability and more inefficient governance and policies, leading to a negative effect on investments;
  • believes that the building of alliances between local authorities, civil society organisations, the social partners and other actors, e.g. local leaders and social movements, is key to addressing the root causes of populism;
  • considers that civic education on the principles of democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law should be reinforced to address these developments;
  • is convinced, considering the population's longing for ambitious and effective political visions, that the European Union should propose narratives on a desirable future and revive key principles which have played a major role in the European project, such as partnership and subsidiarity;
  • supports the European Parliament's resolution on addressing the specific needs of rural, mountainous and remote areas "to promote socioeconomic development, economic growth and diversification, social wellbeing, protection of nature, and cooperation and interconnection with urban areas in order to foster cohesion and prevent the risk of territorial fragmentation";
  • joins the Parliament in advocating the establishment of a Smart Villages Pact which involves all levels of government in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity;
  • calls for more emphasis on the new economic activities emerging in rural areas, many of which are based on the principles of mutualism and care. It encourages measures aimed at encouraging better support for and connection of such initiatives, so as to move beyond isolated and experimental phases towards emancipatory political and social alliances;
  • calls on the EU and its Member States to strengthen infrastructure at the subnational level. The suspension of public transport connections, along with the shutdown of schools and health services, have clearly been among the reasons for populist protest in Europe.