Geopolitics

Economics Of Populism: A Habsburgian Tale From Sweden

While the rise of European right-wing populism is becoming a pan-continental phenomenon, we seem determined to miss its one common driver.

Economics Of Populism: A Habsburgian Tale From Sweden

Right-wing activists march in Kiev, Ukraine in April 2021 to mark the birthday of the SS-led WWII Galician Division

Carl Karlsson

STOCKHOLM — I cast my first vote in a junior-high gym in southern Sweden. I was 13 and it wasn't a real election, but a mock civic exercise to prepare students for their coming life of suffrage. I have a clear memory, back 20 years ago now, that exactly two people in my class of 30 voted for the right-wing Sweden Democrats. They were twin brothers and perhaps best described as true locals in our small city. They were also of some true (or false) local repute, not so much for their political prowess as for their protruding Habsburgian jaws — a result, rumor had it, of family relations having become too intimate in the depths of the Swedish pine forest.

That was then, when far-right affiliation was so rare that it had to have some legend attached to it. But national support for the Sweden Democrats has since jumped to roughly 18%, as similar backing for right-wing parties grows all around Europe: those that have made worldwide headlines like AfD in Germany, Rassemblement National in France, the Lega in Italy, UKIP in the UK; but also similar formations with similar ideas in Austria, Estonia, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands too, as the political climate keeps trending far rightward.

Right-wing populism is of course not limited to Europe, but its reach across the virtual entirety of the continent, north to south, east to west, must prompt us to ask why.

In the European south, populism has often been framed as a desperate protest against corruption and kleptocracy — issues that are marginal at best in countries like Germany and Sweden. In those two countries, instead, migration has been singled out as the main issue after each received a large number of refugees during the 2015 Syria crisis. This, however, was not the case in eastern Europe, where right-wing parties made strides in countries where borders remained closed or migration was limited.

Populism always has its roots in a loss of public confidence in the ruling class

Indeed, in a place as politically and culturally diverse as Europe, it's probably not useful to view the rise of populism through either a lens of "geography" or "issues," like corruption, crime, migration. Likewise, while criticism of the many shortcomings of the Union itself is shared by European populists everywhere, that too does not actually get to the heart of people's concerns.

That leaves, if you'll pardon the very 20th-century term: economic ideology. What we have learned over the past few decades is that populism, on the left or right, always has its roots in a loss of public confidence in the ruling class that's driven by very close-to-home questions of social and economic fairness.

In my home country, that had already started in the 1980's — long before mass migration, before full European Union integration, and even before the founding of the Sweden Democrats — when economic inequality started to rise. Perhaps, for the rest of Europe too, ever since the old feudal ways of the Habsburg Empire crumbled, our societies have been fundamentally driven by economic tensions … and the politicians who know how to exploit them.
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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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