viktor orban matteo salvini meeting hungary populism Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

Europe’s Populist Fifth Column

The rise of far-right populist parties across Europe in recent years is generally framed as a threat to EU political institutions. But the risks are more severe: By deepening their ties to Vladimir Putin's Russia, populist governments also pose a clear and present danger to the physical safety and security of every European citizen.

BRUSSELS – European security currently rests essentially on the NATO alliance and the principle of mutual defense, and on cooperation between national intelligence services working to prevent violence against people and national assets. But in an era when threats come from domestic extremists as well as hostile state and non-state actors seeking to undermine democratic institutions, this is not enough.

In recent years, intelligence sharing has stymied countless terrorist plots by Islamist extremists and far-right groups. But failures to share intelligence across borders have also resulted in horrendous attacks in Brussels, Manchester, and other cities.

Belatedly, European security services have also begun to focus on the threat that Russia poses to liberal democracy. Over the course of recent election cycles, the Kremlin has proved successful at compromising democratic processes and polluting public discourse. Making matters worse, the rise of far-right populists in key countries is undermining the security apparatus needed to counter Russian aggression. Intelligence sharing requires mutual trust, but the alliances that once provided the basis for trust are under increasing strain.

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