Introduction Capacity Building ‘How to Counter Right-Wing Populism and Extremism in Europe’

Right-wing populist and extremist parties did disturbingly well in the 2014 election to the European Parliament and in a series of national elections. In the European election Marine Le Pen’s Front National established itself as the strongest political force in France with almost 25% whereas in the UK the Independence Party UKIP was a clear winner and – even though it couldn’t quite repeat its success in the national election a year later – remained a political force to be taken seriously. In Hungary Orbán’s Hungarian Civic Alliance FIDESZ did its very best to turn the country into an ‘illiberal democracy’, a political climate in which the extremist right-wing Movement for a Better Hungary, Jobbik, could blossom. In Greece, the (mismanagement of the) euro crisis swept away the political mainstream and opened the floodgates for a triumphant entrance of Golden Dawn’s neo-Nazis into the political arena. On the northern European political stage, the (True) Fins and the Dansk Folkeparti were joined by the Sweden Democrats. In Germany the spectacular arrival of right-wing and anti-European political forces like Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and PEGIDA shook up the political establishment and even the ‘old’ neo-Nazi party NPD succeeded in gaining a seat in the European Parliament albeit mainly due to a change in the electoral legislation. The rise of the right could no longer be ignored nor minimised. It was time to pick up the gauntlet, rise to the challenge and work on counter-strategies.

It was against this political background that the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union invited young people between 18 and 30 from France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Sweden and the UK to a capacity building on ‘how to counter right-wing populism and extremism in Europe’. During the seminar which took place in Brussels and Antwerp from 12 October till 16 October 2015 they discussed origin, background, ideology and strategies of right-wing populist and extremist parties and movements in their respective countries, their similarities and differences. Experts of the European institutions, universities, NGOs and think tanks as well as local politicians, activists, philosophers, journalists and lawyers came to share their expertise, experience and ideas on how to develop counter arguments and strategies and how to build a peaceful, just and inclusive European society. This dossier contains the material of the capacity building including the conclusions of the participants who will continue their discussions on the blog ‘Young Voices of Europe’.