The new populists in Europe: a threat to democracy or opening up debate?

Thursday 20 November, 19.00 until 21.00, Kino Tilsiter Lichtspiele, Richard-Sorge Str., 25a 10249 Berlin-Friedrichshain, Deutschland International Satellite Events 2014

Tickets: €4.50 on the door

Everywhere in Europe, parties that were once considered to be on the fringe are achieving electoral success. This year’s elections to the European Parliament brought gains for the Front National in France and UKIP in Britain. While there has not been a significant movement towards the political fringe in Germany, there are signs of a growing disenchantment with mainstream parties. One new Eurosceptic party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), gained seven per cent of the votes at last May`s election. More significantly, election turnouts are at all-time lows. In the most recent European Parliament election, voter turnout amounted to 48.1 per cent. This means that out of a total of 62million registered voters, only nine million (14.5 per cent of the electorate) voted for Angela Merkel`s CDU.

The relative success of the fringe parties not only shows how unappealing mainstream politics has become for large groups of European citizens; it also shows that established parties seem to be losing authority and influence over a growing proportion of the electorate. How else can it be explained that so many voters gave their voice to parties which were deemed unserious, populist or even racist by the European establishment? Even in Germany, the mainstream parties came under pressure from the AfD. Here, too, government members and media representatives have devoted considerable energy to exposing any form of Euroscepticism or voting abstention. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, for example, had been quoted as saying that the AfD’s anti-euro stand was totally wrong, had no credibility and was extremely dangerous for the country`s prosperity, prior to last May`s election.

Have the parliamentary parties failed to contain the rise of the Front National, UKIP or the AfD because they lack the arguments to win over their own electorate? If this is the case, could the rise of these new parties not be seen as a positive development? While it is true that anything which opens up debate in Europe should be greeted, is it also true that many of these new parties have gained support through backward-looking rhetoric, such as on immigration? But how deep is the gap between the values and views of these parties and those of the political mainstream really? Have these parties simply managed to attract an audience which has been ignored by an increasingly isolated elite for too long? What do voter abstention and protest votes mean for the future of Europe?

Vera Lengsfeld
renowned civil rights activist; freelance author

Dr Timo Lochocki
fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States

Brendan O'Neill
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays

Sebastian Pfeffer
editor and parliamentary correspondent, The European

Clemens Schneider
co-founder, Prometheus - Das Freiheitsinstitut

Sabine Beppler-Spahl
chair, Freiblickinstitut e.V; CEO, Sprachkunst36

Produced by
Sabine Beppler-Spahl chair, Freiblickinstitut e.V; CEO, Sprachkunst36
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