Our Western democracies are in crisis: voter turnout has declined in almost all European states over the last 30 years, while mistrust in politicians, political institutions, and democratic processes has sharply increased. Right-wing populist and anti-democratic forces are part of an increasing number of Western governments, and are receiving all-time high election results in many other states. It can hardly be denied that there is an inextricable link between the obvious signs of political disaffection across the Western world and the rise of populism.
Against this background, Das Progressive Zentrum set up the project Countering Populism and Political Disaffection. Short-term strategies against populism (e.g. the three ‘I’s – ignoring, imitating, or integrating populists into public discourse and governments) have already been discussed at length. We aim to build on these short-term strategies by also assembling and discussing medium to long-term strategies against right-wing populism which take into account the underlying phenomenon of political disaffection in different European contexts. Our aim is to bring together experts from academia, politics and civil society, assembling young, aspiring and more senior German and European stakeholders to engage in exclusive and fruitful discussions. To achieve this, we have organised to date four international roundtables with distinguished experts in the field as well as German and European key stakeholders. Key note speakers have included Heiko Geue (Head of Department, German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth), José Ramón Montero (Professor of Political Science, Autonomous University of Madrid), Susan Neiman (Director, Einstein Forum, Potsdam), Paul Taggart (Professor of Politics, University of Sussex), and Susann Rüthrich (Member of the German Parliament). Between forty to sixty selected participants were present at each roundtable. Over the course of the roundtables we have gathered participants from over twenty different European countries.
The overarching aim of the project is to provide fresh ideas and stimuli for political decision-makers. Key findings will be published online on www.countering-populism.eu and in print. The project is part of the programme The Future of Democracy at Das Progressive Zentrum.