Which counterstrategies against the rise of the far-right at municipal level across Europe?
In cooperation with Espaces Marx’s local branch, transform! europe and the office of MEP Gabriele Zimmer (Die LINKE) organised a workshop in Lille on Sunday 1st of July about the initiatives conceived by left activists in order to fight back the populist right’s local rule. This event was the first step of a project which aims at addressing the settlement and development of the far and populist right at the local level. This issue appears to be a neglected aspect of the rise of the far-right and populist right in Europe. Indeed, most of the political scientists, commentators and political leaders are describing and tackling the far right’s electoral progression at a national level, focusing on the gain of parliamentarians or the number of votes and even the growing influence of the extreme-right ideas in the Medias and in the consciences. However, these dynamics cannot be understood without the development of far-right networks at a local level, through the creation of local branches of their political parties and the increase in vote share local elections.
The building of a dense network of activists and elected representatives at the municipality level is a condition for gaining hegemony in societies and creating electoral and ideological strongholds which are complementary with the progression at national and European level. In the last years in several European countries, the far-right and populist-right levelled-up and gained municipal elections, thus accessing to the ruling of entire cities of various size (some of them being quite important). Beyond these victories, the populist and far-right expanded its presence and influence in several cities across Europe, in a very worrying way. The participation of the far-right parties in local governments, in municipal coalitions may appear as less worrying than city halls ruled by the far-right; however it induces an ideological and political porosity between the conservatives and the far-right which might be recreated at a national level. Finally, the occupation of the public space by far-right groups is a hovering threat for left and progressive activists, as well as for LGBT persons and people of immigrant background.
In order to address this broad issue and build a coherent response that articulates the local national and supranational levels, it was necessary to keep in mind the similarities of the various contexts but also their differences. Even within one country, the policies implemented by far-right municipalities may noticeably diverge, due to specificities of the local context. In addition, the plurality of forms of the far and populist right makes the overall view more complicated, as very radical fascist or neo-Nazis groups cannot be lumped together with normalised populist-right parties or with associations and Medias focused on the cultural battle on a specific issue (anti-migrants, islamophobia etc).
For tackling these central issues, it is indispensable to bring together activists from different countries and cities but also with various points of view - political parties, NGOs, trade unions and others. The workshop in Lille gathered about fifteen activists from seven countries, all of them strongly involved in the fight against the development of the far right in their local context. The diversity of profiles (from city councillor to animator of local network or political militant) created the conditions for a very stimulating dialogue and productive exchanges which grasp the diversity of situations regarding the far and populist right at municipal level. We analysed very diverse local situations through presentations of the respective towns where the far-right is in government or strongly represented extra-parliamentary. Left-wing academics researching in this field merged their analysis with the vision and experiences from activists involved in local level resistance. We addressed the specificities of local context from Poland, Hungary and Germany, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Finland and of course France. The political activists and city councillors (from Finnish Left Alliance, Polish Razem and Democratic Left Alliance, German Die Linke, Austrian KPÖ and Swedish Left Party brought a thorough understanding of the institutional aspect of the far-right rule at a municipal level. From these analyses and in line with our comparative approach, the various participants discussed the most relevant practices and actions to fight back the far-right. The participants tried to identify the most effective actions against the implementation of far-right public policies in light of their experiences. Even though the workshop turned out to be fruitfully productive, the coordination at a European level of the municipal fights against the far-right is only starting. It will indeed take some time for elaborating and developing general strategies that can be implemented beyond specific local and national contexts.