Will the Walls Come Tumbling Down?

With the European Union elections right around the corner, there has been no better time to discuss the relationship between populism and global cooperation. Right-wing populist political parties in many European countries have combined their rhetoric with nationalistic agendas, and this had had an impact on several policy issues, such as immigration and climate change.

In context of this political climate, on 13 May 2019, the Centre, in cooperation with the NRW School of Governance, hosted the 14th Käte Hamburger Dialogue, titled ‘From “Another world is possible” to “Our country first”? Populism and Global Cooperation’. The panel of experts, moderated by the Centre’s Christine Unrau, focused on the conceptual constructs of populism and its practical repercussions for not just national but also global politics.  Benjamin De Cleen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) stressed on the need to see populism and nationalism as two different trends which albeit work often in combination and are empirically connected to each other. Daphne Halikiopoulou (University of Reading) observed, using immigration as an example, that the rise in right-wing anti-immigrant populism in Europe is not just a cultural backlash but also has a very strong economic dimension. Wolfram Kaiser (University of Portsmouth) offered a historian’s perspective, that Europe had seen a similar rise in populist narratives in the period leading up to the First World War, indicative of a socio-political anxiety in a very rapidly changing world. In conjunction, Taylan Yildiz (University of Duisburg-Essen) called for a need to analyze how populism narrativizes itself.

In the sidelines of the Dialogue, the Centre also took the opportunity to interview Daphne Halikiopoulou on the rise of the far-right vis-à-vis the upcoming EU elections and Wolfgang Kaiser (whom we interviewed in advance, Quarterly Magazine 1/2019: 12–13, see right column) on the historical context of Eurosceptic and Brexit.

The Dialogue was accompanied by 2-day long international workshop on ‘Counter-narratives to Regional Cooperation: Contesting European Union’, conducted by the Centre in cooperation with the University of Portsmouth over 13-14 May 2019. The workshop witnessed the enthusiastic participation of academics and scholars, engaging in topical issues ranging from European integration and Central and Eastern European narratives to Euroscepticism and alt-right narrations of identity.

Through a multi-disciplinary approach to the issue, the events concluded that the need to balance populist narratives is paramount not only to institutional democracies within these countries, but also for the continuation of positive global cooperation.