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BOKRIJK, Belgium (AP) - They are strikingly young, but emphatic that they should not be considered newcomers. Rather, they are claiming the mantle of Old Europe at its most traditional.
Several of this year’s far-right candidates in Europe are well under 30 - as are some of their most ardent supporters. In Belgium, the telegenic Dries Van Langenhove, who is among the top picks on the list for the far-right party Vlaams Belang, is 26. In France, the head of the National Rally slate for the upcoming European elections is 23 and has been a card-carrying party member since the age of 16. In Denmark, the lead candidate from the Danish People’s Party is a 29-year-old who is already a veteran campaigner. And in Spain, the chief spokesman for the Vox party is 27 and was elected to parliament last month.
These candidates are part of a growing attempt by Europe’s far-right parties to gear their anti-migration, Euroskeptic message to the young, with everything from beer nights for adults and bouncy castles for kids to an outsized presence on social media, the Associated Press has found. Young European voters are responding with a rightward shift faster and farther than their elders - as illustrated by voting results or party rolls from Italy, France, Spain and Austria. The trend could have major implications for this month’s elections , which decide the makeup of the European Parliament as well as some national governments, as in Belgium.
“The far right has made a very explicit effort to pander to younger audiences. They’ve essentially rebranded themselves,” said Julia Ebner, a researcher with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue , a left-leaning think tank. “Far-right political parties have been most active in engaging with social media users.”
The far right has also succeeded at picking up on existing grievances and fears among young people and at using their language and cultural reference points, she said.
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