During the late 1990s victim-offender mediation projects were growing steadily within Europe. However, there was little cross-border communication, and informal enquiries revealed that practitioners, academics and policy makers would benefit from increased mutual support and more regular exchanges.
A small group of people with a strong commitment to restorative justice wanted to build on this interest and in 1998 they obtained non-recurrent funding from the European Commission’s Grotius programme, which stimulated co-operation between European countries in the field of justice and home affairs. A co-ordinating group was formed, consisting of mediation experts from eight European countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. Together with a secretariat based in the Department of Criminal Law and Criminology at the Catholic University of Leuven, this co-ordinating group prepared the creation of the European Forum.
A European conference ‘Victim-offender mediation in Europe: Making restorative justice work‘ was held in October 1999 in Leuven, Belgium. The conference addressed victim-offender mediation issues within a larger theoretical and policy oriented context. The 140 delegates were from 24 different European countries. The presentations were published in the book ‘Victim-Offender Mediation in Europe. Making Restorative Justice Work’.
1999 also saw discussions about the creation of a formal organisation. Broad consultations were held to make sure that it would reflect the views of the people working in the European restorative justice field. In June 2000, a draft constitution for the European Forum was discussed in a technical seminar. Finally, on 8 December 2000, the European Forum for Victim-Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice (now: European Forum for Restorative Justice) was formed. The non-governmental organisation launched at an event on 8th and 9th December 2000, which was attended by 50 people from 15 different countries.
Due to financial support from the Belgian and Norwegian governments, the secretariat had been continued into the year 2000. This enabled the Forum to begin its work with a newsletter, in June 2000.