Matteo Salvini, the Italian Minister of the Interior and head of the party League, has concluded his visit to Hungary. Although the official aim of the visit was to confirm border protection cooperation between the two countries, the two leaders clearly also focused on what’s to come after the European Parliamentary elections. While Fidesz hasn’t officially left the European People’s Party, the communication on both sides since its suspension has hinted at a potential rupture. The EPP is not willing to open itself up to radical rightist formations, and Fidesz doesn’t intend to formulate policy with the European leftists, liberals and greens.
The Orbán-Salvini cooperation may have very interesting consequences. The Hungarian Prime Minister rightly stated that the anti-migration European Right can’t get stronger unless backed by a large Western European country. This could be possible in Rome as the Leauge has doubled its support there to well above 30%. Together with other right-wing parties, Salvini could form a government with a snap election being its leading force. With this, he would take over the role of the Christian Democratic Party which dominated the political scene in Italy for decades after World War II until the mid-90s. If this becomes the case, steadfast loyalty towards Brussels concerning major integrational processes will come into question. Until the Euro was introduced, Italy was an enthusiastic advocate of integration. For nearly half a century after the war, Italy’s economic development was seen as promising despite some weak points in its system. Since then, partly as a result of adaptation problems related to the common currency in operation, Italy’s economic position has weakened. For the past twenty years, the country has lagged behind the northern region of the EU and some structural, economic and social problems have accumulated. In addition, the 2015 migration wave severely hit the totally unprepared Italian society, causing frustration and conflicts among people and in politics. This is, perhaps, the explanation for Salvini’s increasing popularity.
Orbán has several points in common with Salvini: a strong anti-migration stance, the defense of the nation states opposed to Brussels bureaucrats’ federalistic ambitions, emphasizing the importance of Christianity and traditional values like families based on heterosexual marriage, etc.
If the Visegrad Group, joined by Italy, formed a block of some 120 million inhabitants, it would be far more difficult for the French-German axis, Benelux states, and possibly the Scandinavians, to control it. Orbán’s strategy is clear: he would like to form an alliance with EU member states to the south and east that feel unsuccessful, oppressed by Brussels or both. For the time being, Greece and Spain are out of the question due to the presence of strong leftist parties, but that may change. Vox may gain ground in Spain, shifting the political spectrum to the right. Similar movements can’t be ruled out in Greece in the medium term, either.
An anti-migration and anti-federalist European fraction could potentially consist of the Italian League, the Hungarian FIDESZ, the Spanish Vox, the German AfD, the Austrian Freedom Party, the French National Rally (Le Pen’s party), the Dutch Party for Freedom and some other, smaller European rightist parties. It’s unclear at the moment whether Kaczynski’s party would be willing to join despite the difference in interpretation of Russia’s role in Europe.
This group – labeled far-right by the mainstream – has no chance to garner a majority in the European Parliament after the May elections. Yet, if they gain momentum and overshadow the moderate conservatives, their voices will be louder when the future of Europe is on the agenda in the upcoming years. By 2024, they may hold even more influence.
The primary question is whether Orbán’s analysis of Europe’s problems and solutions is correct. If he is wrong, the present surge of the radical right will merely be an episode. If he is right – which seems to be a more popular belief now than a couple of years ago – the task of convincing European citizens and politicians still lies ahead. More importantly, the proper diagnosis in history has never been an automatic guarantee for success.
featured photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI