Matteo Salvini, Interior Minister of Italy and leader of the Lega Nord party, presented his plans for a new European right-wing-populist cooperation at the launch of his election campaign. However, contrary to Salvini’s expectations of forming the biggest group in the European Parliament, only four out of 20 parties attended yesterday’s conference. Salvini said he hopes Fidesz will soon join.
Salvini – alongside MEPs from the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Danish People’s Party and Finland’s True Finns – presented the “People’s and Nation’s Alliance” on Monday, promising that the group would “change the rules of Europe.” However, among others, Le Pen’s National Front, the Freedom Party of Austria, the Dutch Geert Wilders and the far-right Swedish Democrats were absent from the event, contrary to expectations.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also chose not to attend the launch of the campaign. Although Fidesz spokesman Balázs Hidvéghi claimed that Orbán would not participate in the event, some speculated that the Prime Minister would still be present at the founding meeting of the Alliance.
Fidesz to Opt out of Salvini’s New Party Cooperation
Salvini: “We are working for a new European dream”
At the event, Salvini declared that the Alliance would be “the largest, most significant, most determined and future-oriented party in the next European Parliament.”
Salvini said their aim is to work towards a new European dream since for many, “the European Union represents a nightmare.” He promised that the Alliance would “put work, family, safety, the defense of environment back at the center.” (Interestingly, PM Viktor Orbán also spoke about the “European dream” in the opening speech of his campaign last Friday, calling it “broken.”)
Protecting external borders, respect for national identities and fighting against smuggling and terrorism are further concerns of the new Alliance, according to Salvini. The politician also shared his belief that EU accession negotiations with Turkey should cease and argued for an end to the sanctions against Russia: “I do not think these sanctions have solved anything.”
Under the roof of the Alliance
Besides Salvini and his Lega Nord party, AfD co-leader Jörg Meuthen, Anders Vistisen from the Danish People’s Party and Olli Kotro from True Finns participated in the event.
Meuthen stressed the need to protect the EU’s external borders in order to defend Europe’s “rich heritage.” He said there is a need to “build a fortress in Europe” so they can decide “who can enter and who cannot.” According to Meuthen, one should not simply accept Angela Merkel’s attitude towards border protection.
Kotro warned of the danger of a centralized European “super-state” controlled from Brussels and stressed that “the sovereignty of the EU member states must be respected.”
In the European Parliament, Salvini’s Lega Nord, the Austrian Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and Le Pen’s National Rally in France form the parliamentary group “Europe of Nations and Freedom” (ENF) which currently has 37 MEPs. According to polls, the group can expect to gain enough members to surpass 60 in the upcoming election in late May, potentially becoming the fourth largest group in parliament.
The real question is whether these right-wing, so-called ‘populist’ parties can put aside their differences of opinion on issues (such as EU budget distribution and relations with Russia) and unite. Even Salvini admitted that the parties have “had differences” despite sharing a desire to “fight against terrorism and extremism.”
Kotro said that although they have “different geopolitical interests,” he thinks the parties will unite on “border protection, culture and the fight against Euro-federalism.”
Other potential allies include Hungary and Poland’s governing parties, Fidesz and PiS. Prime Minister Orbán announced that “at the end of May, Europe will choose a future for itself.” He stated that the voters “will decide whether Europe will continue to belong to Europeans or be given over to masses of people from different cultures and civilizations.” On whether Fidesz plans to remain in the EPP, he explained: “if this is the direction it takes, you can rest assured that we shall not follow.”
On the other hand, however, leading Fidesz politician and house speaker László Kövér held talks with Matteo Salvini and confirmed that Fidesz still “sees its future in the European People’s Party.”
featured image from left: Olli Kotro (True Finns), Jörg Meuthen (AfD), Matteo Salvini (Lega Norde) and Anders Vistisen (Danish People’s Party) – ap/ap