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Salvini hopes to forge populist alliance for European elections

  • Published at 03:38 pm April 8th, 2019
Matteo Salvini
Matteo Salvini, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the far-right League Party, gestures as he launches the start of his campaign for the European elections, in Milan, Italy April 8, 2019 Reuters

European populists including Salvini's anti-immigrant League are hoping for a so-called 'sovereignist' grouping of at least 70-80 MEPs in the 751-member European Parliament after the May 26 election.

Italy's Matteo Salvini gathers far-right parties from around Europe in Milan on Monday hoping to forge an unlikely alliance of nationalists ahead of next month's European parliament elections.

The meeting hosted by deputy prime minister and interior minister Salvini at a luxury hotel in Italy's commercial capital is being held under the slogan "Towards a common sense Europe Peoples rise up." 

European populists including Salvini's anti-immigrant League are hoping for a so-called "sovereignist" grouping of at least 70-80 MEPs in the 751-member European Parliament after the May 26 election.

Salvini will speak to journalists at around 0830 GMT and has said that up to 20 parties could join a hypothetical bloc.

The few confirmed attendees are Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD), the country's biggest opposition party which has said it wants "a Europe of fatherlands", the Danish People's Party and the Finns Party.

Tangled alliances

Notably absent will be Marine Le Pen of France's National Rally (NR), Poland's governing PiS (Law and Justice party) and Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party.

Orban has voiced admiration for Salvini but his party belongs to the European parliament's centre-right European People's party (EPP) group.

Most of Europe's right-wing nationalists are currently divided into three blocs and a tangled web of alliances in the European Parliament, which they would like to overhaul if not destroy.

They are the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group - which includes the League and RN as well as Austria's Freedom Party and the Netherlands' Party for Freedom - the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD).

The dream of Salvini - and of Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump's former strategist - has been to unite the disparate forces and form an "international of nationalists".

Salvini held talks with Le Pen in Paris on Friday and said she would come to a bigger meeting in Milan in May, which, according to Salvini "at least 15-20 countries" will attend.

Despite their shared dislike for immigration, multiculturalism, the left and the EU, Europe's populists remain divided on other key issues.

The AfD and their Scandinavian allies tend to believe in the market economy, while the French RN favours a more protectionist approach.

While Italy's League, Poland's PiS and Hungary's Fidesz highlight Europe's Christian cultural roots, the RN has shied away from taking a similar stance in a country where the majority is in favour of secularism.

Salvini and Le Pen have both praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, a view not shared by PiS in Poland or the Finns Party.

'Increasingly nervous'

The coalition government of Salvini's League and the Five Star Movement of fellow deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio which won elections a year ago is also looking increasingly jittery.

The League has doubled its popularity from 17% to over 30% since last year's parliamentary elections, but its ascendency has started to falter along with the Italian economy.

The anti-establishment M5S, which is ideologically opposed to many League policies, has meanwhile fallen behind in the polls, despite winning 32% of votes last March.

Di Maio on Friday said he was worried by the League's "alliance with Holocaust-denying forces", prompting an outburst from Salvini: "I don't have time to lose by responding to scandals and insults, I prefer to WORK", Salvini responded on Twitter.

"League members seem increasingly nervous recently," Di Maio replied.

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