Matteo Salvini Announces New European Alliance of Far-Right Populists

NEW YORK TIMES TREVISO, Italy — Matteo Salvini, the anti-immigrant politician who is the most powerful figure in Italy’s government, on Monday announced the formation of a new European alliance of populist and far-right parties ahead of critical European Parliament elections in May.

“Others will join between now and the 26th of May,” the last day of voting, Mr. Salvini, leader of the League party in Italy, said at an event in Milan with allies from Denmark, Finland and Germany. “Our objective is to be the force of government and change in Europe.”

The elections in May have become a rallying point for European populist parties, once relegated to the margins, to seize their building momentum and expand their power across the continent.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Gatheringparty, did not attend the announcement on Monday, though she has signaled her support for the new group.

But it is still unclear how populous the new populist alliance will be.

Noticeably absent from the event were some political figures who would appear to have an affinity with the project, like Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban. Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party still belongs to the European People’s Party group, the alliance of center-right parties that leads the 28-nation European Parliament.=

Under a sign that read, in four languages, “Towards a Common Sense Europe! People Rise Up,” Mr. Salvini maintained that he was a stand-in for his Austrian, Belgian, French and other potential partners, because it would have been unwieldy to have a news conference with so many people. And he said that the full strength of the alliance would be demonstrated on May 18 during a large event in the Piazza Duomo in Milan.

“We are working for a big party for the new Europe,” said Mr. Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, whose efforts overlap with those of Steve Bannon, the former strategist for President Trump.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, has not yet allied his far-right Fidesz party with Mr. Salvini’s coalition.CreditPool photo by Julien Warnand

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, has not yet allied his far-right Fidesz party with Mr. Salvini’s coalition.CreditPool photo by Julien Warnand

Jörg Meuthen, a leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, said at the news conference that there were absent partners “who will join us soon.” Immediately after the elections in May, he said, the allied parties will form a new group in the European Parliament called the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations, the result of numerous meetings over recent months.

Olli Kotro, a member of the Finns Party who attended the event, was more cautious, saying, “It remains to be seen who will join us.”

While they share common ground when it comes to strong borders against migration and an emphasis on traditional, national identities, Europe’s far-right populists also disagree on many points of policy. Mr. Salvini’s German and Scandinavian partners lean toward free-market economics, while their French allies are more protectionist.

Mr. Salvini has argued repeatedly that other European Union members must take their fair share of migrants, but some countries, like Hungary, have slammed the door shut. And Poland does not share the warmth that Mr. Salvini and other populists have toward Russia.

On Monday, Mr. Salvini rejected the suggestion that he and his allies were extremists and said they all had a “clear memory of what happened in the past, but the tired debate of left and right, fascists, communists, that’s not what we are passionate about or what 500 million European citizens are passionate about. The debate on the past we will leave to the historians.”

For Mr. Salvini, the European elections could affect his standing at home, as well as across the continent. A strong showing in May would help him consolidate power in Italy’s governing coalition, where he is technically a junior partner to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which has hemorrhaged support since the election in March 2018.

But his Italian allies are less than pleased with his international project.

On Monday, Mr. Salvini’s struggling coalition partner, Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader, wrote an open letter to Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading newspaper, arguing that ahead of the European elections in May he found it “paradoxical” that Mr. Salvini was seeking a formal alliance “with those countries who refuse to accept the redistribution of migrants who arrive in Italy.”

He added, “It would be nonsense to complain to the European Union that they don’t accept the quotas and then hold close to parties from the same countries (I’m thinking of Orban) that are the cause of our emergency. Countries that snub us, violate the laws and lack respect for Italy and the Italians.”Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the Five Star party in Italy, has been critical of Mr. Salvini’s efforts to form a Europe-wide populist coalition.CreditAlessandro Di Meo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the Five Star party in Italy, has been critical of Mr. Salvini’s efforts to form a Europe-wide populist coalition.CreditAlessandro Di Meo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Asked about those comments, Mr. Salvini said “with all due respect for the sensibilities of whoever, we have a big plan.”

“I don’t comment on what my government allies do,” he said, before doing precisely that, reminding reporters of Mr. Di Maio’s attempts to form an alliance with the Yellow Vest movement in France, damaging relations with the French government.

When Mr. Di Maio “goes to Paris and meets someone who then puts in difficulty the Italian government, I don’t comment,” Mr. Salvini said. He then noted that while Mr. Di Maio now criticized the League’s alliance with the AfD, “in the past years, the path of Five Star was with our friends in AfD.”

For now, Mr. Salvini said, his goal is for the aligned parties to win as many votes as possible and take control of the machinery of the European Parliament. He elided questions about whether he or Ms. Le Pen would be the leader of the new group.

“Today there is no personal ambition, at least for me,” he said. A moment later, though, he added, that as an Italian he was proud that “this departs from Italy, this dream, this project, this vision, this future, departs from Milan and Rome.”

Those present seemed to prefer Mr. Salvini, who has refused to allow ships carrying migrants from Africa and the Middle East to dock in Italy.

Mr. Meuthen talked about how, when it came to enforcing borders and sending migrants back from whence they came, “Matteo Salvini and the League are the exemplars from this point of view.”

Anders Vistisen of Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti, said that while Mr. Salvini had not asked for any such support, he would make a superb president of the European Commission.

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