22.5.2019 | Von:
Ulrike Christl

How strong will the right-wing populists be?

Far-right parties from across Europe have launched an attack on the EU. With a group in the European Parliament they want to push through a "Europe of peoples and nations". But just what would that entail?

Italy's vice Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (second from the left) at a meeting of far-right parties in Milano, 18/05/2019.Italy's vice Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (second from the left) at a meeting of far-right parties in Milano, 18/05/2019. (© picture-alliance/AP)

Viktor Orbán and Matteo Salvini aren't afraid of grand gestures. At the start of May the Italian minister of the interior flew to Hungary's southern border where he was met by the Hungarian prime minister. With resolute steps they walked along the fence which Orbán had had built on the border with Serbia in the autumn of 2015 as a bulwark against refugees. While his EU partners didn't spare their criticism, that wasn't the case with Salvini.

His idea is a coalition of right-wing populist parties in Europe going by the name "Alliance of Peoples and Nations", and he can use Orbán's help. While the Hungarian leader's Fidesz party still belongs to the conservative EPP group, it was suspended at the end of March for putting up anti-EU posters in Hungary in which among others Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was personally attacked. Orbán called on the EPP to cooperate with Salvini's alliance, a thought that the Catholic radio station Rádio Renascença from Portugal finds appalling: "We can only hope that the democratic right in Europe doesn't decide to join forces with the 'patriotic' right - a designation that serves only to mask the fact that this is a populist, xenophobic and authoritarian far-right."

Their goal: more national state, less Brussels

After a period in which little was heard from the right-wing populists in the European election campaign, Matteo Salvini changed that on April 8 in Milan with the beat of a drum. Together with AfD leader Jörg Meuthen, the head of The Finns Olli Kotro and Anders Vistisen, who spearheads the Dansk Folkeparti, he launched the "Alliance of Peoples and Nations". The goal: to form a group in the European Parliament of all parties standing for more sovereignty for the national states, less influence from Brussels and above all restricting immigration. While the inaugural ceremony was rather sparsely attended, a number of parties from across Europe have announced that they will take part in the alliance. Just one day later Austria's FPÖ joined. Vlaams Belang from Belgium, Ekre from Estonia and the Rassemblement National from France also want to participate.

However not a few commentators in Europe point to the contradictions inherent in such a plan. The Romanian daily Adevărul, for example, notes: "When it comes to relations with Russia there are significant differences between the Polish PiS, the Hungarian Fidesz, Salvini's Lega Nord and Le Pen's Rassemblement National. Which is why it seems illogical that the populists in the European Parliament would form one or even two groups." Hence the paper believes "that all their alliances will collapse immediately after the elections." Similarly, the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore notes that "changing Europe overnight is a complex topic. Propaganda alone won't do the job." And the Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger is likewise skeptical: "From the AfD - which now wants to form a coalition with Salvini's Lega - we heard lines like: 'These Romans are crazy!' That's what Alice Weidel tweeted last autumn when Italy's budget for 2019 was made public. 'And we Germans will have to pay for it.' How are these two supposed to get along?"

Disagreement on many points

Last weekend, on May 18, members of the new group met once again in Milan – this time in greater numbers. There Marine Le Pen, Jörg Meuthen, and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid joined Salvini on the stage. Le Pen stressed: "We no longer want this EU that fans the fatal fires of wild globalization." Salvini added: "Europe isn't Juncker and Macron but the man on the street. Not the elites but the people. Not the bankers but the savers."

Nevertheless the Italian paper La Repubblica remains skeptical about the Alliance's chances of success: "Salvini is calling for the distribution of migrants? Orbán wants nothing to do with it. The Lega leader wants to be rid of the three-percent deficit limit and not have to worry about debts? His German, Hungarian, Austrian and Polish friends rule that out altogether." The Spanish newspaper El Mundo is even more concerned: "According to the polls the Italian prime minister's party will not only be the party with the most votes in Italy next Sunday, but its alliance with the far-right Front National in the European elections could lead to the French electorate turning its back on the French prime minister. … This would mark the failure of the only EU leader who has made European discourse his top political priority."

Good news for Brexiteers

The British tabloid The Sun takes a different view. "The new parties are opposed to everything the current administration stands for. They are Eurosceptics. They wish the EU to be a trading bloc, not a supranational government telling every country what to do." As these are all traits that the majority of Brits approve of – as evidenced by the Brexit vote – the paper concludes: "If the populists can gain control of some of the EU's institutions, it might become a much more palatable organisation for British people."

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