With lofty rhetoric and classic populist messaging, Italy's Matteo Salvini launched what he called "a vision of Europe for the next 50 years" in Milan on Monday, in an attempt to bring the far-right from across Europe into an alliance.
Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the nationalist League party shared a stage with politicians from three other nationalist parties in the conference hall of a luxury Milan hotel, pledging to create a new bloc that would shake up the European parliament after elections in May.
“The European dream is being threatened by the bureaucrats and bankers governing Europe. They have been governing Europe for too long; it should really be a government of people,” said Mr Salvini, to a packed hall of journalists.
Monday's event was called "Towards a common sense Europe: peoples rise up" and had been billed as the launch of a major new European coalition, with Mr Salvini as its figurehead. In the end, Mr Salvini appeared alongside just two other MEPs, Jörg Meuthen of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Anders Vistisen of the Danish People's party, as well as Finnish nationalist Olli Kotro, a candidate for the Finns party at the upcoming election.
Mr Salvini has become Italy's most powerful politician since being appointed deputy prime minister last year, and his right-wing coalition has been making major gains in domestic elections. Mr Salvini's League, Marine Le Pen's National Rally, and the Freedom party in Austria are all expected to do well at the elections, boosting the number of far-right, populist MEPs.
The big question, however, is whether all these parties can put aside differences on issues such as EU budget distribution and relations with Russia, and unite into a bloc that could have a real influence on the European Parliament. The paucity of the guest list in Milan showed that there are still differences among Europe's far right. Mr Salvini has successfully created a strong alliance with Marine Le Pen's National Rally, and was in Paris last Friday cementing the friendship.
However, his visit to Warsaw in January to court the chairman of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski has not yet borne fruit. While the Poles share many of Mr Salvini's views on migration and so-called "European culture", they are hawkish on Russia, while Mr Salvini is an admirer of Vladimir Putin. There are also differences on economic policies.
Mr Vistisen conceded that there were challenges in bringing together Europe’s nationalists, particularly due to divergent views over Russia, and he said part of the reason the manifesto had been left vague was so as “not to exclude anyone who potentially wants to be with us”.
The manifesto of the new group will include three main points, Vistisen Vistisen said: a devolution of power from Brussels to member states, implementation of an "Australian model" of migration, stopping migrants at the EU's external borders, and "protection for Europe's cultural identity".
“We need to build a fortress in Europe,” said Mr Meuthen of Germany’s AfD, which is likely to increase its count of MEPs from its current tally of seven, if opinion polls are correct. “We welcome all political parties: conservatives, patriots, people who really live what they talk. There are many such political parties.”
Mr Salvini, who is using his role as the informal leader of Europe's far-right to appeal to his domestic voters and boost his popularity inside Italy, promised a huge rally of Europe's far right in Milan's Piazza del Duomo on May 18th, a week before the elections.– Guardian