In April, the leader of Italy’s far-right party League, Matteo Salvini, who also serves as deputy prime minister and interior minister in his country’s coalition government, called a meeting of the European far-right parties in Milan.
As reported by Italian media, the League party invited political parties from more than 20 countries. The official purpose of the meeting is to study how they can work together on a European level and eventually relaunch the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) Group in the European Parliament.
The second aim was to crown the Italian politician as the absolute leader of this new political grouping and by extension recognise him the leader of Europe’s far right.
But the meeting was not as successful as Salvini would have liked. Many big names were absent while the participants did not reach any big deal.
At the end of the day, Salvini was crowned ‘king’ but of a relatively poor kingdom since he declared the creation of a new EU group that included non-traditional far-right partners.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) whose cooperation was carefully rejected by both ENF and ECR in the past joined Salvini’s team. Only time will tell how long the exuberant leaders of the hysterically anti-immigration party will accept Salvini as their leader.
In addition, AfD may have already reached its electoral limits. In the 2014 European elections, when the party was not as notably extremist as it is today, it elected 7 MEPs with a 7.1% of the votes. Now, according to recent polls, the party has a 10%, even less than the scores the party had in the previous year elections. It is expected to elect 10 seats.
AfD is not the only new ally to emerge from Milan’s meeting. The Finns party and the Danish People’s Party (DF), both former ECR members, are two new friends but of a tiny strength. The Finns elected two MEPs in 2014 and it expected to win one more seat in this month’s elections. But the DF which won three seats in 2014 is in decline and is expected to elect only two this time.
The absence of the big European names from the Milan far-right gathering overshadowed Salvini’s joy.
What happened to the old guard?
According to speculations it was a sever split in the field of the European far-right with the traditional group on one side and the ambitious Italian “apprentice sorcerer” on the other.
Was this true? It is difficult to prove it since the far-right world is hermetically close to the eyes of the profanes.
What it is certain is that not everyone in the ENF family likes what Salvini does and says.
But the result is that many of the traditional far-right parties capitulated to Salvini and in which way or the other they support him in his efforts to unite the political forces that want to demolish the European Union.
Because the traditional parties of the far-right are in decline or in electoral stalemate.
Marine Le Pen spent all her life in opposition and while she has softened her expressions and actions (compared to Salvini), she has the reputation of being the “dark princess”. In 2014, her National Front (FN) won 24 seats with 24.85% of the votes. But the last period in the European Parliament was marked by financial scandals and many MEPs abandoned the party reducing the number of MEPs in 16. Le Pen doesn’t participate in the European elections this time.
Although she is fighting for the first stronger party position with Emmanuel Macron’s Republique En Marche, her party renamed National Rally (Rassemblement national) is expected to win up to 21 seats. The general impression is that Marine Le Pen has already entered in the sphere of the veterans. It seems she doesn’t represent anymore a winning force in Europe.
The Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), although a partner in the coalition government, is showing no signs of electoral growth. It won four seats in 2014 and it is expected to win four seats again. His leader Heinz-Christian Strache increases his hate speech rhetoric but he doesn’t attract new voters.
The rise of the new far-right movement Democracy Forum (FvD) in the Netherlands reshape the world of country’s far-right. Le Pen ally, the Party for Freedom (Pvv) of Geert Wilders had a spectacular rise in previous electoral confrontations but today is in a net decline. The poor performance of the party in the 2019 Dutch provincial elections where it lost 26 seats marked the beginning of its decline. According to the polls it will lose half of its MEPs and will win only two seats.
Vlaams Belang in Belgium elected 1 MEP in 2014 and it is expected to keep its electoral power at the same levels.
Only Tomio Okamura, the Czech leader of the Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD), and a fan of Le Pen, is expected to win (for the first time) one seat in the European Parliament.
Other traditional far-right parties in EU member states that could be potential allies of the old guard will not win any seat.
Fishing in a sea of new far-right parties
While Le Pen tried to modernise her rhetoric she is still considered too toxic as an ally. Interestingly, the bully-style of Matteo Salvini seems to attract admiration among new right extremists.
It is worth noting that Salvini’s politics, his rhetoric based on racial prejudices and his unlimited ambitions are far more dangerous for Democracy than those of Marine Le Pen.
Salvini represents the new generation of the far-right, a gloomy perspective for both national states and the European Union.
Among the far-right milieu in Europe, it is thought that Salvini may be able to attract other parties of the same views which were careful until now to declare publicly their very nature.
A first success, although of a limited importance, was the accession in the court of Salvini of the German, Dutch and Finnish parties.
Salvini seems to many that is able to fish efficiently in the murky waters of the European nationalist and far-right environment.
The Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), a partner in the newly-formed government of the country, declared is joining the Group in the next European Parliament. It is expected to win 1 seat. We Are Family (Sme Rodina) in Slovakia is also expected to elect 1 MEP.
Salvini’s next targets will probably be the Swedish Democrats, known for their white supremacist origins, as well as the new parties in the Netherlands and Spain.
In the Netherlands the new star of the far-right Forum for Democracy took many of Wilders’s voters. According to the polls it is in the first place of the preferences together with Prime Minister’s liberal party and it is expected to win 5 seats in the European Parliament.
The Spanish Vox emerged as a comet a few months ago and it is expected to elect seven MEPs.
Both parties declared ready to join the ECR Group and the Spanish one is heavily flirted by the Polish ruling PiS. But, 12 seats always represent a temptation and Salvini will try to convince them that he offers the right company.
Without any doubt Salvini will lead a Group twice or three times stronger than the ENF. But this “explosion” is due mainly to his success in Italy. His party had 6 MEPs in 2014 but it is expected to win as much as 26 seats.
In addition, the Group will be isolated since any cooperation with it could affect negatively politics in single EU members.
What is more is that defections from ECR to Salvini will help the Conservative Group elaborate a more modern and less extremist rhetoric.