By Tim Rich | Photo by Thijs ter Haar
A study of opinion polls across Europe suggests Matteo Salvini’s quest for a powerful hard-right alliance after May’s European parliamentary elections is achievable.
When Italy’s most powerful politician – he is interior minister and deputy prime minister – launched his ruling Lega party’s campaign for the European elections in a joint press conference with Marine Le Pen, his aim was for the hard right to win 30 per cent of seats in the European Parliament. This, he argued, would allow the formation of a new voting bloc that would enable them to wreck legislation.
This month Salvini met the Polish prime-minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, and reiterated his desire for a grand coalition of parties determined to control immigration. ‘I would like to create a pact, an alliance for everyone who wants to save Europe. The more of us, the better,’ he said.
His words won the approval of the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, who remarked that the coming electoral contest would be between ‘those who are for or against migration into Europe’. Orban added that talk of a Rome-Warsaw axis ‘was the most wonderful development of the year so far’.
The latest opinion polls in each EU nation gives clear leads to Orban’s Fidesz party, Morawiecki’s Law and Justice and Salvini’s own Lega.
The Sweden Democrats and Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom and Justice in the Netherlands are running second. In Austria, Denmark and France, parties on the hard right are third, polling up to 23 per cent (for Austria’s Freiheitliche Partei).
Even Alternative fur Deutschland, fourth in the latest round of German polling, could expect 14 per cent of the vote come May.
According to data compiled by www.pollsofpolls.eu mainstream Christian Democrats and Liberals will form the largest bloc in the Parliament come May. The European People’s Party, the European Conservatives and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats can expect around 319 of the 705 seats. Socialist and Green parties are on course for 232.
The two hard-right blocs, the Europe of Nations and Freedom and the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, are expected to win 108 seats – well short of 30 per cent.
However, new parties who have yet to affiliate to any group but are mainly from the right are projected to take another 42 seats. If you count in Fidesz and Law and Justice, who are improbable members of the EPP group, Salvini is within touching distance of his 30 per cent.
However, as Marine Le Pen discovered when failing to form an alliance with Wilders’ Party for Freedom and Justice after their success in the 2014 elections, little in Strasbourg is straightforward. Their European Alliance for Freedom failed to get off the ground because, under EU rules, it had to have members from a minimum of seven countries.
A year later, with the addition of two MEPs from Poland and Janice Atkinson, expelled from UKIP for an expenses scandal, they were able to form the Europe of Nations and Freedom bloc, who are estimated to win 62 seats in May.
With the exception of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National – formerly the Front National, all the five who were prepared to join the Alliance for Freedom in 2014 are in a better electoral position than they were five years before.
Brexit and with it the removal of UKIP from the European Parliament would reduce numbers on the hard right, but it would make Salvini’s task of creating an alliance easier.
It was Nigel Farage’s refusal to have anything to do with Le Pen – because of her alleged anti-semitism – that sank prospects for a wider, hard-right bloc after 2014.
Problems, however, remain. Law and Justice are not natural allies of either Lega or Fidesz, particularly when it comes to soft line on Vladimir Putin that both Orban and Salvini have consistently taken. One of Law and Justice’s key foreign policy aims has been to form an anti-Russian bloc with the Baltic States.
When Salvini visited Warsaw, Witold Waszczykowski, Poland’s former foreign minister and a leading member of Law and Justice said: ‘There has been no agreement for a deal, creation of alliances or any clubs in the European Parliament.’
The view within the EPP, is that despite attempts to expel them, Fidesz values its membership of the group because of the respectability in confers. That is something Orban may not be willing to risk.
There are considerable differences between the parties of the right as to how immigration is to be dealt with. As Mattia Diletta from Rome’s Sapienza University said: ‘Salvini has the same slogans as right-wing parties across Europe but different strategies, so I wonder if they (Lega) would be truly powerful in the European Parliament.’
Salvini wants immigrants dispersed equally throughout Europe. The Visegrad Group of nations that comprises, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia want no immigration into their countries at all. Fidesz has made a criminal offence in Hungary, punishable by a jail sentence, to give assistance to undocumented immigrants.
There is also realisation that immigration may not be the decisive factor in May’s elections that it seemed a year ago. Immigration to Italy, Greece and Spain that peaked at 221,000 a month in October 2015 had by May last year fallen to 10,495. Immigration into Greece from Turkey has fallen by 90 per cent and from North Africa to Italy by 67 per cent.
Perhaps realising that, Salvini, in his press conference with Le Pen, emphasised ‘precarious jobs, unemployment and a low birth rate’ as Lega’s main platform for the European elections.
And, as even his one-time allies concede, Salvini and others on the right are not at their best when the national conversation turns away from immigration.
Flavio Tosi, a one-time colleague of Salvini’s who now leads his own breakaway party, said: ‘Salvini and Lega do not have the stomach to deal with big structural reforms, so they always turn to the easier subject of the immigration issue. It is the only glue that holds them together.’