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Warsaw Pact 2.0: Euroskeptics unite before elections to European Parliament

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Their goal is to shape a new ultra-right faction in the European Parliament
14:30, 9 January 2019

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Interior Minister, Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and the leader of the League of the North Matteo Salvini, plans to visit Poland on January 9 to meet with the leader of the Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Among the topics for negotiations, which was mentioned by the press secretary of the party Law and Justice Beata Mazurek, is trade and economic cooperation. In Poland, there are 3.5 thousand Italian firms, and bilateral trade in 2017 amounted to almost $ 11 billion. However, in this case, it should not be Salvini to go to the talks, but the Italian Minister of Economy and Finance Giovanni Tria. And he should not meet with Kaczynski, but with the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology of Poland, Jadwiga Emilewicz for that matter. The version of the La Repubblica newspaper that Salvini and Kaczynski will discuss elections to the European Parliament and the prospect of creating a faction consisting of European ultra-right parties is more plausible. In September 2018, the Italian politician emphasized that the new association should split the existing tandem of socialists and Christian democrats.

The European People’s Party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which occupy 406 of the 751 seats, are dominating in the European Parliament. These two factions formed Christian-Democratic, moderately conservative, social-democratic pro-European parties. For example, the German CDU / CSU alliance of Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the Austrian Freedom Party of Sebastian Kurz are present in the European People’s Party, and the German Social Democratic Party of Andrea Nahles or the French Socialist Party of Olivier Faure participate in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. In order to create a new faction in the European Parliament, Salvini needs the support of ideologically close parties from seven EU member states. At least 25 MEPs are needed to form a faction in the European Parliament, and this is clearly not enough to create an effective counterbalance to the “European People's Party” and the “Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats”. Depending on the results of elections to the European Parliament, the composition of the European Commission - one of the main governing supranational bodies of the EU is formed. Salvini needs to unite scattered ultra-right parties from other factions of the European Parliament around the “League of the North”, and this requires experienced and authoritative allies among conservatives like Jaroslav Kaczynski.

Political consultant Bannon's project

The ideas of Salvini about the formation of a new ultra-right faction in the European Parliament echo the views of the political consultant Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist and senior adviser to the President of the United States Donald Trump. In his opinion, the elections to the European Parliament will be the first confrontation between the European populist parties and the traditional liberal parties. Bannon earlier than Salvini, allowed the consolidation of the European ultra-right parties in order to change the political landscape of the European Union. In March 2018, Bannon spoke at the congress of the French ultra-right National Front party Marine Le Pen and told Euro-skeptics who were present that they were part of a global movement that was not limited to the borders of France and Italy.

Last summer, he joined the non-governmental Movement organization, registered by the Belgian People’s Party leader Mischaël Modrikamen in 2017. Bannon believes that the Movement will support the far-right parties in financial and consulting activities so that they can take a third of the seats in the European Parliament election results. Bannon admitted that the Movement would be partially funded by European sponsors and partly by his own funds. Bannon made a fortune while working at Goldman Sachs and his own investment bank, Bannon & Co, in the 80s and 90s. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani has already expressed dissatisfaction with Bannon's activity in Europe and urged him to return home if he does not behave like an ordinary tourist.

The political consultant succeeded in Trump's campaign headquarters, and with his efforts Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Now he is going to repeat the success of the American elections in Europe and prepare the European ultra-right parties, including the League of the North, for the European Parliament elections. Bannon himself in many ways resembles euro skeptics in his views. He is an ardent conservative and republican. When he headed the conservative Breitbart News website, articles with the anti-Islamic headlines were published there. Bannon called the UN Pact on Migration dead before signing and believes that ordinary laborers from Hungary, France or the United States should not be concerned about the problems of Africa. Political consultant John Weaver considers Bannon a racist and fascist.

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Apparently, the American political consultant sees Salvini as a potential leader of the ultra-right coalition in European Parliament. Salvini joined the "Movement" in September last year. Bannon was in Italy during the last parliamentary elections, in which the League of the North and the populist "Five Star Movement" won. Then he compared the parliamentary elections in Italy with the presidential elections in the United States. Bannon considers Salvini to be an illustrative example of a European conservative. The Italian minister enjoys great prestige and has a reputation for almost the main politician of his country. Like Bannon, he is opposed to migration and the European Commission’s approach to solving the problem of refugees. According to Salvini, it is necessary to deport all undocumented migrants. He threatened to expel 500 thousand illegal immigrants and refuse to receive the vessels with new asylum seekers. In 2018, European border guards detained 551 ships with illegal immigrants. Italy has felt the effects of the migration crisis stronger than other EU member states, since a significant proportion of the refugees arrive in the EU through the Italian coast.

In addition, Salvini has his own vision of EU reform, which he can try to implement in case of success in the elections to the European Parliament. The League of the North rejects the idea of a united Europe, does not support the strengthening of supranational bodies, defends an alternative approach to European integration - the so-called Europe of regions, in which national governments have broad competence and determine EU policy. In the working version of the coalition agreement of "League of the North" and "Five Star Movement" it was proposed to revise the fundamental agreements of the EU regarding the common monetary policy, the common European budget, joint emergency response, control over the tax policies of member countries and the possibility of imposing sanctions against them. Salvini allows for exit from the euro area and a return to purely economic integration without political add-ons that were introduced after the entry of the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties into force. The voice of Italy is not the last in the European Union. The country ranks fourth in terms of contributions to the European Union budget (12.5%). Italy is the fourth economy in the EU, the most developed state in the south of Europe among the countries where Euro skeptics are in power. Today, the Italian authorities are in opposition to the Franco-German tandem, which since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 has set the trend for European integration.

The role of Kaczynski

But Bannon had difficulties with the search for partners for the Movement. During his trips to the European Union last year, Bannon managed to get along with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who appreciated the activities of the Movement. Now Orban is in disgrace in the EU due to the unwillingness to place refugees on his territory, the restriction of the independence of the judiciary and freedom of speech. The European Parliament proposed to impose sanctions against Hungary, including deprivation of votes in the European Council, despite the membership of the ruling party "Fides" in the "European People's Party". The leader of the Italian ultra-right party "The Brothers of Italy" Giorgia Meloni wanted to join the organization of Bannon. Interest in Bannon’s initiative was expressed by Gert Wilders, leader of the Dutch ultra-right Freedom Party, and Thierry Baudet, head of the Euro-skeptics party Forum for Democracy.

However, the Movement was criticized by Alexander Gauland, one of the leaders of the “Alternative for Germany” Euro-skeptic party. In his opinion, Bannon will not be able to create an alliance of European forces, since the “Movement” is a purely American project, and the Europeans must decide their own fate. The same opinion is shared by the head of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen, the general secretary of the Austrian Freedom Party, Harald Vilimsky, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Gerard Batten. Anti-American sentiments are typical among the ultra-right euro skeptics, since they believe that the United States is interfering in the internal affairs of European countries. American Bannon is not trusted, and the Movement needs another reputable conservative who can convince euro skeptics to support the project.

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Poland is a political and economic heavyweight in Central and Eastern Europe, where, as in Italy, Euroskeptics and opponents of the "open door" policy are in power. That's why Salvini is trying to enlist the support in this country. Most likely, Salvini went to Poland to convince Kaczynski not only to join the Movement, but also to lead the ultra-right parties from other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Both policies have much in common. They enjoy great prestige in their countries. Former Polish Prime Minister Kaczynski is considered almost a gray cardinal, influencing the political course of the current Polish government. On the one hand, Kaczynski and his Law and Justice party have a reason to support Bannon’s Movement. Poland is in conflict with the EU due to the fact that it refuses to place refugees on its territory, as well as to cancel the judicial reform, criticized in the EU. Kaczynski supports the rapprochement of Poland with the United States, therefore he should not be embarrassed that this is Bannon’s idea. On the other hand, disagreements between Salvini and Kaczynski may arise due to the position with respect to Russia. Unlike Salvini, Kaczynski supports the tightening of anti-Russian sanctions and opposes the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline.

20 ultra-right parties (not counting those which have already refused or agreed) from 10 European countries, which are currently scattered in small factions or are represented by out-of-party MPs in the European Parliament, can become potential participants of the Movement. The Slovak National Party, known for its xenophobic speeches, the Order and Justice Party of Lithuania, which defends the idea of protecting national identity, True Finns, which ranks second in terms of the number of mandates in the Finnish Parliament, is participating in the Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy faction. . The Polish "New Right Congress" participates in the "Europe of Nations and Freedoms" faction and opposes same-sex marriages, claims for the restoration of the death penalty and withdrawal from the EU. In the conservative camp we can see the Bulgarian political forces "National Democratic Party of Bulgaria", "Attack", anti-Zionist, anti-communist parties "National Revival of Poland", Romanian "New Rights", Hungarian "Jobbik", "National Democratic Party of Germany", Greek " Golden Dawn” , Italian "New Force". The only problem is that members of these parties can simply refuse to participate in the "Movement" on the basis of xenophobia and inter-ethnic discord. Combining the European far right is not so easy.

American interests

Bannon and Trump have long been in conflict. In 2017, Bannon resigned from his posts due to disagreements with the president. It later emerged that the political technologist made a statement for the book " Fire and Fury " by journalist Michael Wolff that the son of the American President, Donald Trump, Jr., had committed a betrayal by meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump went berserk and accused Bannon of defamation. Nevertheless, the idea of creating a faction in the European Parliament from conservative parties is close to the American Republicans. Trump's appointed US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, like Bannon, supports European conservatives and is interested in strengthening them. He also gave an interview to Breitbart, where Bannon worked. It is not excluded that Bannon is a man of the United States in Europe, and Salvini and Kaczynski will be a ram, carving the way to the replenishment of the ranks of the Movement.

Eurosceptics are interesting for Trump as potential allies, alternative to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, with whom he could not find a common language and overcome differences. The EU opposes the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate protection, the nuclear deal with Iran, the increase in European defense allies' expenditures within NATO. The large ultra-right faction in the European Parliament can be used by the United States as a lever of pressure on the EU to their advantage. It is beneficial for the United States to build relations with Europe as it was during the Cold War. Then the European countries agreed with US foreign policy, supported its initiatives and did not try to distance themselves from NATO for fear of a communist threat. Now the EU is in the process of creating a European army with the ideas of Merkel and Macron, which Trump considers senseless.

At the same time, we can’t say that the euro skeptics will follow the direction of Washington. Many ultra-right parties, including the League of the North, the National Front, and the Austrian Freedom Party, which support the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions, are in favor of rapprochement with Russia. Even Salvini repeatedly called for the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions and justified the annexation of Crimea. This goes against US priorities, which have a lot of contradictions with Russia and with which they want to compete on the European gas market. Having strong positions in the European Commission, Euro-skeptics will lobby for the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions, which will lead to deterioration in relations between Ukraine and the EU. However, Salvini and Bannon do not care about our problems.

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