Posted on July 3, 2018

Italian Minister Aims to Unite European Nationalist Parties

Angela Giuffrida, The Guardian, July 1, 2018

The Italian interior minister and leader of the far-right League, Matteo Salvini, said on Sunday that he wanted to create a pan-European network of nationalist parties.

Buoyed by his burgeoning popularity since general elections in early March, the 45-year-old said the “League of the Leagues of Europe” would bring together “all the free and sovereign movements that want to defend their people and their borders”.

He raised the idea during a keynote speech in Pontida, a small town in the northern region of Lombardy where thousands of League supporters gather each year for a boisterous rally.

“To win we had to unite Italy, now we will have to unite Europe,” Salvini said.

Brimming with confidence, Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, added that the League, formerly known as the Northern League, which started in the early 1980s as a northern Italian secessionist movement, would govern the country “for the next 30 years”.

He also said that European parliamentary elections in 2019 would be a referendum on “a Europe without borders … and a Europe that protects its citizens”.

Salvini’s declaration comes two months after he attended a gathering of Europe’s far-right leaders hosted by Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Rally (formerly the Front National), in the southern French city of Nice. At the event, the group, which included Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom and Harald Vilimsky of Austria’s Freedom party, launched their campaign ahead of the European elections. Le Pen, with whom Salvini has nurtured a friendship for some time, warned that a far-right majority in the vote could “change Europe”.

The League came together with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), led by 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio, in early June to form western Europe’s first populist government after the March elections produced an inconclusive result. M5S emerged as the biggest single party in the ballot, but with support for the League surging from around 18% to 30% in polls since March, the party is now about equal to its ally.

Salvini’s hardline stance towards immigration has helped the League to thrive since he became leader in 2013, when it languished at around 5%.

The party’s anti-immigration policies currently have the upper hand within the coalition, with Salvini reiterating on Friday that Italy’s ports would be closed to all NGOs involved in rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean for the entire summer, a period when arrivals peak, and that those on board “will only see Italy in a postcard”.

His renewed pledge came the same day the EU’s 28 leaders struck a deal on how to handle refugees and irregular migrants. The deal was reached amid intense pressure from Italy and after a ship carrying over 600 rescued migrants was forced to divert to Spain after Salvini blocked entry.

Salvini said his government’s tough approach towards immigration and in negotiations with the EU had achieved more than its predecessors had done in six years.

“The happiness of a people comes first,” Salvini proclaimed at the rally, drawing rousing cheers. Salvini asked rally attendees if they would “swear, yes or no, to liberate the peoples from this Europe”.

“Yes!” came the resounding reply from the crowd.