Smileys and selfies: Europe’s far-right tries to end divisions

A poster of Salvini, advertising for the 8 April 2019 conference in Milan. [@matteosalvinimi Twitter]

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini sends texts with smileys to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and posts selfies with Austrian far-right politician Heinz-Christian Strache.

The face of the leader of Italy’s far-right League party is beamed onto big screens at right-wing rallies from Prague to Sofia.

Buoyed by his own success and voter fatigue with mainstream parties, Salvini is trying to build bridges before elections on 26 May to the European Parliament, the European Union’s legislature.

With the two biggest political blocs expected to lose their combined majority, he and other far-right leaders hope to form an opposition, eurosceptic alliance with enough seats in the assembly to block or hold up legislation.

“Our idea is to come together … into a new party that better reflects the euroskeptical views that unite us,” Salvini’s foreign affairs advisor Marco Zanni told Reuters. “Now is our chance to unite forces once and for all.”

But when Salvini starts his campaign for the elections on Monday in Milan, representatives of only three, relatively small far-right European parties will be present.

Le Pen will not be there. Nor will representatives of Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party (PiS), which governs Poland.

Salvini promises a much bigger rally next month. But the absence of Le Pen and other leading far-right and nationalist leaders speaks to the policy differences and rivalries that have long stood in the way of unity among such groups.

Far-right leaders share the broad ideological goals of curbing the EU’s perceived liberal course and returning power to the member states’ capitals. But they differ in other areas, and an attempt by US President Donald Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon, to act as a power broker among Europe’s populist groups has fizzled.

Bannon to establish Brussels headquarters, targeting EU election

As EURACTIV wrote last March, an ‘agent provocateur’ has entered European politics, and his name is Steve Bannon, former senior advisor to President Donald Trump.

Birds of a feather? 

Investors expect heightened political uncertainty after the 26 May election, in which 705 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will be elected, or 751 if Britain fails to leave the EU as planned.

General dissatisfaction over slow economic growth, security threats posed by Islamist militants and a backlash against migration across open EU borders have boosted support for eurosceptic nationalists in many member states.

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