A “European renaissance based on Christian values” is probably not what Emmanuel Macron and others have in mind when they think about the EU’s future. But that was top of the agenda for Europe’s three populist musketeers on Thursday. After a meeting in Budapest, Italian Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki announced their plans for a “political alliance at European level”.
That sounds like a major breakthrough, though it’s doubtful that this meeting would have gathered so much press coverage had it not been at the end of a quiet Easter week.
There is some logic to such an alliance and it’s a surprise that the three principals have not thought of it before. Orban and Morawieczki have had their governments repeatedly traduced by the European Commission, usually correctly, for breaching rule of law standards. They also attempted to block the EU’s common recovery and resilience fund that will pump money into national economies across the bloc.
With the UK out of the picture, Hungary and Poland are clearly Europe’s awkward partners.
So should Europhiles be worried that the three populist musketeers will wrest control from the integrationist centre-right, socialists and liberals? Not for the moment.
A combination of personality clashes, egos and wide ideological differences have meant that Europe’s nationalist forces have struggled to work together. Case in point are the struggles of the European Conservative and Reformist group which has failed to make much headway since its creation in 2009 and accounts for fewer than 10% of MEPs in the European Parliament.
Indeed, it’s only two years ago that Donald Trump’s agent provocateur Steve Bannon sought to unite the right ahead of the last European Parliament. Bannon’s The Movement, which also courted Salvini and Orban, as well as the likes of Marine Le Pen, was a dismal failure.
There are obvious ideological fault lines between the populist three. Salvini’s sympathies towards Russia’s Vladimir Putin make it hard to believe that he could sit alongside Poland’s Morawiecki.
Meanwhile, Orbán’s rhetoric on all things EU-related has been so unambiguously hostile towards the EU and its institutions at times, that it is tempting to wonder whether he wants to stay in the EU at all. Salvini, by contrast, has toned down his party’s Euroscepticism in recent weeks, remarking that “we have hands, feet, heart and brain in Europe”. His country is also one of the most vocally in favour of the EU recovery fund.
There should, in theory, be a natural space for Europe’s right to work effectively together. The notion that most Europeans favour more integration when it comes to taxation, foreign policy and now healthcare doesn’t have much evidence to back it up.
In practice, however, a succession of attempts to unite the nationalist right have floundered. Grand statements are easy to make. So is bashing the EU. A coherent plan to reform it and, presumably, return powers to governments, remains as elusive as ever.
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EU ministers failed to agree on how to divide up 10 million extra doses of coronavirus vaccine, with Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic refusing to help five struggling countries.
Renew Europe MEP Nicolae Ștefănuță tells EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos that auditing and rule of law mechanisms should be ready to scrutinise how the first money from the Recovery Fund will be dispersed across the bloc in 2022.
Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann tells EURACTIV that labelling foodstuffs as gene-edited products is simply not possible as the genetic improvements brought about by the new breeding technologies (NBTs) are not identifiable.
French farmers returned to the streets on Friday, as demands for a fair income increase across France and protests against reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) step up.
Elsewhere, EU countries are set to be among the main beneficiaries next week, when international leaders are set to authorise up to $650bn of new ‘Special Drawing Rights’ at the International Monetary Fund’s spring meeting.
Meanwhile, Laurence Tubiana and Ani Toni argue that passing the EU-Mercosur deal in its current state would set an horrific precedent for future trade deals currently under negotiation and fly in the face of the EU’s landmark Green Deal.
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Happy Easter from everyone at Euractiv.
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