Vienna (10/4-33.33). Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán and Mateusz Morawiecki have a dream. On April 1st, it is Maundy Thursday and only a few days until Easter, Italians, Hungarians and Poles stand on a terrace of the Budapest Castle and look out over the Danube. Salvini, head of the right-wing party “Lega”, and Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, speak of the resurrection, but do not mean Christ, but something completely different: a “European renaissance”.
The two right-wing populists want to move closer together. In their midst: Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The trio wants to achieve what has never been achieved in the history of the European Union: to unite all parties to the right of the Christian Democrats under one roof, in one large group. Your vision sounds like a single contradiction: A transnational alliance should initiate a return to the nation states.
Leaving the European Union no longer plays a role for Europe’s rights. Right-wing and right-wing extremist parties across Europe, often referred to as euro rights, no longer want to abolish the “monster” EU, but rather tame it – from within. This conversion should begin in the European Parliament, of all things, which from the point of view of euro law should not even exist.
Exactly there, in the otherwise so hated Brussels and Strasbourg, Orbán and Salvini want to play a major role in the future by merging two already existing legal groups. The right-wing populist to right-wing extremist group “Identity and Democracy” (ID) is currently the fourth largest in the European Parliament with 74 members – including the three MPs of the FPÖ. In the national conservative, EU-skeptical alliance of the “European Conservatives and Reformers” (FCR) there are 63 members.
Together with the twelve Hungarian Fidesz MPs, who left the European People’s Party (EPP) at the beginning of March after years of estrangement, the euro rights could form the second largest group in the EU Parliament, ahead of the Social Democrats.
That would give the right-wing parties some advantages. The larger the group, the more speaking time and financial resources MEPs get. Right-wing parties recognized this decades ago, when the EU was still in its infancy. They gathered in “technical factions” to raise more money and influence. Common content or values? Subordinate. But this loophole was abolished in 2001. Today it takes at least 25 MEPs from seven Member States to form a political group.
It is no coincidence that Europe’s rights are now trying again. With Fidesz’s exit from the EPP, the balance between the political groups in the European Parliament has been seriously shaken. Viktor Orbán’s party is looking for a new home – and could become the link between the right-wing ID group and the EU skeptics from the EKR.
That also has to do with Brexit. With the elimination of the British Tories from the FCR, what was previously unthinkable will become possible: the EU skeptics will approach the extreme right. The British Conservatives wanted nothing to do with the xenophobic rhetoric of the French Rassemblement National and the racism of an FPÖ. After Brexit, another party now has the say: the Polish Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), which has been criticized for years for undermining the rule of law. Salvini and Orbán are now faced with the mammoth task of bringing together splinter groups, non-attached MPs and established delegations.
Five years after the first EU election, the Italian neo-fascists founded a right-wing parliamentary group for the first time with the French Front National. Chairman was Jean-Marie Le Pen, who later should expel his own daughter because of his anti-Semitic statements from the party. Marine Le Pen, now 52, has the political inheritance renamed “Rassemblement National”. Instead of against Jews, their MPs are now inciting against Muslims. Le Pen wants to become President of France next year.
Since her father founded the first right-wing parliamentary group in the 1980s, countless others have emerged – and have mostly been quickly disbanded (see timeline). For left movements, they like to split. Right-wingers are said to stand united behind a leadership figure. But euro rights are no less difficult to form a common front. “Everyone wants to be alpha males or alpha females,” says former FPÖ ideologist Andreas Mölzer, describing the dilemma. There have been several attempts over the decades. One started in Vienna in 2005.
At that time, the Freedom Party invited foreign “patriots” to a “contact forum” in Austria. Mölzer, at the time an FPÖ member of the European Parliament, was pushing the matter forward. In retrospect, he describes the meeting as “friendly”, not least because he speaks French well. Together with the Front National, Mölzer is working on the so-called “Vienna Declaration”, a kind of party program for the “Identity – Tradition – Sovereignty” faction founded in 2007. This basic consensus still applies today. It is the material from which Salvini and Orbán now want to knit something supposedly “new”. “Salvini copied everything from me,” jokes the right-wing hardliner in an interview with profil.
At the same time there was always something dividing. Italians and Austrians argued over the question of how to deal with Russia because of South Tyrol, Eastern Europeans and Western Europeans. “The Poles hate the Russians. For them, anyone who gets on well with the Russians is an opponent, ”says Mölzer. At times the parties stumbled upon their own racism. In 2007, when Romania acceded to the EU, Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the former dictator, publicly quarreled with her party friends in Bucharest, insulting Romanians as “gypsies” and “criminals”. As a result, the Romanian MPs broke the parliamentary group after less than ten months and accused Mussolini of “racism”.
There was also split over the question of what prevailed in the 21st century: anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim resentment. The parties “learned” from each other. The fact that Heinz-Christian Strache found his peace with Israel also had to do with the fact that allies such as the French Marine Le Pen or the Dutch Geert Wilders had recognized that hatred of Islam brings more voices than anti-Jewish resentment. “Our own anti-Semitism is now being denied by extreme right-wing and national-conservative parties and projected onto Muslims,” says Peham.
Even if the Vienna Declaration was now 16 years ago: It still sums up well what the euro rights stand for. Only the spokesmen are different. You are not in Vienna or Paris, but in Rome, Warsaw and Budapest. This also has to do with the loss of importance of the FPÖ, which with the resignation of Strache lost a party leader who was networked across national borders. Marine Le Pen spoke of Strache as an “ally”, Salvini of a “friend”, and Geert Wilders even called him a “hero”.
Strache’s charisma attracted euro rights to Vienna in 2016. A week before the Brexit referendum, the then FPÖ leader proclaimed a “patriotic spring” in the Vösendorf pyramid. Inside the plexiglass-steel construction on the outskirts of Vienna: beer tables, folk music and cheese krainer. The one-year anniversary of “Europe of Nations and Freedom”, at that time the smallest parliamentary group in the EU Parliament, is celebrated. Marine Le Pen is in favor of a referendum on leaving the EU, Michał Marusik from the Polish party “Congress of the New Right” warns of the consequences of immigration: “Do not allow foreign immigrants to suck on your teats and testify your blood . “Host Strache is certain:” We can no longer be stopped. “
Then everything turned out differently. Not Marine Le Pen, but Emmanuel Macron became the President of France. Frauke Petry did not become German Chancellor, as von Strache predicted, but left the AfD in the dispute. And since the FPÖ was kicked out of the government with the Ibiza scandal, the freedomists at the EU level have sunk into insignificance. “In my time we were the driving force behind the collaboration,” says Mölzer today.
Now it’s an Italian. On May 18, 2019, the day Strache announced his resignation, the Lega boss and then Interior Minister Matteo Salvini invited representatives from ten right-wing parties to Milan, including AfD boss Jörg Meuthen. Once again, as in 2005, 2007 and 2016, those involved indulged in pathos. There was talk of a “turning point” and a “new era”. Now, according to Salvini, the time has come to liberate Europe from the “occupation by Brussels”.
“We are David against Goliath, but history sometimes shows that the little ones, when they are determined, defeat the strong forces,” Salvini said in his speech at the time. The European elections took place a week later. Even then, the aim was to unite 150 MPs in a large right-wing faction. Salvini’s dream burst. The ID group, in which the Lega and Rassemblement hold the most seats, came in fourth. Not a David, but not a Goliath either.
Is that changing now?
In the event of a right-wing alliance, the group would grow into a giant, larger than the Social Democrats. “It’s going to be a hair short,” says Mölzer. Now Orbán should fix it. “He is a strong political figure and he wants to show it to the Christian Democrats,” said Mölzer. There has to be a decision at the end of the year.
If the euro rights manage to find an agreement by then, then there would be an enormous shift in the balance of power in the European Parliament: At the end of the year, after the first half of the legislative period, the offices in the Bureau and all committee chairmen will be re-appointed. So far, Social Democrats and Conservatives have kept ID MPs away from these posts. But as the second largest faction, the right could no longer be marginalized. A Vice President Harald Vilimsky from the FPÖ or a committee chairman Meuthen from the AfD would then no longer be excluded.
But even without the merger, there would be a creeping shift in the balance in the European Parliament: the EPP has shrunk – and the Social Democrats have in the past Steadily lost votes for 20 years.
For the European engine, which was already stuttering before the Corona crisis, a right-wing large fraction would be a mess.
The game could fail this time due to differences in content. Dealing with Russia has become the greatest bone of contention. Orbán has excellent relations with Moscow – in contrast to the Polish PiS, which is extremely reserved about its larger neighbor.
Rassemblement, says Peham, would probably drop his Russia ambitions in terms of a right-wing alliance, “but Salvini has a harder time”. His relations with Moscow are much closer.
“There are always huge differences,” says Mölzer. In terms of cooperation, opposites have to be pushed into the background and focus on a central minimum consensus. This is still the same as in 2005. “Patriotism, family, Christianity, anti-Islamism, against mass immigration, things like that,” says Mölzer.
Vilimsky thinks that “within national idiosyncrasies, everyone should do what he wants”. He does not want to comment on the abortion ban in Poland initiated by the PiS. And it shouldn’t be an obstacle that some are closer to Russia and others more to the USA.
Vilimsky downplays the fact that the FPÖ has also signed an agreement with Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia” party. He doesn’t even know whether it is still upright.
In order to rise to the second largest group, almost all members of the ECR would have to go with them. And even then, the lead over the Social Democrats would be very thin (see graphic). Mölzer estimates the probability that this will succeed at 40 percent, Vilimsky has to be more optimistic: “If everyone jumps over their shadow, then we can do it.”
Even if advancing to second place is unlikely, the right has never been so close to forming a large political family.
The nervousness of the two large groups in the European Parliament in view of the right-wing efforts is still limited. The EPP says that it is first and foremost relieved that Fidesz has left the Conservative Group. “Show me your new friends and I’ll tell you who you are,” says ÖVP member and Vice President of the European Parliament, Othmar Karas, about Orbán’s negotiations with Poland and Italy. “All statements and actions since Fidesz left the EPP Group have shown how right and important the separation was.”
Peham recalls that Europe’s rights are not anti-European. “Even if they are not religious, the West is sacred to them.” The structural weaknesses of the EU, the democratic deficit and a legislatively weak parliament make it easier for them: “The extreme right is speaking out and making the truth a lie. Because they don’t want a democratic EU, they want a return to nation states. ”
profil asked several delegations for a written statement, but received no answer from outside the FPÖ. Fidesz even went a step further. Instead of answering the questions, she apparently forwarded the email to the state broadcaster’s main newscast. In a three-minute post, screenshots of the request were published as well as pictures of the journalist, who was described as a “provocateur”.
Is there actually already a name for the new right-wing parliamentary group?
“No,” says Vilimsky. “But that will be the easiest part of the exercise.”