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Backlash against Orbàn and Salvini's anti-migration manifesto won’t change its power to influence next year’s European elections

Far-right European parties will be in far better shape compared to the elections in 2014, as Brexit has also contributed to the galvanization of their nationalist platforms

Angelo Boccato
Monday 03 September 2018 08:26
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Matteo Salvini interview with Massimo Giletti

The meeting between Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbàn for the launch of their anti-migration manifesto, has deep ramifications on both a European and national scale.

The Salvini-Orbàn press conference in Milan last week revealed the pair’s desire to strengthen the borders of “fortress Europe”, as the two party leaders congratulated each other on their respective gains.

Their rhetoric is that of an “anti-globalist and anti-elite” front against the globalist one, led by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, with George Soros as apparent puppet-master, in preparation for the European Parliament elections in May.

But a closer look at the migration policies implemented within the European Union should be sufficient to show that the “anti-globalist versus globalist” narrative is totally disingenuous; a crackdown on migration and asylum policies has already been implemented in both France and Germany.

After all, it was Marco Minniti of the Democratic Party, who held Salvini’s other post, of interior minister, until June, led a deal with Libya’s warring factions intended to stem the flow of people for Italy – regardless of human rights violations in the detention camps in the country.

Last year, Minniti also made it very difficult for NGO rescue ships to operate in the Mediterranean.

These cases show that, beyond the rhetoric, the overwhelming majority of European governments and political forces find themselves on the same page when it comes to migration; the aim is to defend the borders, in the name of identity, or out of “fear for the Italian democracy”, as Orbàn and Minniti respectively said, regardless of humanitarian principles and international law.

The tightening of Fortress Europe’s borders is the only true Pan-European “currency”, but when it comes to economics and changing the way in which the European Union works and its neoliberal policies: where is the change of the European paradigm?

When it comes to Hungary, it is easy to spot a mixture of unorthodox economic policies, combining the introduction of a low tax rate, the reduction of the personal income tax and corporate income tax rates and measures such as banking taxes and the nationalisation of the Open Pension Fund.

The Lega Norda (Northern League) in Italy, on the other hand, is mostly promoting the idea of a flat tax, while the cancellation of the pension-reform Fornero law, one of the party’s battle horses during this year’s electoral campaign, has apparently been left behind.

By considering these elements of Orbànomics, Salvinomics and the likeliness that European policies might not differ too much from the national ones, it could be said, when it comes to the European model, that, to quote the famous novel by Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard, “everything must change in order to stay the same”.

Slovakia: Orban lambasts EU for neglecting its duty to defend its borders

The meeting between Orbàn and Salvini shows that also on a domestic level in Italy, where the Five Star Movement (5SM) and the League government coalition are concerned, things are shifting more and more towards that sentiment, despite the former’s economic and social agenda.

The leaders of the 5SM parliamentary groups labelled the summit as “a political one, not institutional or governmental”. However, as Matteo Salvini is the “unofficial” Italian PM, these labels actually underline another issue within the ranks of the party launched by comedian Beppe Grillo.

Such issues show the discomfort that part of the movement is facing towards the alliance with the League and its attitude towards migrants, a discomfort publicly and widely expressed by president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and 5SM MP Roberto Fico.

Despite Orbàn and the rest of the Visegrad group – Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – taking a different stand on migrant resettlement to the Northern League, the EU summit in October is expected to be in line with Salvini’s own far-right European strategy, in preparation of the pivotal European elections in May 2019.

Such a strategy has been in the making since Salvini took leadership of the party, by developing ties with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and former AfD’s leader Frauke Petry – the four fellow members of the European Alliance for Freedom took party in a meeting of far-right heads in Koblenz, Germany, in January last year, following the election of Donald Trump.

By forming an alliance with Orbàn, whose party Fidesz’s MEPs sit instead among the ranks of the European People’s Party (EPP), Salvini might work towards expanding far-right prospects.

Salvini announced in Pontida, during this year’s national League gathering, his aim of establishing a “league of leagues” in Europe next year.

The Orbàn affiliation with the EPP is not contested, despite his crackdown on migrants, independent press, NGOs and supporters of migrants, and the fact that the party has occupied the political space that belonged to the far-right party Jobbik. All of this is symptomatic of the far-right shift that is happening within the largest European political group. The Hungarian prime minister is a champion of a new model of authoritarianism, as he embodies the prototype of the “strongman” in the EU.

The far-right European parties will be in far better shape compared to the European Elections in 2014, as the 2016 EU referendum in Britain has also contributed to the galvanization of their nationalist platforms. And the fact remains that migration, despite facts and data that prove it shouldn’t be, is still seen as the biggest concern of the European population.

When the European elections roll around, Salvini and Orbàn might actually be able to lead a new, successful course, by formally pretending to change the European model and advocating for European citizens’ economic and social welfare, but behind closed doors, focusing on the war on migration.

In the process, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers will face even more hostility, risks of deportation and human rights abuses. Representing the perfect scapegoat for a number of right-leaning European countries, the elections next year will undoubtedly be focused on them, making Orbàn and Salvini’s work complete.

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