October 09, 2018
Can Le Pen and Salvini pull it off?
Marine Le Pen met Matteo Salvini in Rome yesterday launching their common campaign for the European elections in May next year with the aim for the far-right movement to become an alternative force in Europe. While the meeting produced many symbolic gestures and defined common enemies, it still lacks substance.
The first thing to note is that their relationship is more complex than yesterday’s display of friendship suggests. Marine Le Pen may have inspired Matteo Salvini years ago to take his regional party to the national level on the back of a populist wave. But it is Salvini today who is in government with a strong backing of over 30% in the polls and an alliance with other right wing parties that consolidates his power. Le Pen by comparison seems isolated in France. Salvini was in no rush to meet Le Pen. Instead, he sought to get closer to Viktor Orbàn as well as to the Austrian government and the CSU in Bavaria. But Salvini returned from those meetings disappointed by the conflicting interests over immigration question. He ended up aborting the idea of an axis between Rome, Vienna and Munich, writes Le Monde. So here he is back again with Le Pen, where his opponents feel he belongs anyway.
Now that they reaffirmed their alliance, what next for their European movement? Will it be enough just to define a common enemy to mobilise the electorate? They named their usual favourite foes yesterday: the bunker in Brussels, which is how they refer to the European Commission, and Emmanuel Macron. They portray the EU as an authoritarian system operating like an occupying force. But they also seized the opportunity to seek distance from Steve Bannon, former adviser to Donald Trump, who plans to unite far-right groups in Europe around a common strategy.
Their joint attacks cannot mask the inherent fragility of their alliance. To build an effective political force across Europe requires more than just a common enemy, and more than repeating Salvini's mantra that where there is a way, there is a will. So far, the contours of their Europe of Nations remain blurry. Yesterday, there were no news about the organisation or the cooperation of the populist movement. Will this change over the coming months? Le Pen has no track record of building lasting alliances. Salvini might well be busy fighting other battles. A consolation for them is that Emmanuel Macron has his own difficulties to mobilise forces against them.