The leader of the National Rally party in France, Marine Le Pen, was in Brussels on Sunday to support the far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang. At the same time, she extended her hand towards Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party and Poland’s PiS (Law and Justice) party. Is a block of anti-migrant parties growing in Europe?
Anti-migrant parties are spread across three blocks in the European Parliament. There are some parties which promote anti-migration or are tough on migration in the EPP (European Peoples Party) block, the natural home for most conservative parties in Europe. Then there is the "Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe" and the "Europe of Nations and Freedom".
Over the last year, ahead of the European Elections at the end of May 2019, it seems efforts to create a kind of super-block of parties with similar anti-migration, and often Euro-skeptic views, have been intensifying. These efforts are coming from several disparate sources. There is the so-called “The Movement” which was registered in Brussels in January 2017 by the leader of the Belgian People’s Party Mischaël Modrikamen. In this tweet, Modrikamen asks his followers to "read this to understand what we are putting in place."
The Movement was founded by Donald Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon. Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s League party, is also part of the movement and often described as one of its most powerful front runners, according to Modrikamen. However, some say that The Movement has already failed because of differences between many of the potential candidates who were courted to join up.
Marine Le Pen and her National Rally (RN) is perhaps one of those potential candidates. Although she has attended events where Bannon was present, according to the press agency AP in October 2018, Le Pen distanced herself from Bannon’s Movement. Standing side by side with Salvini, as he applauded her, Le Pen clarified that Bannon was setting up a think tank to “offer research to nationalist parties in Europe.” She continued: “We, and we alone, are the ones who will shape the political force that is born from the European elections.”
Le Pen explained that her party was “attached to our liberty, attached to our sovereignty and we together, the representatives of the different peoples of Europe, are the ones who will shape the political forces that aim specifically to save Europe.
An alliance of European parties?
True to her word it seems like Le Pen is now busy trying to form that alliance of European parties. On Sunday, May 5, she was in Brussels to support the right-wing Flemish party Vlaams Belang (Dutch for Flemish interest). At the same time, she extended an invitation to Hungary’s Viktor Orban and the Polish PiS party (Law and Justice) to join with her and Salvini and other parties who were determined to change the EU’s migration policy.
In an interview with Euronews at the beginning of April, she said that she and the block her party belongs to in the European Parliament, the Europe of Nations and Freedom, wanted to convince more parties to join them. Talking to journalist Sophie Claudet, she said that Matteo Salvini had been tasked with making those connections. In fact, he met up with Viktor Orban in Budapest last week.
After being banned from the conservative European block the EPP (European People’s Party) in March, it seems that Orban is even more in demand from people like Le Pen and Salvini, Le Pen told the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP): “It’s for Mr Orban to see if he finds more political coherence with the members of the EPP who have voted against him.”
When Orban met Salvini at the beginning of May, the two leaders agreed to cooperate closely on fighting migration after the European elections. Orban and Salvini also complimented each other but concrete news of whether or not Orban would join a new block was unforthcoming. In fact, he refused to be drawn on whether he would attend a meeting planned in Milan of converts to Salvini and Le Pen's block idea. When Salvini launched the idea at the beginning of April, only two fellow European MEPs stood at his side, a member of Germany's AFD (Alternative for Germany) and one from the Danish People's Party.
A global alliance?
Talking to the French weekly magazine Le Point at the beginning of April (which is reputed to have a center-right stance, although no direct political affiliation) Orban denied having any links to Le Pen and said he would not make an alliance with her.
Orban is due to meet with US President Donald Trump in mid-May in Washington. The talks, according to AP, will focus on anti-migration positions and how to turn those positions into a global alliance. Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reportedly told Hungarian state radio on Sunday May 5 that the alliance was being formed and that Hungary had already voted, alongside the US, last year, against the United Nations’ migration pact.
Orban was incidentally the first European Union head of government to endorse Trump in the US election campaign in July 2016. Back in France, Le Pen’s party, according to an Ipsos survey released on Sunday was polling relatively well, just half a point ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron’s REM party.
Frontex: ‘a welcoming party for immigrants’
Le Pen, and her fellow anti-immigration parties across Europe, are calling for a strengthening of Europe’s borders. In an interview with Euronews, Le Pen said that she wanted to wrest control of migration policy from the European Commission because the Commission was “pro-migration.” She called Frontex “a welcoming party for immigrants.” Frontex is not there to prevent immigration, she explained. “It doesn’t take illegal immigrants back to their own countries. It doesn’t seize boats at the port of departure. They are like front-desk receptionists. They manage migrant camps and organize all that. Right now,” she concluded, “Frontex doesn’t meet the targets or fulfill the mission that I would want.”
Le Pen’s overtaking of Macron made the headlines but the current poll is still predicting a few points less than her historic May 2014 win when she polled nearly 25 percent of the vote. Her overtures to the Polish PiS party were also met with a seemingly luke-warm reception. In Poland, there is a suspicion of Le Pen and Salvini’s links to and support from Russia. At the moment, Poland’s PiS MEPs are members of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR). According to AFP, Le Pen commented: “If Poland does not want closer relations with Russia, [then] no one is forcing them to.” She went on to see that differences between parties which can be the “product of history, mustn’t prevent the possibility of the formation of this very large group.”
If they do manage to win more parties over to their side, Le Pen and Salvini are hoping to become the biggest new bloc with anti-migrant and anti-EU views in the 751 member parliament. They say they want to change the rules of Europe from within. Quoted in a Guardian article at the beginning of April, Orban's views certainly seemed to align with those of Le Pen and Salvini, even if, politically he is still playing hard to get. Reportedly, he said: “At the end of May, Europe will choose a future for itself … We will decide whether Europe will continue to belong to Europeans or be given over to masses of people from different cultures and different civilizations.” He continued, declaring that if the EPP wanted to build a Europe of immigrants then this was a policy that he "would not follow." With just a few weeks to go until Europe heads to the polls, it remains to be seen which path he will decide to take.
In the meantime, Salvini has been making stops all over Italy. Each day, he visits a few cities and tweets pictures of himself in every town square. One of his latest tweets reads: “Today, Latina [near Rome]. Are you following me friends? He who stops, loses!”