Right-wing populists have a plan to upset the European consensus

There is no doubt that right-wing populist movements and related political parties are gaining ground in many EU member states

If Salvini can keep his current allies and attract new partners, a stronger Eurosceptic group appears to be a distinct possibility
If Salvini can keep his current allies and attract new partners, a stronger Eurosceptic group appears to be a distinct possibility

Eurosceptics in the European Parliament have a plan to upset its current traditional political set-up and radically change the EU in the process.

The effort will involve an aggressive push in the European election next May, involving a less overtly Eurosceptic pitch to voters and a new parliamentary alliance. Intriguingly, after the vicissitudes of Brexit, exiting Europe is no longer on their agenda.

Last Monday, Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini, organised a meeting in Milan in a bid to forge an alliance of European right-wing populist parties ahead of next month’s European Parliament election.

Addressing the media, Salvini, who was flanked by Joerg Meuthen of Alternative for Germany (AfD), Olli Kotro from the Finns Party and Anders Vistisen of the Danish People’s Party, said the group would “change the rules of Europe.”

He said he wants the new group to play a decisive role in choosing the members of the next European Commission later this year, following the European Parliament election.

“Our goal is to finally be a governing force and a force of change,” Salvini said, adding that those assembled in Milan would work together with the Lega’s traditional allies such as Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, although the French party was notably absent from Monday’s event. The parties share common themes, he added, including border control and ‘the fight against terrorism and against extremism’.

Moreover, Salvini had met Le Pen for talks in Paris, amid questions about who would lead the new populist bloc.

Other like-minded parties who were notably absent from Monday’s meeting were Poland’s governing PiS (Law and Justice Party) and Hungary’s Fidesz party.

The Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) on Tuesday confirmed that it will join Salvini’s European alliance. In a pre-written statement, FPÖ said that the alliance would ‘fight for a safer Europe with well protected external borders, less immigration and a stronger cooperation to tackle terrorism and Islamisation.’

There is no doubt that right-wing populist movements and related political parties are gaining ground in many EU member states. Some might think that Salvini’s aim of forming the largest bloc in the European Parliament looks like a very tall order. But if he can keep his current allies and attract new partners, a stronger Eurosceptic group appears to be a distinct possibility.

The group could double in size after the election next month. According to some projections, Salvini’s Lega could win 28 seats (up from the five it won in 2014), with the National Rally winning 21 possible seats and the AfD winning 13. If Salvini is successful with his pitch to Poland and Hungary, it could transform the European Parliament as PiS is on track to win 27 seats and Fidesz 14.

Orban has voiced admiration for Salvini but his party (Fidesz) currently belongs to the European People’s party (EPP) group – although it has been recently suspended.

To be sure, there are differences between these right-wing parties. The German AfD and their Scandinavian allies tend to believe in the market economy, while the French NR favours a more protectionist approach.

Italy’s Lega, Poland’s PiS and Hungary’s Fidesz highlight Europe’s Christian cultural roots, while Le Pen has shied away from taking a similar stance in France, where the majority is in favour of secularism. Salvini and Le Pen have both praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, a view not shared by PiS in Poland or the Finns Party.

The dream of Salvini and of Steve Bannon – President Trump’s former strategist – has been to unite a number of different right-wing forces and to expand before the May elections to become “a force of government and change in Europe”.

Their declared enemies are the bureaucrats, the do-gooders and the bankers. As Salvini puts it, these people have governed Europe for far too long and it is about time to bring ‘the people’ back to governing Europe.

The Parliament as a whole was due to shrink from 751 to 705 seats after Brexit. Meanwhile poll projections suggest that the EPP (currently with 217 MEPs) will lose some 29 seats and the S&D (currently with 186 MEPs) will lose 44 seats.

If this happens, the traditional ‘adversaries’ in the European Parliament, the EPP and the S&D (Socialist and Democrats) will be forced to make an unholy alliance against Salvini’s bloc – thus changing radically the political landscape of the European Parliament.

‘Operational’ profit

Malta has been flooded with the perception that Air Malta is no longer in the red. Behind this claim, there is – apparently – a good play with words: the qualification of the term ‘profit’ with the adjective ‘operational’. This means that Air Malta made a profit in its operations and not that Air Malta – as a company – made a profit in 2018.

The restructuring of Air Malta included the offloading of the loss-making baggage handling sector that was transferred to a new state-owned company. Nobody has queried the accounts of this company.

It also included the selling of its foreign airport slots to yet another newly-formed state-owned company. Again nobody has queried the accounts of this company.

Moreover, it has also sold property in Selmun and in Luqa to the state.

All these operations, in practice, mean that a lot of money has been and is being forked out by the state – money that is technically not state aid but still money from state coffers. These transactions should also be the subject of queries with regard to the amounts concerned and to dates and amounts of money transfers.

Instead, Opposition MPs keep barking up the wrong tree by continually asking how much Air Malta owes Enemed for its fuel purchases – an amount of money that is in constant flux, considering that Air Malta buys aviation fuel every day. The standard reply is that this is confidential information of a commercially sensitive nature. The logical reponse is for the Opposition to ask for Enemed’s accounts. After all, Enemed is also state-owned. But Opposition MPs prefer to wallow in infighting rather than keeping up with whatever the government is doing.

Even so, whether Air Malta is still in the red is still a mystery – the accounts for 2018 have not been published while Konrad Mizzi’s sleight of hand continues to claim an ‘operational profit’, that could be nothing more than a mirage.

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