Matteo Salvini’s League and Luigi Di Maio’s Five Star Movement have already embarked in their European electoral campaign tours, readying the ground for the most important and pivotal ones so far.
Because of Brexit, the number of MEPs will change; of the 73 UK seats, 46 will be freed up and available for possible EU enlargements, while 27 will be shared out among underrepresented EU countries, so Italian seats will increase from 73 to 76.
Deputy prime ministers Salvini and Di Maio have already started targeting the European establishment and leaders – particularly French president Emmanuel Macron – by openly supporting the yellow vests movement. Unsurprisingly, especially considering the intensity of Di Maio’s approach (which explicitly outlined Five Star’s support for the yellow vests movement), attempts to draw a bridge between Italy and France’s far right has met strong criticism from the French government.
Di Maio is also hoping to create an alliance with the yellow vests as part of a new European group that has been unveiled this month through a picture on the minster’s Instagram profile.
The heterogeneous group includes Pawel Kukiz, a Polish politician and head of political movement Kukiz 15 which has coordinated with the far-right National Movement Party; Croatian politician and anti-eviction activist Ivan Sinčić, chairman of Human Blockade; and Finland’s Karolina Kahonen, of the party Liike Nyt.The heterogeneous group includes Pawel Kukiz, a Polish politician and head of political movement Kukiz 15 which has coordinated with the far-right National Movement Party; Croatian politician and anti-eviction activist Ivan Sinčić, chairman of Human Blockade; and Finland’s Karolina Kahonen, of the party Liike Nyt.
As Di Maio explained in his post, these forces are working, despite their different views, on a manifesto which satisfies as many of its members’ wishes as possible.
Salvini’s League, on the other hand, can count on years spent on building up a coalition of the European far right through connections with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party, and the German Alternative for Germany (AfD), currently led by Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland in the Bundestag.
In addition to that, the minister of the interior has also managed to establish strong connections with Hungary prime minister’s Viktor Orbàn and Poland’s Law and Justice. Salvini kicked off his European tour in Warsaw on 9 January, meeting with political counterparts Joachim Brudziński and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, as well as the far-right Law and Justice Party leader, Jarosław Kaczyński.
Salvini pledged an “Italo-Polish axis” to counter the “Franco-German” one – his aim being the creation of the “League of Leagues”, as he announced during the party’s gathering in Pontida last year.
As part of this plan, Salvini’s League has also joined Steve Bannon’s Movement, an organisation founded by Donald Trump’s former chief strategist to promote right-wing populism in Europe and counter George Soros’s Open Society, pushing for nationalism instead of globalism.
However, Bannon’s Movement is at a standstill at the moment. As The Guardian reported in November 2018, it hasn’t managed to get large far-right parties on board. Towards the end of 2018, the AfD’s Gauland went as far as saying that Bannon’s European plan would fail.
It’s easy to see why. Forces with a lot of support like the League do not actually need Bannon’s help to achieve great electoral results. In addition to that, the Movement has been said to be illegal in most of Bannon’s target countries due to electoral laws, with the exception of Italy and the Netherlands.
But when it comes to Italian parties in government, massive electoral gains can be expected for both the League and Five Star in the European elections due to the electoral result of 2018 and growing Euroscepticism among the electorate, as the two deputy prime ministers continue to occupy public debate and politics.
Once again, Salvini will focus more and more on migration, as exemplified by his recent Security Decree, which clamped down on asylum rights and removed humanitarian protection status, pushing thousands of people out of reception structures.
On this front, however, a form of resistance has emerged, as mayors of major cities like Naples and Palermo have declared that they will not apply the decree in their cities, as it would reduce the rights of refugees and migrants.
Salvini has also pushed hard on refusing to allow NGO ship Sea Watch 3 to enter Italian ports, and against the EU deal on the relocation of the migrants aboard the ship.
The idea that the ports are closed to migrants, as Italian journalist Annalisa Camilli has illustrated in Internazionale, is actually false, as 3,293 people have reached the country by sea since June, as reported by the Ministry of the Interior’s own data. More recently, in a video on his Facebook page in response to the news that two shipwrecks in the Mediterranean claimed the lives of 170 migrants on 19 January, Salvini suggested that keeping ports open would only encourage NGOs and human traffickers, a position that has been widely condemned.
Nevertheless, this idea has been instrumental in anti-NGO campaigns in the Italian media, even in the face of severe reductions in the number of migrants travelling to Italy prior to Salvini’s appointment. By 2017, for example, Marco Minniti’s (Salvini’s predecessor) deal with Libya dramatically reduced the flow of migrants to Italy by 87 per cent. Salvini knows all of this, as well as the fact that NGO rescue boats have been barred from operating in the Mediterranean. Even still, he relies on these false claims to fuel his constant propaganda machine.
Anti-migrant and refugee rhetoric is indeed growing in Italy, aiding far-right and neo-fascist forces in the process.
The backlash against children’s book Superman Was a Refugee Too (Anche Superman Era Un Rifugiato) an initiative promoted by the UNHCR and curated by the Italian writer of Somali descent Igiaba Scego, is a perfect example; it was swiftly attacked as pro-migration propaganda by neo fascist Italian party CasaPound both in its Il Primato Nazionale magazine, and its student block.
The book has also been labelled as propaganda by right-wing newspapers ll Giornale and La Verità, strong supporters of the League.
The question now is whether the European elections will lead to a clash between the two ruling parties. While Salvini’s focus is clearer, Di Maio’s isn’t as straightforward for voters with anti-immigration priorities, as the Five Star Movement holds many different positions and is less able to push its political narrative in the same way as the League, which is acquiring more and more support.
While Salvini focuses on an electoral campaign perspective, Di Maio knows that the Five Star movement can’t afford to have this government fail, a restriction that is becoming clearer to the public as time progresses.
What is certain is that far-right influence will dominate European elections, worsening conditions for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the process as the narrative against them becomes more mainstream.