Populist EU leaders seek ‘renaissance,’ but fail to form new party
Three populist leaders called for a “renaissance” in the European Union to realign it along traditional family values but failed to overcome divisions toward establishing a new party to vie for influence at the highest EU levels.
The prime ministers of Hungary and Poland, Viktor Orban and Mateusz Morawiecki, and Italian Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini agreed in Budapest on Thursday to continue talks on an EU-wide platform aimed at uniting the continent’s populist and far-right forces. No breakthrough was announced, underscoring divisions that hinder their efforts to subvert the political mainstream, despite the leaders’ rhetoric.
“We want a European renaissance and we will be working together to that end,” Orban said after the meeting in Hungary’s capital. “There isn’t a single matter that we cannot reach an agreement on, none of our national interests go against each other.”
Morawiecki said that all three leaders “believe in the future of the EU,” adding that the bloc “can’t abandon its roots,” including Christian family values and strong national governments.
Orban said this week that the three would discuss establishing a joint platform for their parties at the meeting, which Salvini also raised last month. While all three emphasized the ties that bind them, including their opposition to immigration, there are plenty of divisions, with perhaps the biggest being Russia.
While Orban and Salvini have cultivated close ties with Moscow, Polish politicians staunchly oppose that. The government in Warsaw is the region’s most skeptical of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which it accuses of meddling in eastern European affairs in a bid to regain its Soviet-era influence over the region.
“Russia is mobilizing forces around Ukraine, the U.S. declares a state of emergency in Europe and Morawiecki is in Budapest organizing a pro-Putin political bloc with Orban and Salvini,” Donald Tusk, a former president of the European Council and ex-prime minister of Poland, said on Twitter.
Orban has the most riding on the talks. He’s trying to regain influence in Europe after being forced out of the center-right European People Party, the EU’s biggest political group, which Tusk heads. That followed years of infighting over his concentration of power in all aspects of Hungarian life and criticism that he has eroded democracy and the rule of law.
Negotiating and possibly leading a marriage of splintered populist parties would be a coup for Orban, who has portrayed himself as a standard bearer for Europe’s populist forces. His party delegation in the EU assembly is smaller than either Italy’s Lega or Poland’s Law & Justice Party.
There’s less urgency for Salvini and Morawiecki, whose parties already lead political families in the European Parliament, with a lawmaker from Lega in charge of Identity and Democracy and a member of Law & Justice leading the European Conservatives and Reformists bloc. A union between them would create the third-largest EU political group.
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