Europe’s right-wing leaders fired the opening salvo of their promised EU-wide election campaign at a rally of the hardline Identity and Democracy (ID) group in Florence on Sunday.
Following the surprise win of anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders in November general elections in the Netherlands, the ID’s Euroskeptic firebrands vowed to change the political dynamic in Brussels as they addressed some 2,000 supporters at a 16th-century fortress in Italy’s Renaissance capital.
“Another Europe without socialists in charge is possible and is needed,” said Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s right-wing Lega (League) party, which hosted the rally of the ID’s 14 constituent parties.
Wearing glasses and a black turtleneck, Salvini said he and his allies aimed to make ID the third-largest group in the European Parliament after the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Socialists & Democrats. ID is currently the sixth-largest group with 62 seats in the 705-member EU legislature.
Claiming to be witnessing “a blue wave” — the ID’s chosen color — Salvini said the group’s “objective is to get into third place, to become decisive.” To break a decades-old Brussels alliance among conservatives, socialists and liberals, he said, following June European elections, anti-EU hardliners should join center-right forces in the EPP or the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
In all, 17 speakers took the stage on Sunday, many voicing Euroskeptic tropes and promising freedom from the “Brussels bureaucracy.” Italian pop songs such as Gala’s “Freed from Desire” and Jovanotti’s “Viva la Libertà” (Hail to Liberty) provided the soundtrack.
Also speaking — and previewing upcoming campaign themes — were Ashley St. Clair, an American conservative cultural warrior; Piero Gattoni, an entrepreneur who opposes the EU’s Green Deal; and a local League mayor and anti-Islam firebrand Anna Maria Cisint.
Attendance was restricted to Lega party officials, and included a large contingent of Romanian right-wing emigres wrapped in the country’s national flag, along with young firebrands advocating the return of the long-dissolved Italian monarchy.
“I don’t feel represented by [Italian President] Sergio Mattarella, I would like the return of [heir to the Savoia royal family] Emanuele Filiberto,” said a man in his twenties as arrivals surged through the entrance. Dozens of people with colorful body art wandered near the fortress, which was hosting the Florence Tattoo Convention that same day.
A number of ID top leaders skipped the rally, however, including Wilders, French nationalist Marine Le Pen, and Portuguese right-wing MP André Ventura. Left-wing media critics saw their absence as a snub to Salvini and a bad omen for the ID’s election campaign.
ID chiefs railed against the plan by Brussels to ban combustion engines as of 2035, arguing the new rules will wreak havoc on the Continent’s industrial districts and will ultimately benefit Chinese manufacturers of electric vehicles.
“I wouldn’t want that this [the 2035 ban] has been suggested by someone who’s on China’s payroll,” Salvini said. “We’ve seen Qatargate, I wouldn’t want to see Chinagate.”
Several right-wing politicians on stage named the EU’s former Green deal chief Frans Timmermans as among the ID’s sworn enemies, alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.
The speakers were united in their criticism of Islam, illegal migration and political correctness — but were divided on the war in Ukraine.
The co-leader of Germany’s far-right AfD party, Tino Chrupalla, spoke out against Western sanctions against Russia, arguing they damaged the EU’s economy more than Moscow’s.
“Ukraine cannot win this war,” Chrupalla told the crowd, echoing similar claims from Austria’s far-right FPÖ party, but contravening the pro-sanctions stance of other ID parties including Lega.
Speaking to POLITICO, AfD lawmaker and ID Vice-President Gunnar Beck admitted that the differing approaches to Russia represented “a stumbling block in the relations with the ECR and to some extent within ID.”
The Florence crowd
Earlier in the day, as white-haired Lega members and foreign delegates entered the Renaissance fortress, hundreds of left-wing protesters were rallying nearby.
Salvini’s decision to gather the troops in Florence, a city which has a long center-left history, enraged socialist mayor Dario Nardella, who traded barbs with the League boss. Hundreds of left-wing militants protested in the city center and wrapped Donatello’s David — one of the city’s iconic monuments — in an EU flag.
Among the few foreigners at the Florence ID rally were dozens of Italy-based supporters from the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), who were individually draped in their country’s flag.
AUR leader George Simion shocked ID delegates the day before the rally in announcing he would join the ECR, led by Salvini’s frenemy, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Tensions between the rival nationalist groups were on display when we spoke to AUR supporter Alex Borosianu, who has lived in Italy for two decades.
Borosianu claimed to be no fan of Salvini after losing his bid to become an Italian citizen due to stringent new rules the right-wing leader introduced in 2019.
“I can’t vote in Italy as a result of Salvini’s law,” Borosianu said.
Source : Politico