France’s Le Pen predicts historic vote for populist parties
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France’s Le Pen predicts historic vote for populist parties

As leaders of several European nationalist factions rally in Milan, Italy’s Salvini rejects ‘far-right’ label

Leader of the French National Front Marine Le Pen, left, and Far-right top candidate of the National Rally party Jordan Bardella attend a press conference before a rally with right-wing EU leaders in Milan, Italy, Saturday, May 18, 2019 (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Leader of the French National Front Marine Le Pen, left, and Far-right top candidate of the National Rally party Jordan Bardella attend a press conference before a rally with right-wing EU leaders in Milan, Italy, Saturday, May 18, 2019 (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

MILAN — The leader of France’s far-right National Rally has predicted that a group of like-minded right-wing populists will achieve “an historic feat” in next week’s Europe-wide elections.

Marine Le Pen is joining leaders of other nationalist parties Saturday in Italy for a rally organized by League leader Matteo Salvini in front of Milan’s Duomo cathedral ahead of the May 23-26 European Parliamentary elections.

Le Pen said she believes the Europe of Nations and Freedom parliamentary group “will perform a historic feat to pass from the 8th place in Europe to third or maybe second.”

Analysts believe that the two traditional center-right and center-left political groups will be weakened in the vote, falling short of the 50% threshold for the first time.

Salvini on Friday rejected the label “far-right” for the alliance of like-minded populist leaders that are aiming to join forces and weaken European Union bureaucracy after next week’s elections across the bloc.

Salvini will lead a rally Saturday in Milan with leaders of 11 nationalist parties, including France’s National Rally and Alternative for Germany. But he dismissed an extremist label for the populist parliamentary group that he hopes to form.

“I don’t see the far-right in Europe. I think they are old categories that are outdated: fascists, communists, right, left,” he said. “I don’t see this wave of extremes in Europe. There is a different vision of Europe that is absolutely legitimate.”

Salvini said he intends for the League to emerge as the top party in Italy, but he demurred on whether he would lead the new parliamentary group of populists, saying it would depend on the vote’s outcome.

Italian Interior Minister and Deputy-Premier, Matteo Salvini, attends a press conference at the foreign press association in Milan, Italy, Friday, May 17, 2019 (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

“My ambition, my pride, my hope is that the League can be the first party from this country represented in the European Parliament and that other movements close to us can be the first, second, third parties in their countries,” he said.

The leaders of the 11 parties will march through Milan on Saturday before rallying in front of the Duomo Cathedral. Notably absent will be Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose party remains part of the European People’s Party despite concerns that Hungary has become less democratic under Orban.

Salvini’s influence has grown among other xenophobic parties with his refusal to allow humanitarian ships carrying migrants rescued at sea to make port in Italy, creating numerous standoffs with Europe over which countries would give them haven. He also is outspoken about the threat of Islam.

Salvini said Friday that there are districts of cities in Europe “where Islamic law applies,” citing Rotterdam, Malmo, London, Marseille and Brussels.

“If we do not put a stop to this backward slide, from my point of view, socially and in terms of cultural rights, we risk regretting it bitterly in a few years’ time,” he said.

Demonstrators hold up placards showing portraits of victims of refugees during a protest organized by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, on September 1, 2018 in Chemnitz, eastern Germany. (AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL)

Before Saturday’s rally, banners hung from private residences throughout the city aimed at Salvini and his guests read “You are not welcome,” and “open doors,” a rebuff of Salvini’s migrant policies.

Salvini said the populist parliamentary group aims to create a Europe “that does few things and does them well,” restoring decision-making over such sectors as trade, agriculture and banking to member states.

Salvini, who is both Italy’s vice premier and interior minister, is pledging new “shock” proposals to relaunch Italy’s economy during the rally and said the most important issues in the EU vote next week are security and employment.

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