At the beginning of September, the president of Vox, Santiago Abascal, announced on his Twitter account that Spain was the country chosen for the next summit of “patriotic and conservative European leaders” to be held this January. Poland was the host country for the last meeting.
By Ángel Ferrero
On 4 December, the president of Law and Justice (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński, the prime minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, the president of Fidesz and prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, the president of Fidesz and the prime minister of Hungary, met at the Regent Hotel in Warsaw, Viktor Orbán, the president of National Rally (RN), Marine Le Pen, the president of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), Martin Helme, the president of Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang), Tom Van Grieken, and Abascal himself. Other prominent formations of the European far right, however, were not present, such as Matteo Salvini’s League, Alternative for Germany (AfD) or the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). The summit produced a very short, one-page declaration denouncing the “disturbing idea” of a Europe “governed by a self-appointed elite”. The document highlighted how this elite pursues an “arbitrary application of European law” and a continent-wide programme of “social engineering” aimed at “separating human beings from their culture and heritage”. But if this summit caught the attention of political analysts, it was the first official one between political representatives of the two groups to the right of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament – the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) – and a third, Hungary’s Fidesz, unaffiliated since its departure from the EPP in March.
Despite being clearly situated in different positions on the far right of the political spectrum, these parties maintain some political differences between them and in some countries they even compete electorally, as is the case in Belgium – New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) belongs to ECR, while Vlaams Belang is part of ID – or Italy – Salvini’s League is one of the most important parties in ID, while Brothers of Italy (FI) is part of ECR -, which justified the existence of two separate groups in the European Parliament.
This reality could become history very soon, even this month, if some or all of these parties decide to create a single group that brings them together despite their differences. In the Warsaw declaration of December, the signatory parties already committed themselves to “closer cooperation of their parties in the European Parliament, including the organisation of joint meetings and coordination of voting”. Le Pen said she was convinced that this unprecedented goal would be achieved. “We can be optimistic about the creation of this political force in the coming months,” she said. “We have been working for months to create a strong family of parties, I hope we can take a step in this direction,” Orbán told the press shortly before the meeting. As MEP Miguel Urbán (Anticapitalistas, LeftEU) commented a few days ago in a brief Twitter thread, the figure of Orbán would be key in the formation of this ‘supergroup’, as he would help to build bridges between formations thanks to his personal relations with both PiS, the ruling party in Poland, and Matteo Salvini, but also because of the Hungarian prime minister’s international projection and prestige among the social base of both the ECR and ID parties.
The idea is far from new: in 2019, Salvini tried this possibility before the European elections that year and even travelled to Warsaw to try to convince the PiS, but the idea did not prosper. Three years later, however, the European context advises them to take this step forward: “It’s now or never”… So far the obstacles have been both ideological – from issues that may seem irrelevant to an outside observer, such as their degree of traditionalism, to foreign policy (notably the relationship with Russia and, to a lesser extent, China) – and practical – the consolidation of ECR in the face of the internal instability that has characterised ID in the past. What has changed?
On the one hand, many of these parties are at something of a plateau in the polls after having experienced significant electoral growth and could now do with a political and media boost. One of the people who could benefit – and could therefore have a personal interest in the consolidation of this ‘supergroup’ – is Marine Le Pen, who aspires to make it through to the second round of the French presidential elections in April, but who has been in the polls for months to lead the right with Reconquista (R!), the party recently founded by journalist Éric Zemmour, which could split the far-right vote and thus favour other candidates. By sealing such an agreement in Spain, Vox could strengthen its aspiration to govern with Pablo Casado’s Partido Popular (PP). At the same time, Abascal could offer the rest of the European parties a channel to project their influence in Latin America, as through the development of his pseudo-theoretical concept of the ‘Iberosphere’ he has begun to forge closer ties with far-right forces across the subcontinent, including Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Moreover, both Fidesz and PiS, which govern in Hungary and Poland respectively, not only have open conflicts with Brussels – mainly over the reform of their judicial systems, but also over their policies on immigration and asylum and the protection of women’s and sexual minorities’ rights – but the new coalition government in Berlin, formed by social democrats, (Baerbock toned down her campaign criticisms during her recent visit to Poland, where she spoke of resolving the ‘discrepancies’ between the two countries and backed the Polish government in its dispute with Belarus). In December Orbán charged in an article on Merkel’s departure against the new German government – not yet formed – describing it as an executive favourable to ‘immigration, gender policy and a federal, pro-German Europe’. And, defiantly, he wrote: “Let’s not sit back, let’s prepare for battle”.
This double pressure – from the polls and from the German government – could indeed push the far right to think that it is at a turning point and that the best way to move forward and neither stagnate nor retreat is to reach a minimum agreement that would facilitate the creation of a ‘supergroup’ in the European Parliament. Moreover, this political platform could now count – in addition to the aforementioned communication channel with Latin America through Vox – on important ideological and organisational support thanks to the AfD-linked Desiderius Erasmus Foundation (DES), which will receive federal funds for the first time. Despite having lost 2 per cent and 11 seats in the last elections, having entered the Bundestag for the second time in a row, the far-right party’s foundation has the right to access these funds to use them at its discretion, starting with the recruitment, according to some media reports, of more than 900 staff. The DES could open offices in dozens of other countries, following the model of other foundations linked to political parties such as the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Friedrich Ebert Foundation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Heinrich Böll Foundation of the Greens, or the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of the Left. The founding of the AfD could therefore succeed where Donald Trump’s former advisor Stephen Bannon failed, namely in creating a Europe-based, cross-border think tank of the far right.
If all parties were to join this initiative, this far-right ‘supergroup’ could have the same number of MEPs (145) as the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). But even if one of these parties were to decide, as seems likely, to stay out of the project, or if S&D were to integrate a party that would allow it to maintain its lead – rumours in Brussels suggest that this could be the case with Italy’s 5 Star Movement (M5S) – the far-right ‘supergroup’ would become the third most represented, ahead of Renew’s Liberals (101), The Greens/European Free Alliance (73) and The Left in the European Parliament (39), and, as Urbán recalled, it would have two seats in the European Council, those of Hungary and Poland, or even three if one counts Slovenia, governed by the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) of Janez Janša, who has been described by different media as a “Slovenian Trump”. “This movement should not be read only in a Euro-parliamentary key, but from the perspective of a wider political-cultural counter-revolution”, wrote Urbán, “let’s get ready”.