Italy's Matteo Salvini woos Poland's populists

A "new European Spring" to replace the "French-German axis" has been coined by Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini while visiting Polish populists. His foray precedes the EU's parliamentary election in May.

Euroskeptic Salvini vowed Wednesday to create a "new equilibrium," with Italy and Poland as the "protagonists" of a "new European Spring" based on "true Christian values" via a 10-point program that had still not been fully defined.

Salvini's "spring" terminology was reminiscent of 2010, when the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and spread during 2011 to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, often ending in repressive regimes and brutal warfare.

Read more: Sharing xenophobic worldview

Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski, who initiated Salvini's visit to Warsaw, rejected suggestions that current governments of Poland and Italy, which share anti-immigrant stances, wanted to emulate Brexit — Britain's divorce expected in late March before the European parliamentary election in the remaining 27-member bloc.

Politics | 31.12.2018

Instead, Poland and Italy "wanted to have influence on what our common, European home is going to look like," said Brudzinsk of Poland's populist Law and Order (PIS) party.

Germany, France to 'deepen' Elysee Treaty

Salvini's visit coincided Wednesday with a German cabinet decision that Chancellor Angela Merkel would sign an agreement with French President Emmanuel Macron on 22 January to deepen the Elysee Treaty.

That 1963 accord sealed the neighbors' post-World War Two reconciliation.

EU populists on Russia: Moving out of lockstep

Strache wants to end sanctions

Austria's Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache has repeatedly called for EU sanctions against Russia to be lifted. Strache, who is also the leader of the populist FPÖ party, criticized NATO expansion to the east. "It wasn't Russia who was the aggressor in recent decades, who was trying to spread its zone of military influence towards the border of the European Union," he said in 2015.

EU populists on Russia: Moving out of lockstep

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Russia, and the 'white world'

Far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen got into trouble in 2015, when, in addition to saying gas chambers were a "detail" of history, he claimed that France should get along with Russia to save the "white world." These statements prompted his daughter Marine to push him ouf of the Front National party.

EU populists on Russia: Moving out of lockstep

Marine Le Pen denies claims of Putin influence

French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen has described sanctions against Russia as "completely stupid." She also claimed Crimea "has always been Russian." Her party admits to taking loans from Russian banks, but Le Pen rejected claims of Moscow's influence as outrageous and harmful. The photo shows her meeting with Vladmir Putin in the Kremlin in 2017.

EU populists on Russia: Moving out of lockstep

AFD's Alice Weidel, Alexander Gauland, and Russia - it's complicated

Germany's anti-migrant AFD party is relatively popular among German voters with Russian background. Senior members of the party, including then-leader Frauke Petry, meet Putin's ruling party lawmakers in Moscow in 2017. The AFD also believes the EU sanctions are a "farce." However, party co-leader Alexander Gauland denies that the party supports Putin and "his authoritarian regime."

EU populists on Russia: Moving out of lockstep

Viktor Orban and the special relationship with Putin

Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban often hosts Russia's Vladimir Putin in Budapest and the two leaders share many similarities in their ruling style. Orban has complained that politicians in Brussels must "demonize" Putin in order to be considered good Europeans. However, Hungary also joined the UK-led diplomatic offensive by expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal.

EU populists on Russia: Moving out of lockstep

Geert Wilders under fire for visiting Moscow

Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders slammed Russia after flight MH17 was shot down in 2014 and backed sanctions against the country In 2018, however, he sparked outrage from relatives of MH17 victims by decrying "russophobia" during a Moscow visit. Wilders describes himself as a "a big fan of NATO and of the Americans" but says Russia could be an ally against migration and Islamic terrorism.

EU populists on Russia: Moving out of lockstep

Matteo Salvini and the new rulers in Rome

Italy's populist League and the Five Star Movement form a ruling coalition in Italy. Both parties oppose sanctions on Russia and NATO's "aggressive" buildup in Eastern Europe. Following the elections, the League's leader Matteo Salvini said he wanted "to work for peace, not for war. I do not want to assemble little tanks like the game of Risk.”

Macron's office said Wednesday the intended signing, in the German border city of Aachen, would be a framework for a "more sovereign, united and democratic Europe."

Less bureaucratic rule, says Salvini

Arriving in Warsaw Wednesday, Salvini said that, from June, Europe would have a "different pace compared to the one of today, which is guided by bureaucrats" and asserted that some in Brussels denied Europe's "Judeo-Christian origins."

"This is a historic chance," Salvini told reporters during a press conference at the Italian Embassy in Warsaw,

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said after talks with Salvini that his government was on the "same page" in accusing Brussels of discriminating with EU nations over budget stringency. Two weeks ago, Italy reached a budget compromise with the European Commission.

After talks with influential PIS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Salvini said he wanted to put together an alliance of like-minded EU parties.

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Matteo Salvini: a polarizing figure

Kaczynski's spokeswoman Beate Mazurek posted a photo of the two men with their delegations, saying their talks were "full of common understandings," but added that, on some issues, the two sides had differed.

Salvini's party 'pro-Russian'

Poland's main opposition leader Grzegorz Schetnyna of the centrist Civic Platform described the meeting between Salvini and Kaczynski as "absurd and shocking."

Salvini's euroskeptic, anti-immigration League party — in government with Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement since June 2018 — was "nationalist, radical and pro-Russian," said Schetnyna.

Already, Salvini, who served as a European parliamentarian between 2014 and March 2018, has sought alliances with Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally in France and the anti-Islam Freedom Party in the Netherlands.

A stumbling block for Salvini could be Polish skepticism about his overtures since 2014 to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Le Pen's loans from a Russian bank seen as making her beholden to Moscow.

Poland ruling party has recently tried to mend fences with Brussels by agreeing to reverse a law that would have forced Polish Supreme Court judges into early retirement.

ipj/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)