Monday

10th Aug 2020

Salvini appeases Macron, amid 'flop' in anti-EU strategy

  • The G7 interior ministers met in Paris on Thursday and Friday (Photo: elysee.fr/g7)

Italy's far-right deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, has tried to make nice with the French establishment amid doubts on his plan to create an anti-EU league.

"With regard to the fight against illegal immigration ... I found an absolute community of intent with my French colleague," Salvini, the Italian deputy PM and interior minister, said in Paris on Thursday (4 April), referring to Christophe Castaner, the French home affairs minister.

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  • Matteo Salvini (r) said the G7 meeting meant Italy was not isolated on the world stage (Photo: elysee.fr/g7)

Salvini spoke of a "harmony of views" with France and of a new "Paris-Rome axis" in Europe, following a meeting of the home affairs chiefs of the group-of-seven (G7) wealthy nations - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US - in the French capital.

And Salvini declined to criticise French president, Emmanuel Macron - his self-avowed "main opponent" on the EU stage.

"I have never met Macron. We have different histories, different interests", Salvini merely said.

He even attacked the French 'yellow vest' rioters in France, who had been embraced by other populist EU leaders, adding: "A peaceful protest is one thing, but hundreds of vandals damaging property is something. If he uses a heavy hand, Castaner's is doing the right thing".

Castaner, for his part, kept his distance from his new Italian colleague.

He underlined his "political differences with Salvini" at a separate press briefing on Thursday.

"We also have some disagreements, in particular, on the landing of ships that bring relief to the nearest port," he said, referring to Salvini's repeated refusals to let rescue boats take migrants to Italian ports.

Salvini's friendly overtures to the liberal and pro-European French government came amid his plans to build a new anti-migrant and anti-EU league in the European Parliament (EP) after elections in May.

The Italian minister added that the French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, remained his principal "ally in France".

Speaking in a more familiar vein, he also used the G7 meeting to troll Germany by saying it should take in the 64 migrants recently rescued by a German charity, Sea-Eye, off the coast of Libya, instead of letting them take shelter in an Italian port.

"I asked him [German interior minister Horst Seehofer] to open the port of Hamburg," Salvini said.

Luxury hard-right 'summit'

Salvini has invited delegates from hard-right parties in around 20 EU states to a congress entitled "Towards a Europe of Common Sense" at a luxury hotel in Milan on Monday.

His League party has declined to say who was invited and who had agreed to come.

But Le Pen, whom he will meet in Paris on Friday, will not be going to Milan, saying she was too busy on her French election campaign.

The Hungarian right-wing leader, Viktor Orban, plans to stay away, Hungarian media reported.

The Austrian far-right Freedom Party is also giving the event a miss, posing doubt on the cohesion of Salvini's new league before it has even formed.

The absenteeism showed "the political flop of the League's European project", Laura Ferrara, an MEP from Italy's Five Star Movement party, told the British Daily Telegraph.

The German far-right party, the AfD, and like-minded politicians from The Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden are expected to attend, however

Political flop?

But Salvini's trolling of Germany on sending migrants to Hamburg underlined his differences with the AfD, which does not want to show solidarity with Italy on migration.

The AfD also supports free markets and has no intention of sharing German wealth with more indebted EU states such as France or Italy.

EU far-right parties had "very different views" in many areas, Joerg Meuthen, the AfD's top candidate in the EP vote, told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

"We are a party that believes in the market economy and aren't friends of protectionist measures, compared to [France's] National Rally," he said.

The AfD's main allies were "northern Europeans such as the Danes, the Finns and the Irish who favour an open economy and not strong statism as is the tradition in France", he added.

Salvini's bid to pull Poland's eurosceptic Law and Justice party into his group could also falter on the question of Russia relations.

The Italian and the AfD both have strong links to the Kremlin and oppose EU sanctions on Russia, amid Poland's historic and deep-rooted mistrust of its aggressive neighbour.

And those links, in the AfD's case, might be even stronger than previously thought, according to a Russian document obtained by British broadcaster BBC.

Russia-AfD alleged links

The text was emailed during the German election in 2017 by Petr Premyak, a former Russian intelligence officer, to Sergei Sokolov, a senior Kremlin official.

It referred to Markus Frohnmaier, an AfD candidate who was subsequently elected to the Bundestag, and who denied any knowledge of what he called the "fake" documents cited in the BBC story.

"Chances of [Frohnmaier] being elected to the Bundestag: high," Premyak's email said.

"Required: support in the election campaign," it added.

"Result: We will have our own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag," it said.

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