Contemporary Italians perceive a strong and charismatic leader as a shield against disorder, someone to protect them. Promises of more police and more security are reassuring to those Italians who see today’s enemy in immigrants and in the European Union with all its rules including its Euro currency. The new man is 45-year old Matteo Salvini nicknamed The Captain/Il Capitano, co-Vice Premier and simultaneously Minister of the Interior, the most powerful ministry in Italy’s political system. Matteo Salvini was born in 1973 in Milano and joined the Lega Nord in 1990 at age 17. The Lega Nord had to expand to fit into Matteo’s plans. In 2014 he organized the Noi Con Salvini (We with Salvini) movement especially for the Mezzogiono, Italy’s truly neglected South governed by crime and corruption. In effect, Salvini made the Lega Nord a real national party. He and his new party had no time for silly rituals in the northern hinterland, for secret dinners and the “magic circle”. The word “Nord” no longer made sense. It was to be ultimately dropped from the party name, now known as La Lega. The League.

Since 2014 Salvini has expanded his party not only geographically but ideologically he has moved further and further to the Right, establishing close relations with the extreme right Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party, and the German Alternative for Germany currently led by Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland in the Bundestag. In addition to that, Matteo Salvini has also managed to establish strong connections with Hungary prime minister’s Viktor Orbàn and Poland’s Law and Justice. Salvini has pledged an ‘Italo-Polish axis’ to counter the “Franco-German” one.

When it comes to Italian parties, massive electoral gains can be expected for the League due to growing Euroscepticism among the electorate. Matteo Salvini’s bold ambition is to replace Angela Merkel as the cornerstone of Europe’s political order, using elections in May as the sharp edge.

Salvini reckons that if Europe’s populists do well in European Parliament elections in May and his League secures 30 percent support in Italy, he’ll have the leverage to bend the establishment to his agenda. That would require almost doubling the share of the vote his party won in the last general election. Then, just as Merkel was Europe’s guide for many years, now it will be Salvini. Everyone will have to talk to Salvini. His leadership will no longer be just Italian, but European too.

While EU government leaders wield broad powers, the new crop of European lawmakers will have a say in shaping the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, and thus influence policy.

Salvini says the election will be “the battle of battles” against interfering EU bureaucrats in Brussels, a failed liberal establishment and the French-German axis. Any score over 30 percent in May would be “a sensational success” for the League. If Salvini does shine in May, he’ll have a packed agenda for change, including a redoubled effort to ease euro-area fiscal rules for Italy’s benefit. Salvini won’t leave the euro, but wants to revise the treaties, new rules on countries’ budgets and deficit limits.

League’s approach to EP

Salvini’s approach to the next European elections is based on the intention of maximizing the political capital through alliances, which still are being defined, with other far-right European political forces in order to become the second or third party in the EP.

So far Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the governing Polish party PiS, joined Salvini’s coalition with the shared intent of sparking a “European spring” and replace the “Franco-German axis […] with an Italian-Polish axis”.

On the same ideological axis with Salvini and Kaczyński is Victor Orbàn which, although having hailed the partnership between the two leaders, is not expected to join them in the coalition at least at this time, but this might change after the recent suspension by the EPP of Fidesz. Nevertheless, regardless of Orbàn’s absence, the project tries to compact the far-right front on a European level, perhaps including similar minded political forces such as Rassemblement National, Vox, FPÖ and AfD.

In case such a major coalition will be put together and in case the forecast will be correct, the “grand coalition” formed by the  EPP and S&D will be forced to look towards the left and the greens in order to survive.

Add new comment