Italy and Poland discussed uniting to form an anti-EU alliance today ahead of European elections in May to replace the ‘French-German axis’.
Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is visiting Warsaw to hold talks with the leader of Poland’s ruling party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Salvini called for a ‘European Spring’ ahead of May’s European elections to overthrow the Franco-German, centre-right hold over the continent.
‘We are preparing a new equilibrium and new energy in Europe and Poland and Italy, absolutely, will lead this new European spring,’ Salvini said in the Polish capital, adding that ‘we have a new plan for Europe’ intended to replace the dominant ‘French-German axis’.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister and right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini (pictured) wishes to forge alliances with like-minded nationalists across the continent
Jaroslaw Kaczynski (pictured), leader of the dominant PiS party, will meet with Salvini in Warsaw to set the agenda for election strategy in May as they look to shape the European project
Polish Minister of Interior and Administration Joachim Brudzinski (centre), Italy’s Matteo Salvini ( right) and senator Anna Maria Anders (left) lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Warsaw today
Salvini’s anti-immigration League party has ruled in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement since a general election last year.
Rome has had numerous spats with Brussels, notably over immigration and the country’s efforts to implement a big-spending budget to apply populist measures.
Last month Italy passed a revised 2019 budget, watering down key measures to avoid being punished by the European Commission and financial markets.
Salvini also told Polish media he had spoken about creating a ‘Italian-Polish axis’ in closed-door talks with Prime Minister Morawiecki.
Earlier on Wednesday, Morawiecki said his government shared ‘many’ of the criticisms levelled at the EU by Salvini, accusing Brussels of discriminating against some countries.
‘Different member states are treated quite differently in very similar situations, so this probably a definition of discrimination, isn’t it?’ Morawiecki told US broadcaster CNBC on Wednesday.
‘One country has a budget deficit of 2.4 percent (Italy) and another country has a deficit exceeding 3 percent (France)… and they are treated differently because of some other aspects,’ he said, referring to a budget dispute between Brussels and Rome.
Poland’s Joachim Brudzinski and Matteo Salvini shake hands after a press conference following a meeting in Warsaw
Salvini signs a visitors book at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the snowy square as he is flanked by Polish guards
‘There should not be this different treatment by Brussels,’ Morawiecki said, adding that ‘so with Mr Salvini we are on the same page with regards to many European matters.’
‘Someone has betrayed the European dream,’ Salvini told a League rally in Rome last month. ‘We will provide the blood for a new European community based on respect, work, growth and equality.’
Michal Baranowski, the head of the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw office, said the election ‘will show whether the eurosceptic voices within Europe are on the rise or if the rise has been curtailed for the moment.’
Salvini says the May elections are vital for creating a ‘reformist’ bloc that can overhaul the Brussels institutions from within.
He has even hinted he might be a candidate to head the EU executive, the European Commission.
Kaczynski says Poland, the biggest beneficiary of EU infrastructure funds, should remain a member of the bloc it joined in 2004 but wants reforms to bring more power back from Brussels to national capitals.
His ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has clashed with Brussels on a range of issues, including the rule of law in Poland, environmental protection and migration.
Kaczynski says the EU should stop meddling in Poland’s affairs.
In turn, the PiS government has been accused by opponents at home and abroad of tilting towards authoritarianism and is the subject of an unprecedented rule-of-law investigation by the EU.
‘Both politicians (Kaczynski and Salvini) would like to see a Europe that is more focused on sovereign European nations – a Europe of nations rather than a closer united Europe,’ said Baranowski.
Salvini met other potential allies last year, including Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in an effort to form a cohesive eurosceptic grouping at the EU level.
Salvini could try to unite the Europe of Nations and Freedom bloc, to which his League belongs, with the European Conservatives and Reformists group which includes PiS to create a single, powerful eurosceptic force in the EU Parliament.
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini watches plaques at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw today as part of the ceremonies of his visit
Leader of right-wing League party and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini greets his supporters during a rally in Rome last month
A tie-up with Salvini’s grouping could ensure a powerful voice for PiS in the next European Parliament, especially as Britain’s Conservatives will leave the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping after Brexit.
But PiS has also been trying to dilute its eurosceptic reputation ahead of Poland’s own parliamentary election due in the autumn, recently agreeing to reverse a law criticised by the EU that had forced Supreme Court judges into early retirement.
Edit Zgut, a political scientist at Warsaw University’s Centre for Europe, also highlighted the constrasting views of Salvini and Kaczynski towards Russia. Like most Polish conservatives, Kaczynski is deeply distrustful of Moscow.
‘Salvini is one of the most openly pro-Kremlin leaders in Europe… (while) Kaczynski has been trying to show PiS’s pro-EU face recently,’ she said.
The differences over Russia, which are likely to come up at the meeting, could be the main obstacle to future cooperation.
‘Some of the views in Italy regarding Russia are met with concern in Poland across the political spectrum,’ Baranowski said.