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Unite the right? Cordon sanitaire holds back EU-wide right-wing alliance, for now

Unite the right? Cordon sanitaire holds back EU-wide right-wing alliance, for now

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Italian and French right-wing leaders Matteo Salvini and Marine Le Pen hoped to lay the groundwork for a right-to-far-right majority for the European Union in a meeting Monday.

But mainstream conservatives in Brussels had other ideas.

With less than a year to go until the European elections, speculation is mounting that the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) could build new alliances with fledgling right-wing groups in the newly formed European Parliament. This could potentially end its decades-old coalition with the center-left Socialists and Democrats.

Salvini, who leads Italy’s populist League party, offered to act as a middleman between the EPP and the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) grouping, to which his party belongs. “Salvini reiterated his determination to build a common home for the center-right alternative to socialists, without vetoes,” wrote the League in a readout of the meeting with Le Pen.

“I want to unite the whole center-right, the unity of our political families, with solid roots and values,” he’d pitched in an interview with Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera on Sunday.

But the EPP unceremoniously turned down the offer, with Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a conservative bigwig in Italy and strong voice for the EPP in Brussels, setting a red line.

“For us, it is impossible to make any agreement with [German far-right party] AfD and Ms. Le Pen’s party,” Tajani told an Italian news show on Monday.

Tajani indicated he would be open to making a deal with the less-extreme European Reformists and Conservatives (ECR), which includes parties from the right to far-right across Europe, along with the conservative-liberal Renew group.

According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, the ECR is projected to become the third-largest party grouping in the European Parliament in the wake of an ongoing rightward swing.

The meeting between Salvini and Le Pen — who leads France’s far-right National Rally (formerly National Front), which also belongs to the ID grouping — was slated to occur in person in Rome but was rescheduled to a virtual format following the tensions in France, according to a note from the League. Formerly known as the Northern League, the League rebranded some years ago.

Salvini’s League is a coalition partner in Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government in Rome, where Salvini acts as transport minister and deputy prime minister. But Meloni’s party, the Brothers of Italy, belongs to the ECR.

Despite winning 34 percent of votes in the 2019 European elections in Italy, the League was shut out from power-sharing deals in the European Parliament the last time around.

The latest cold shower from the EPP triggered angry backlash from the League.

“Does our friend Tajani really prefer to continue governing with PD [Italy’s center-left Democrats Party], socialists and Macron?” snapped League MEP Marco Zanni, who chairs ID, in a press release on Monday.

The latest political posturing comes as no surprise, as EPP leader Manfred Weber had already in May ruled out an alliance with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), National Rally in France and Poland’s Law and Justice party (PiS) — although he left the door open to the League.

“Everyone who is a partner for the EPP must meet three basic criteria: They must be pro-European, they must be pro-Ukraine, and they must be pro-rule of law,” he said at the time.

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