ROME — Italy is the “center of the political universe,” according to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Speaking to POLITICO during a tour of European capitals, the former aide to Donald Trump called Italy’s League/5Star coalition government an “experiment that, if it works, will change global politics.”
Bannon is in Europe to help ramp up a Brussels-based foundation, named The Movement, which aims to coordinate and advise right-wing populist parties campaigning in next spring’s European Parliament election. Thus far, many of the Continent’s far-right politicians have reacted cautiously to Bannon’s advances.
The former Trump aide said that the Italian government was an experiment in uniting left and right. “A populist party with nationalist tendencies like the 5Stars, and a nationalist party with populist tendencies like the League … it’s imperative that this works because this shows a model for industrial democracies from the U.S. to Asia.”
The Movement — which Bannon describes as a “loose association” of people, not a political party — was established in January of last year by Mischaël Modrikamen, a Brussels lawyer and leader of a small right-wing party. Bannon began promoting it in July.
Bannon has praise for both sides of Italy’s coalition government.
The League’s Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, has already joined, and during his trip to Rome Bannon also reached out to 5Stars leader Luigi Di Maio. According to two individuals with knowledge of the talks — one a person who has worked with Bannon and another a 5Star MP — Bannon and Di Maio met on Saturday and had a “constructive dialogue.” The 5Stars are yet to decide whether they will endorse the project or not though.
On the face of it, the far-right base of the Movement (Bannon is also in talks with Germany’s far-right AfD, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and Viktor Orbán’s Christian nationalist Fidesz party in Hungary) is far removed from the 5Stars’ left-wing populism. Some of the party’s MPs are worried it would alienate their voting base.
Nevertheless, Bannon has praise for both sides of Italy’s coalition government. “Throughout the entire world, you will not find two politicians that worked as hard as Salvini and Di Maio, for no money, leading their parties to these unbelievable victories and then stepped back and let someone else be the guy that goes to the G7, G20 and sits in the oval office with Trump … Nobody would do that,” said Bannon, referring to the fact that the country’s prime minister is Giuseppe Conte, a former law professor.
Following Italy’s general election in March, neither party would agree during negotiations about forming the coalition to the other’s leader heading the government. Conte emerged as a compromise candidate.
The American political strategist said that he hoped the Italian model of bringing together populists on the left and right could be replicated both in the U.S. and the U.K. “You are going to have to compromise … On one side you have the guaranteed income, on the other the flat tax, both sides will get what they want and you’ll move on from there,” he said, referencing major domestic priorities of the 5Stars and League parties.
But he added that there could be “no compromise on core values like migration and national sovereignty for the League and crony capitalism and transparency for the 5Stars,” he added.
On Saturday, Bannon spoke at Atreju, the far-right Brothers of Italy annual conference where he was greeted by a cheering crowd. “Trump and Brexit and [the Italian general election in] March 2018 are all inextricably linked,” Bannon told the audience, “it’s a rejection of the way things are and it’s a way forward … it’s the little guy saying ‘we have a better idea’ … and the first thing is a rejection of what the elites have foisted on Western civilization.”
Bannon went on to say Salvini and the Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, are the “true disruptors,” like Trump and former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage before them. “What Farage and UKIP were able to do in the U.K.; what Donald Trump and the Tea Party have started to execute in the U.S … The torch was passed to you.”
On Sunday, Bannon will fly to Prague and Budapest where he is scheduled to meet far-right leaders including Orbán.