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Populist leaders meet, seek “European revival”

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday held talks with populist politicians from Italy and Poland to seek a new right-wing nationalist political force on the European stage.

The trilateral meeting brought Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawicki and former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to Budapest, Hungary. In a press briefing following the talks, the politicians promised to continue their cooperation, pursuing what Orban said was a “European revival”, but gave few details about the nature of the alliance.

The event took place. Orban’s ruling Fidesz party broke the break of its center-right European political family, the European People’s Party (EPP). This put an end to the years-long conflict over Hungary’s adherence to democratic norms and Orb իրn’s “non-liberal democracy”.

As his party will not run in the European Parliament now, Orban said he hopes to “reorganize the European right” to find a home in Brussels for Hungarian lawmakers and other anti-immigration parties.

“We came together to plan and talk about the future of Europe,” Orban said. “As Mr Salvini said, ‘We all agreed, we want a European renaissance. Millions of Europeans have been left without adequate, effective representation.’

Salvini, who shares Orban’s strong opposition to immigration, leads the Italian League, the largest party in the far-right Identity-Democracy (ID) faction in the European Parliament. As Salvini noted earlier, if the group were to unite with the Eurosceptic European Conservative Reformists (REEC), which includes Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), it would be the second largest parliamentary bloc after a strong EPK.

Salvini, who expressed hope for such a merger, called the meeting “historic” and said it was a symbol of its fall on Thursday.

“We are working for the people of Europe to leave the darkest moment of the post-war era, focusing on hope, family, work, rights, freedoms,” he said. “After the drama (COVID-19) let there be a revival, a resurrection.”

But in Europe, a large coalition of right-wing forces faces many obstacles stemming from the political differences of its potential members, says Daniel Hegedus, a member of the German Marshall Fund’s Central Europe.

“A large number of mergers between IDs’ ECRs is not feasible, there are a lot of discrepancies and conflicts,” Hegedus told The Associated Press.

One of the conflicts is the different approaches of the right-wing parties in their relations with Moscow. As Italy’s interior minister, Salvini sought to ease EU sanctions on Russia. He was also involved in the investigation of Roman prosecutors after allegations were made that his partner was seeking Russian money for his League party, accusations that Salvini denied.

Other members of the IDF, such as the French National Rally led by Marine Le Pen, also have close ties to Moscow.

But such ties could remain a point for Poland’s ruling party, led by Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, which has backed Ukraine’s European integration efforts, helped tighten EU sanctions on Russia, and tightened its grip on Russia in 2014.

“Kaczynski can make it very difficult for (the ruling party) to sleep with Salvini in Poland,” Hegedus said.

Boris Budka, leader of Poland’s opposition Civic Platform party, said in Warsaw on Wednesday that Morawiecki was “pursuing Putin’s policy” when meeting with Orban and Salvini, commenting that “champagne bottles may appear in the Kremlin” during the rally.

But Poland’s ruling party shares Fidesz’s displeasure with the EU, with both sides claiming that Brussels has violated their sovereign decisions. The clash with the bloc ended late last year when Hungary and Poland vetoed the bloc’s seven-year budget և coronavirus recovery package over provisions on EU rule of law.

On Thursday, Morawicki reiterated Orban’s call for a European political force that “respects national sovereignty and freedom” and upholds traditional values.

Despite Warsaw’s political affiliation with the “Budapest governments”, Poland’s ruling party has the strongest position in the ECR, Hegedos said, adding that leaving the group would not serve its political interests.

“Practically all sides are just playing to show that they can be on the European stage, have important partners,” he said. “The only person in a hurry is Orban, because he is cold.”

Orban said the politicians would meet again in May, most likely in Warsaw.


Associated Press writers Monica Skislowska in Warsaw Նիկոլ Nicole Winfield in Rome.


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