Inside Steve Bannon’s Plans for a New European Political Order
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Steve Bannon helped upend the political order in the U.S. before falling out with President Donald Trump. Now he’s looking to recreate his former glories in Europe.
Bannon is planning a roadshow across half a dozen European countries starting this week to galvanize populist leaders and parties into a loose alliance and help gain a bigger foothold for their policies in the European Parliament, Trump’s former strategist said in an interview.
The Brussels-based group, dubbed The Movement and founded by Belgian politician Mischael Modrikamen, plans to highlight the importance of national sovereignty, stronger borders, greater limits on migration and fighting against so-called radical Islam, all as a means to boost nationalist parties in the May parliamentary elections.
The push to unite populist forces gives urgency to concerns among some European Union leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron at the looming clash of values over the bloc’s future direction. EU leaders meeting in the Austrian city of Salzburg later on Wednesday are due to discuss two of the EU’s existential threats, the migration crisis and Brexit, both of which serve as rallying cries for nationalists.
“The individual parties throughout Europe are ‘woke’,” Bannon said in an interview last week in his Capitol Hill townhouse, adding that he wants enough like-minded candidates to win seats in the EU Parliament to act as a block on pro-EU groups. “Europe’s going to see an intensity and focus among the voters and the media that what is happening is basically going to be a continent-wide presidential election.”
Political forces are aligning ahead of a clash over fundamental principles that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned questions the EU’s future cohesion. The U.K.’s plan to quit the bloc in March, Russian aggression, democratic backsliding in eastern Europe and Trump’s “America First” agenda are all tugging at the foundation of the European project.
So far Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League and the far-right Brothers of Italy are the only two groups that have officially aligned themselves with The Movement, which will offer like-minded parties -- free of charge -- polling, data analytics, messaging and so-called war room services. The group won’t be involved in selecting candidates or in imposing platforms.
But Modrikamen, 52, sees recent moves by Macron and his allies in Parliament having helped European populists. Last week’s vote in the EU assembly to censure Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban “created an iconic leader out of Orban,’’ said Modrikamen. As for Macron’s pledge to lead pro-globalist parties against the nationalists, he said, “it’s perfect for us.”
The support Bannon and Modrikamen are offering heightens the likelihood of an electoral clash in May between populist groups that have gained footholds in member states including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, France and Sweden and supporters of the liberal establishment, such as Macron, Belgium’s Charles Michel, Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel. The four Benelux leaders discussed a European strategy earlier this month to combat the rise of populism, exploring the possibility of joining forces with several European parties ahead of the elections.
“We share the desire to have a more united and sovereign Europe,” Macron said after the meeting, pointing the finger at nationalists for trying to destroy the EU.
Bannon and Modrikamen are seeking to hold a founding convention in Brussels in late November, with an eventual plan to have allies in all 27 EU countries. They doubt nationalist parties will gain a majority of seats in the EU parliament, but they would like at least a third of the seats to be able to “command by negation,” according to Bannon, allowing them to disrupt further integrationist policies.
European parties are only just starting to heed Bannon’s message. Besides Salvini’s League, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, which renamed itself National Rally after losing to Macron last year, has had regular contact with Bannon for “several months,” according to Nicolas Bay, the party’s general secretary and member of the European Parliament.
“We see with interest and goodwill the initiatives he’s seeking to deploy to help the activities of national forces in Europe,” Bay said in a text message.
Austria’s Freedom Party is playing harder to get. Now in coalition government, the group seeks to expand and develop, but “not under the leadership of someone from another continent,” Secretary General Harald Vilimsky said on Austrian public TV. All the same, he said the party was open to cooperation with Bannon’s media or “think tank” projects.
It’s still early days, according to Modrikamen, who says the upcoming campaign means that “for the first time you’ll have a real debate, a real dividing line, in a European election.’’
He and Bannon just joined forces in June. He’s also been busy preparing for municipal council elections in Brussels Oct. 14 where his wife is a candidate. While the eventual goal is to have a dedicated staff of 10 to 15 for The Movement, none have been hired so far and he’s using his party’s six employees.
“We want to take the battle to the heart of the EU,’’ Modrikamen said in an interview at his home in a residential Brussels district that also serves as his party’s headquarters. “We want to be the voice of the ordinary guys who feel betrayed by the elites.’’
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