EU's Old Guard Brushes Off Salvini's Dash for Populist Allies

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s right-of-center establishment has dismissed attempts by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini to forge a united front of nationalist parties for May’s European Parliament elections.

The euroskeptic Italian populist has so far failed to recruit Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban or Poland’s ruling party, Antonio Lopez-Isturiz, secretary general of the European People’s Party, said in an interview.

EU's Old Guard Brushes Off Salvini's Dash for Populist Allies

“Salvini can continue with his theater and circus around Europe,” said Lopez-Isturiz, whose EPP includes conservative parties such as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU.

Salvini, of the rightist League, is in talks with like-minded parties across the European Union ahead of the continent-wide elections he calls “the battle of battles,” which he portrays as a showdown between the liberal establishment led by French President Emmanuel Macron and champions of national sovereignty.

‘Unhinged Toddler’

The Party of European Socialists, the second-largest group in Parliament, has staked out similar ground as the EPP, denouncing the divisive politics of parties in Hungary, Poland and Italy.

“The nationalists are particularly good at destroying things. Just like an unhinged toddler destroys toys,” Frans Timmermans, who is running as the PES candidate to be the next European Commission president, said in a speech last month in the Netherlands. “What they’re unable to do is to create something, to actually build something. And, sooner or later, the people will see this.”

The European Parliament will have a key role in approving the new European Commission, the EU’s executive, meaning that the contest has the potential to determine the future direction of the continent’s integration project.

European Spring

Lopez-Isturiz is more than skeptical about Salvini’s crusade. “It is very unlikely that far-right groups can get together,” he said. But he added it was possible that they could form a political group after the elections “in order to get a secretary, civil servants, and money.”

As for the EPP, it will not “polarize the elections between pro- and anti-Europeans,” and instead will focus on the group’s record over the past five years “including salvation of the European Union and several of its member states,” Lopez-Isturiz said.

On a visit to Warsaw last month, Salvini called for a “new European spring” after meeting Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s governing party. Salvini’s League and its counterparts in the EU often have contrasting views on immigration, the bloc’s budget and relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

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