Populist parties are struggling to forge a Europe-wide alliance they hope will change the European Union from within and tempt Britain to remain in a looser alliance of nation-states, French sources say.
A leadership struggle has pitted France’s Marine Le Pen against Italy’s Matteo Salvini. The pair have long been ideological allies but Ms Le Pen, head of the National Rally, has been offended by Mr Salvini’s “condescending” tone since the leader of the hard-Right League party became Italy’s deputy prime minister, the political sources said.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, is another possible contender.
For the time being, however, he does not want his anti-immigration Fidesz party to break definitively with the main conservative group in the European parliament, the European People’s Party, which has suspended it over concerns about undemocratic practices.
He reportedly doubts Ms Le Pen’s ability to win power in France, and there are concerns about her legal troubles over her party’s alleged misuse of European Parliament funds A new alliance of European nationalist parties was announced this month by Mr Salvini after a meeting in Milan this month.
But neither Ms Pen nor Mr Orban turned up, and Poland’s eurosceptic governing Law and Justice party was not represented.
It is suspicious of Ms Le Pen’s and Mr Salvini’s close links with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Nicolas Lebourg, a French political historian specialising in the far-Right, said the leadership struggle was “a three-way battle between Le Pen, Orban and Salvini over who becomes the chief in Europe.
Le Pen suffers from a certain lack of political flair and weakness in policy and strategy.” Her National Rally, formerly known as the National Front, has abandoned earlier ideas of ditching the euro or quitting the EU in favour of an alliance with other European parties.
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Steve Bannon, Donald’s Trump’s former advisor, has been trying to help unify Europe’s populist alliance, but according to Mr Lebourg, he “is very far from understanding that the extreme parties in Europe are by no means waiting for him to be their saviour”.
Populist parties — already in government in Italy, Austria, Poland and Hungary — are set to win up to 30 per cent of the seats in the European Parliament, polls suggest.
Meanwhile Spain’s hard-Right Vox party is hoping to emerge from the general election on Sunday as kingmaker in a coalition government.
In France, Ms Le Pen’s party came first in the last European elections in 2014 and is now polling neck-and-neck with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party. —