A Hungarian-Italian bromance could become Europe's Trojan horse

It was like a first date that had gone exceptionally well. Hungarian leader Viktor Orban and Italy's Deputy ...

Posted: Sep 3, 2018 5:51 AM
Updated: Sep 3, 2018 5:51 AM

It was like a first date that had gone exceptionally well. Hungarian leader Viktor Orban and Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini spoke of a shared passion, exchanged compliments and promised to see each other again.

After their rendezvous on Tuesday in Milan, the staunchly anti-migrant Orban described Salvini as his hero for refusing to allow rescued asylum-seekers, stuck on a boat, to set foot on Italian soil unless the European Union settled them elsewhere.

Animals

Brexit

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Climate change

Conservatism

Continents and regions

Eastern Europe

Elections and campaigns

Energy and environment

Energy and utilities

Environment and natural resources

Europe

European Union

Europe-Mediterranean migrant crisis

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Government organizations - Intl

Horses

Hungary

Immigration

Immigration, citizenship and displacement

International relations and national security

Italy

Legislative bodies

Life forms

Mammals

Matteo Salvini

Northern Europe

Political Figures - Intl

Political Figures - US

Politics

Populism

Society

Southern Europe

Steve Bannon

United Kingdom

Viktor Orban

Voters and voting

Political asylum

Salvini said he hoped Tuesday was just the first of many more encounters with Orban to change Europe's destiny.

The burgeoning relationship between the two far-right figures may look like just another political bromance, but it could turn out to be a Trojan horse for EU leaders, once worried that Brexit would tear their post-war union apart.

Hardline Brexit supporters in the UK accuse EU leaders of trying to ensure Britain's withdrawal from the union is a failure so that other member states don't follow the country out the door, a charge that EU leaders vehemently deny.

In the meantime, far-right factions across the EU are eying big wins in the European Parliament elections next May, an opportunity that comes only once in five years and promises huge regional influence over policies, most crucially on migration.

As talks of a French "Frexit" or a "Nexit" in the Netherlands and other nations fade from public discourse, the EU is more likely at threat from those who want to bend the bloc from within.

Jerome Rivière from France's far-right National Rally, formerly known as National Front, was optimistic the election results would favor euroskeptic parties.

"I believe that for the first time we might be in a position to have a new majority in the next European election," he said.

"If we do not have a majority, I believe we will have a minority strong enough to prevent them from what they are doing right now."

A perfect storm

What these parties have lacked for so long has been unity to coordinate action in the European Parliament. The Orban-Salvini relationship shows that an appetite for such unity is growing. In the past, anti-establishment populist parties that have had beef with the EU have also been at loggerheads with each other.

Hungary and Italy, for example, clashed over migrant policy several times in 2016. Italy, a frontline nation for asylum-seekers, has long pressed Hungary to take in a share of refugees to lessen its burden. But Hungary has advocated a hardline zero-immigration policy since the mass movement of asylum seekers into Europe in 2015, at the height of the Syrian war. Most other EU nations have accepted asylum-seekers under the union's relocation program, but Hungary has refused to, along with several other eastern European states.

Bilateral cooperation between like-minded parties, voter apathy and the European Parliament's electoral system could be the perfect storm that hands Europe's levers over to populists.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by EU citizens, but turnout at each vote has fallen consistently over the years -- just over 42% of registered voters cast a ballot in the last election in 2014, according to the Public Opinion Monitoring Unit.

"The euroskeptic parties do better in European elections than they usually do in national elections, that's because the voters on the one hand believe that the European elections are somewhat less important than the national elections," Doru Frantescu, an EU affairs expert, told CNN.

Euroskeptic parties also tend to take European elections more seriously for the obvious reason that one of their main objectives is to challenge the EU.

The European Parliament's system also benefits fringe parties. Instead of winning seats on a first-past-the-post basis, candidates need simply to pass a low threshold of the popular vote. This has meant that parties like France's National Rally have a far greater presence in the European Parliament than they do in their own national assemblies.

This representation in the European Parliament is already in play.

MEP John Stuart Agnew from the far-right UKIP party in Britain argued in a European Parliament opinion report that human-induced climate change was "negligible" and pointed to cosmic ray fluctuations, the sun, oceans and water vapor as "factors that really do change our climate." This kind of denial of climate change science was unheard of in the European Parliament just a few years ago.

Frantescu said it's unlikely skeptical far-right parties can gain control of parliament, but that doesn't mean their influence won't grow. With the European Parliament already fractured, even a small increase in seats could make a significant difference.

"You don't need to gain a majority in the European Parliament to exert influence on the EU policies and the (European) Commission, you just need to have a somewhat solid minority," Frantescu said.

A strong minority could be effective in blocking policy, he said, and a small boost in influence in parliament could be the start of greater change in the longer-term.

"The European elections are not the end of the movie, or the end of the world, rather it's the beginning," he said.

"The question is will they be able to coordinate afterwards. Will they be able to get maybe good results in the national elections in the member states? ... Will they get their hands on other national governments so that they can exert pressure in the council of the EU, which is the other key legislative body of the European Union?"

The Bannon effect

Some of the parties looking to shake things up in Brussels are counting on Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, to help buoy their electoral results.

Bannon has been on several European tours to galvanize like-minded political outfits and even helped launch The Movement, a "supergroup" uniting populists to challenge the European establishment.

"Everybody agrees that next May is hugely important, that this is the real first continent-wide face-off between populism and the party of Davos," Bannon said in an interview with the Daily Beast in July, referring to Davos, Switzerland, as symbol of the world's liberal elite. "This will be an enormously important moment for Europe."

Movement founder Mischaël Modrikamen, leader of the Belgian People's Party, said Bannon was offering resources to help the new alliance at the elections.

"He will bring tools that were in use in the States. They won the election against all odds. He will bring tools of course. Europeans are already using them," he told CNN, adding that big data was one area European parties could benefit from.

"We are in a big fight for the soul of what I believe should be Western civilization."

Salvini has floated a similar idea to Bannon's supergroup, calling for a European "League of Leagues" to unite populists. Salvini's spokesman told CNN that the minister had met with Bannon to exchange ideas, at Bannon's request.

But pro-EU MEPs say they are not threatened by Bannon. Elmar Brok, a German MEP, said he was confident pro-EU members would prevail in the elections and that Bannon's efforts to intervene in European affairs would likely backfire.

He accused Bannon of using Europe's far-right figures to destroy Europe and pivot power to other nations.

"In this sense, Mr. Bannon is very helpful to us because we can easily explain to our people that the purpose of all that is to weaken European nations in such a way that they do not have to play any role in this world, and that this becomes a world of Washington, Beijing and Moscow," he said.

Analysts also question how influential Bannon can be. The unity he and Modrikamen are seeking will not be easily achieved.

"A profound problem is that this is the fragmented European landscape. Many of these right-wing parties, or right-wing populist parties, they may all have problems with the EU, but many of them have problems with each other," said Alexander Clarkson, a European and international studies lecturer at King's College London.

"So for Bannon to come in and try to create unity out of all these very powerful, very well-financed movements that don't necessarily like each other, I think that says more about an American, not just Bannon, but an American media's version of European politics and Bannon's vision of European politics."

Huntsville
Few Clouds
46° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 42°
Florence
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 50°
Fayetteville
Clear
40° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 40°
Decatur
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 43°
Scottsboro
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 46°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 232506

Reported Deaths: 3457
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson30318491
Mobile19260356
Tuscaloosa12446148
Madison12204146
Montgomery12000232
Shelby971276
Baldwin819984
Lee750464
Morgan610447
Calhoun5964113
Etowah585764
Marshall579453
Houston503338
DeKalb460835
Cullman409636
Limestone400844
St. Clair396055
Elmore391061
Lauderdale378353
Walker348096
Talladega334042
Colbert294341
Jackson290524
Blount275436
Autauga261739
Franklin243633
Coffee230315
Dale225454
Dallas219631
Russell21753
Chilton216137
Covington212333
Escambia194031
Tallapoosa168590
Chambers167548
Clarke154919
Pike154714
Marion133935
Winston122523
Lawrence121436
Geneva11678
Marengo116424
Barbour116010
Pickens114118
Bibb113617
Butler113341
Randolph99521
Cherokee98524
Hale91531
Washington89818
Clay88823
Henry8386
Fayette83116
Lowndes78529
Monroe76811
Cleburne74214
Crenshaw70030
Macon69420
Bullock68919
Conecuh66814
Perry6686
Wilcox62318
Lamar6227
Sumter55322
Choctaw41713
Greene39917
Coosa3064
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 340476

Reported Deaths: 4266
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby45436634
Davidson40436402
Knox17413137
Rutherford16668150
Hamilton15723135
Williamson1050373
Sumner9016134
Wilson692474
Out of TN668748
Montgomery614481
Sullivan594689
Putnam572279
Washington550298
Maury541957
Blount508055
Madison5064104
Bradley476833
Sevier458530
Unassigned416314
Robertson352550
Tipton345136
Hamblen328257
Dyer307149
Gibson297761
Greene281868
Anderson271525
Dickson264427
Coffee260841
Carter250951
Bedford250328
Obion250347
Lawrence249632
Cumberland240035
McMinn232255
Warren226517
Hardeman220337
Roane217723
Loudon216517
Jefferson212631
Fayette212137
Weakley205934
Lauderdale198721
Monroe197042
Franklin189631
Trousdale189012
Wayne179310
Hawkins178234
Henderson178030
Macon175727
Hardin170925
White166417
Marshall163117
Carroll162832
Haywood159129
Rhea155530
Cocke153928
Overton150034
Campbell146521
Cheatham146316
Lincoln144413
Henry141517
McNairy137232
Smith136919
Johnson136721
Giles134242
Fentress116219
Lake11445
Bledsoe11405
Crockett110925
Hickman109417
DeKalb108220
Marion103117
Chester97919
Scott9407
Grainger91314
Decatur91012
Unicoi77123
Claiborne7509
Benton74914
Grundy73414
Lewis70411
Cannon6962
Union6865
Jackson6579
Morgan6546
Humphreys6407
Polk62914
Houston56819
Stewart54614
Clay52418
Sequatchie4895
Meigs45912
Perry45520
Moore3652
Pickett36512
Van Buren3382
Hancock1453

Community Events