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When it comes to their politics, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini couldn’t be further apart, reported Politico (Germany).
Macron is a former investment banker who styles himself as a liberal champion of the European Union. Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, has emerged as Europe’s leading nationalist — one who has pledged to bring the European project to a crashing halt.
There’s one thing the two men do agree on: Both want to redraw the battle lines of European politics and turn next year’s European Parliament election into a fight over the survival of the EU in its current form.
For Macron, the contest is his chance to reprise his 2017 victory over the French far right on the European stage. As representatives of his En Marche party quietly tour the Continent, gathering allies for a pan-European campaign, the French president has rarely missed an opportunity to present himself as populism’s greatest foe.
“You can see it rise like leprosy more or less everywhere in Europe, in countries where we thought it would be impossible to see it again, in neighboring countries,” he said in a speech in June that was seen in Italy as a not-so-veiled swipe against the recently installed populist government there.
Macron has charged Christophe Castaner, En Marche’s chief executive, with pulling together potential allies across the Continent, including Italy’s former center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the liberal Spanish Ciudadanos party.
“What we want is to create a civil, political movement in all of Europe which would defend more and better Europe in reaction to populists and nationalists,” Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos, told POLITICO.
It’s a battleground on which Salvini is eager to engage. “Next year’s election will be a referendum between the Europe of the elites, banks, finance, mass migration and precariousness versus the Europe of peoples, work, tranquility, family and future,” he said earlier this month at a rally of party members and supporters in the northern Italian town of Pontida.
“I am thinking about a league of the Leagues of Europe, bringing together all the free and sovereign movements that want to defend their people and their borders,” he added. While Salvini’s initiative is more embryonic — MEPs from his party have just started laying the groundwork for the 2019 race — his potential populist allies already have a foothold in Brussels. Euroskeptic parties including the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and France’s National Rally hold around 150 seats out of 751 in the current Parliament.
The League leader has taken to attacking Macron by name, especially as tensions have risen between Italy and France over who should be responsible for migrants rescued from boats in the Mediterranean.
The French president is “a polite young man who drinks too much Champagne,” Salvini said in response to Macron’s leprosy comments. “We won’t take lessons from him.”
When France faced down Croatia in the finals of the World Cup, Salvini flew to Moscow, leading what he called a “politico-sports mission” designed to wish “bad luck to France.” After France won 4-2, the Italian interior minister deliberately left the stadium early, before the award ceremony, according to the Russian government news agency Sputnik.
The battle between Macron and Salvini has the potential to reshape the 2019 election debate — and with it, the EU.
Management of the EU has traditionally been a cozy affair among the conservative European People’s Party and the center-left Socialists, which pass the EU’s top positions between each other and govern the European Parliament in the format of a pro-EU “grand coalition.”
That’s the system Macron and Salvini would like to disrupt. And while both face tall political hurdles in their race to overturn the established order, it would be a mistake to dismiss their efforts as impossible.
After all, they’ve both done it before.
In France, Macron’s meteoric presidential campaign clotheslined the Socialists and drove a nail into the center right, leading to the near collapse of the mainstream parties that have dominated the political landscape for generations.
In Italy, Salvini grew his League from a bedraggled regional party to a national, governing force. The League received a little more than half as many votes as its coalition partner, the anti-establishment 5Star Movement. But it’s Salvini — not 5Star leader Luigi Di Maio or Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte — who has dominated Italy’s political agenda.
Today, polls put the two Italian coalition partners neck-and-neck as the country’s most popular political forces, each supported by about 29 percent of the country’s voters.
The European landscape is fertile soil for disruptive political forces, according to a May 2018 survey of more than 27,000 Europeans. While more Europeans than ever — around two-thirds — say they support EU membership, a greater number think the bloc is headed in the wrong direction (42 percent) than in the right direction (32 percent).
The desire for change is particularly acute among the young. Fully 63 percent of those aged 24 and under say that “new political parties and movements can find solutions better” than existing parties.
The energy of the dispute between pro and anti-EU forces could drive up voter turnout for the first time since direct elections of MEPs began in 1979, said Jaume Duch, the European Parliament’s director general of communication. “This election will be much more political than before,” he added.
That’s not so say it won’t be an uphill battle. As a newcomer, Macron is operating outside existing power structures, and by eschewing both the EPP and the Socialists he has deliberately decided not to ally himself with the traditionally largest players.
En Marche officials have been courting members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe parliamentary group (ALDE) with the hope of forming a large pro-European force after the election. But so far “Macronmania” has not infected the European Parliament; few believe Macron’s group will be able to rival the EPP for dominance.
Salvini’s problem is that Euroskeptics are heterogeneous and divided, and in some areas ideological enemies. On economics, for example, the National Rally and Alternative for Germany (AfD) sit at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Creating a large Euroskeptic group would require him to bridge those differences.
Still, Macron and Salvini don’t have to come in first to change the way things are run in Brussels. As the most disruptive forces in the upcoming campaign, they have the capacity to drive the election debate. Traditional parties might rush to adopt some of their policies, on EU reform for Macron or immigration for Salvini — a victory of sorts.
The risks to the traditional groups are clear. National parties belonging to the EPP have already been surpassed in Poland, France, Italy and Spain. While the group is likely to remain the largest in the European Parliament, it’s also likely to be weakened by the arrival of a new generation of 20- and 30-something faces with no loyalties to Brussels power structures.
And if the Socialists collapse as they have in Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Austria, it might be impossible for the EPP to form a majority without the support of one of the new forces.
That could make Macron — or Salvini — kingmaker in 2019 as all the top EU jobs — the presidencies of the European Commission, European Council, European Parliament and European Central Bank — change hands.
While both Macron and Salvini present their mission as “saving Europe,” the methods they propose are diametrically opposed.
Macron’s goal is to reform the EU to make it stronger and turn it into what he calls “a Europe that protects.” His plan is to form what an En Marche MP described as “a ‘Change Europe’ coalition, or whatever we end up calling it.” According to this plan, the French president wouldn’t necessarily create a formal new group. Rather, he could draw on people and parties from anywhere on the political spectrum who commit to carrying out a common platform with “three or four” core reforms.
That’s unlikely to work in the Parliament’s institutional setup. Macron will have to form a new group if he’s going to have influence and be able to secure loyalty from his MEPs. Coalitions have no formal status in the European Parliament, but everything from funding to speaking time in the chamber to committee memberships are allocated on the basis of group membership.
Any MEP from another group that agrees to be part of an informal Macron coalition would risk being seen as having competing allegiances and face disadvantages when titles and tasks are distributed.
If Macron can muster the numbers, he’d be better off forming an official parliamentary group.
A new Macron-centered political group would draw on the most progressive of the liberal ALDE parliamentary group, “and all those who don’t identify themselves with the EPP or Socialist forces,” said Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, a French member of parliament from En Marche and one of Macron’s point men in preparing the 2019 election campaign. “What we offer is an alternative to populists,” he said.
For Salvini, the solution is not more Europe. It’s less. His ambition is to wrest powers back from Brussels to the national capitals — and, crucially, “protect external borders against illegal migration,” said the League’s Marco Zanni, one of the members of the European Parliament Salvini has charged with expanding the League’s contacts in other Euroskeptic parties.
“Setting up a Euro-critical group has been the party’s political project in the Parliament for a long time,” Zanni said.
The goal, still in progress, he said, would be to strengthen existing partnerships with France’s National Rally, the Flemish Vlaams Belang and the Austrian Freedom Party and build new alliances with the AfD and the Sweden Democrats. “It would be great to run a political campaign under a new, single Euro-critical banner,” Zanni added.
Hungary’s Fidesz and the Polish Law and Justice party are other appealing potential allies — especially if the European Conservatives and Reformists group collapses with the loss of the British Conservatives after Brexit.
While it’s unlikely that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would leave the EPP anytime soon, Zanni said his group would be looking closely at what Fidesz will do if the EPP fares poorly at the ballot box. “We will see how the EPP scores after the elections,” he said. “If they lose a lot of votes, Orbán could be interested in leaving the group.”
“Everything is possible,” said Mario Borghezio, another League MEP.
The Euroskeptic forces have one clear advantage over Macron: money.
There are three broadly Euroskeptic blocs in Parliament eligible for a slice of €32.4 million in EU funding for pan-European parties, and €19.3 million for European political foundations. They are the European Conservatives and Reformists (led by Poland’s Law and Justice party after Brexit), United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), and the Europe of Nations and Freedoms (ENF) bloc, formerly led by Marine Le Pen.
En Marche was too late to register as an EU-wide party for the 2019 election, meaning it cannot access any of the EU funding.
There is one area where both camps are in clear agreement: The EU’s next seven-year budget should be decided after the election — not before as the Commission has proposed.
Amélie de Montchalin, an En Marche MP who is the French government’s whip in the finance committee of the French National Assembly, said the temptation to finalize the 2021-2027 EU budget before the election should be rejected.
Doing so would tie the hands of two generations of MEPs, those elected in 2019 and those elected in 2024. It would be “a gift to Euroskeptics to say to them we are organizing big democratic elections but they will have no consequences,” she said.
show source https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-matteo-salvini-showdown-over-europe-future/