The Italian Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini will arrive in Warsaw to meet with the leader of the conserative ruling Law and Justice Party, Jarosław Kaczyński, on Wednesday January 9th. According to the Italian daily La Republicca which broke the story, Salvini’s main goal with the trip is to secure the support of the Polish ruling party for an alliance of ahead of the election to the European Parliament which will be held in May 2019.
Salvini met earlier this year in Italy with the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban. The two of them declared at a joint press conference that their goal was to cooperate in the European Elections in order to stop the aspirations of EU federalist forces lead by the French President Emmanuel Macron.
Orban was at the time looking for new allies as the European People’s Party group which his own party Fidesz currently belongs to, was sending out signals that it was seriously considering to throw out Fidesz from its ranks to alleged Hungarian breaches in the rule of law.
The likelihood of such a development increased after large parts of the EPP voted against Fidesz and Orban on September the 12th and in result launching an Article 7 procedure against Hungary, a process which in the end could lead to political sanctions being placed on Budapest.
In recent months however, it appears that Fidesz will be allowed to stay in the EPP after all, as the party group is afraid of losing its control over the European Parliament if it the Hungarian MEPs from Fidesz would be forced to leave its ranks.
It looks as if Salvini has instead decided on trying to strike a deal with the ruling party in Warsaw. The Law and Justice Party will have to decide on a new strategy for the European Parliament as it’s main ally, the British Conservative Party, in its current party group The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), will not be able to join forces with the Law and Justice Party in the next European Parliament as Great Britain will leave the EU this spring.
The Law and Justice Party in effect has two choices it can make. It could try to follow in the footsteps of Viktor Orban and join the EPP or it can look for new allies, which like its current partners in the ECR, are against EU federalist ideas and instead support the concept of “A Europe of Nations”.
The Law and Justice Party has according to earlier reports played with the idea of joining the EPP, a move that could facilitate a reaproachment between Warsaw and Brussels in order to stop the Article 7 procedure which has been launched against Poland as well. What complicates such an initiative is the fact that the main Polish opposition party, the Civic Platform, is a member of the EPP and would likely leave the party group if it would accept the Law and Justice Party as a new member. Many EPP MEPs already have difficulties in accepting the fact that the national conservatives from Fidesz are a part of their party group and would likely protest another national conservative party joining the EPP.
Lega, the party headed by Matteo Salvini, would be an interesting partner if the Law and Justice Party will decide for the option of finding new anti-federalist allies to replace the British Conservative Party. According to most opinion polls, Lega will win´around 35% of the Italian vote in the European Parliament elections and will thus be able to place a substantial number of MEPs in the benches of the next European Parliament. Other national conservative parties across Europe, including in countries such as in France, Sweden and the Netherlands, have also seen growing support during the current term of the European Parliament. A new party group containing such parties as well Lega and the Law and Justice Party would be a force that Brussels would have to reckon with.
An alliance between the Law and Justice Party and Lega is not without its complications though. As many observers have noted, Kaczyński and Salvini have a diametrically different stance on Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Poland has together with Lithuania and Romania been the most vocal opponents against Russian aggression and imperial tendencies in Eastern Europe in general and Ukraine in particular.
Salvini on the other hand is a self-professed admirer of Vladimir Putin. However, Law and Justice politicians have in recent days pointed to the fact that Russophile forces are present in practically all EU party groups whether socialist or conservative and that EU party group affiliation is a decision that cannot be made on the basis of a single political issue but rather something that must me made after having used a holistic approach to the European Union as a European project.
Other commentators note that alliances being declared ahead of the elections to the European Parliament elections is one thing but that the real alliances will be formed once the election results are in and the number of mandates has been settled.
The meeting in Warsaw between Kaczyński and Salvini is a sign that a new anti-federalist conservative party group could be in the making but it remains to be seen whether a potential alliance between the largest political forces in Italy and Poland will be a lasting one.
The real game regarding the formation of EU party groups will start after the elections in May.