Salvini eager to lead 'European spring'

Italy, Poland launch an offer for populist pact to reshape EU

The eurosceptic and anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini announced in Warsaw last Wednesday that populists from Italy and Poland would spark a “European spring” to replace the centre-right influence of Germany and France, ahead of key EU elections.

Italy's far-right Interior Minister said he had proposed to Polish populists and would propose to others a pact in Europe similar to the one binding him with his government partner, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S). This pact for the May EP elections would enable Italians, Poles, Spaniards, Danes and others to reshape Europe, Salvini believes. “I don't have a crystal ball, but the goal is to become the second largest movement, maybe the first … in the next European Parliament elections,” Salvini said. His League party has ruled in coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement since a general election in Italy last year. Rome has had numerous spats with Brussels, notably over immigration and the country's efforts to implement a big-spending budget to apply populist measures.

In his visit in Warsaw, Salvini had talks with Jaroslav Kaczynski, the powerful leader of the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, and in closed-door talks with PiS PM Mateusz Morawiecki. Since taking office in 2015, the PiS government has also put Poland on a collision course with the EU over a string of controversial judicial reforms.

PM Morawiecki said his government shared “many” of the criticisms levelled at the EU by the Italian deputy premier. “Different Member States are treated quite differently in very similar situations, so this probably is a definition of discrimination, isn't it?” Morawiecki told US broadcaster CNBC. “One country has a budget deficit of 2.4% (Italy) and another country has a deficit exceeding 3% (France) … and they are treated differently because of some other aspects,” he said, referring to a budget dispute between Brussels and Rome. “With Mr Salvini we are on the same page with regards to many European matters,” he confirmed. Warsaw recently backed down from its reform aimed at retiring Supreme Court judges, under pressure from Brussels. The EU's top court ruled it threatened to undermine the independence of the courts.

The May EU elections could see nationalist and far-right parties across Europe upset the bloc's balance of power, which is currently dominated by the centre-right. The PiS is part of the European Conservatives and Reformists political group in the European Parliament, while the League is part of the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group. Both are Eurosceptic, though ENF is further to the right, DPA recalls.

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