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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Europe’s so-called hard right are happy to take the Establishment’s money

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‘SIX lame ducks and a swan’ was, thanks to the Frankfurter Allgemeine last Thursday, the best headline to describe the G7 summit which included babbling Joe Biden, alleged President of the USA, soon-to-be-sacked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and third-rate German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The ‘swan’ referred to was of course Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the only leader present who could claim to be riding a wave of success, having just led her Fratelli d’Italia list to victory in the European parliamentary elections, adding 18 more Italian MEPs to the now 76-strong European Conservatives and Reformists group.

The moment when French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the summit’s ‘lame ducks’, kissed Meloni’s hand under her disdainful gaze went viral on social media, accompanied by a report that tensions had arisen between them over the suppressing of the mention of ‘access to safe and legal abortion’ in the group’s collective end-of-summit communiqué, principally at Meloni’s request. Meloni accused Macron of using the summit as a campaign platform as he moaned about those who have a ‘different vision’ of male-female equality, a reference not just to Meloni but her perceived ‘far right’ counterpart, and Macron’s key rival in the snap French General Election he has called for the end of this month, Marine Le Pen. Looking doomed to lose dozens of MPs next month, Macron is clutching at ‘anti-fascist’ straws in a desperate attempt to save his political career not just in France, but in Europe.

On the front cover of the European elite’s favourite fanzine The Economist earlier this month, however, Meloni was placed between a picture of Le Pen and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, with the headline ‘The Three Women who will shape Europe‘. The lead article discussed how far Meloni would be a ‘queenmaker’ holding the key to von der Leyen’s ‘re-election’ to her current position (as all good Brexiteers know, the EU Commission President is chosen behind closed doors and, North Korea style, submitted as a single, uncontested candidate for approval by the parliament).

You’d think this ‘post-fascist’ leader, who proposed a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent illegal immigration to her country and demanded (in 2015) that the EU drop its sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea, would put the wind up the staunch anti-populists at The Economist, as well as ‘centre-right’ politicians such as von der Leyen, but actually not at all. She has, in The Economist’s view, proven she is not a ‘political arsonist’ but a ‘pragmatist’ who has thrown her weight behind the EU’s political, financial and military support of Ukraine. ‘She should not be shut out of the political mainstream,’ it said.

Meloni’s transition from ‘far right firebrand’ into respectable stateswoman has happened rapidly – it’s less than two years since she became Italy’s PM – and should have us all thinking about how realpolitik can quickly overwhelm the so-called populist parties once they have won power. Having talked tough on immigration (she still does for her domestic audience), she’s now happier touring the notorious landing point for immigration, the island of Lampedusa, with von der Leyen, appealing for ‘European’, rather than national, solutions to the problem. Moreover, last year, she signed legislation that would let a further 1.5 million immigrants into the country legally, allegedly to fill gaps in the jobs market, such as grape-picking, that none of the 25 per cent of young Italians currently on unemployment benefits could possibly do.

Moreover, Meloni is also quite happy, Mario Draghi style, to do the EU Commission’s bidding so as not to miss out on the nearly €200billion of cash from their ‘Covid Recovery’ slush fund, sitting as she is on a debt-to-GDP ratio of 140 per cent. After all, where else is she going to find the  €7bn she wants to increase the pay of state employees  this year?

The other character on The Economist’s cover is not yet in the position of having two hands on the levers of power, but the big question is whether Le Pen will find it just as easy to slide from Political Enemy No.1 into Europe’s Most Promising leader within 18 months of the upcoming French national election. She, like Meloni, talks about a ‘Europe of nations’, in opposition to the drive to centralise all power in Brussels. She also, like Meloni, would come to power sitting on a national debt of epic proportions. Cynics might say that having increased the French national debt by 32 per cent since he took power, with no real slowdown in public spending, and Le Pen promising to increase it, what better time for Macron’s government to hand over the reins (and the blame for any future defaults) to the ‘far right’? A bit like that infamous note left for the incoming chief secretary to the Treasury by Liam Byrne: ‘I’m afraid there is no money – good luck!’

Moreover, if that happened, how long would it be before Le Pen had to herself ask for bailouts or concessions from the EU, just like Italy? Of course there’s a political choice that would need to be made here. Meloni has chosen the path of co-operation to get her payouts. Le Pen could go for broke and try to blame the EU for her problems and begin to threaten a genuine Frexit, enthusing her base and thinking about other economic alliances she could form.

Le Pen, however, and, perhaps even more so her replacement-in-waiting, Jordan Bardella, is not Nigel Farage, and while she is a political workhorse she has learned enough pragmatism, and abandoned her father’s economic radicalism sufficiently, to be more likely to seek her salvation inside the European Union than outside of it. She can learn from Meloni how to be taken seriously, feted at world events, and get some, if not all, of her demands met by backing wars of choice, and the flexibility to continue racking up the national debt. What’s not to like for an ambitious politician who’s spent years in the wilderness patiently waiting for power?

Perhaps this is the future of all populist leaders once elected: to become the Establishment rather than to break its grip. But regardless of the politics, the problems will persist, and neither Meloni nor Le Pen has the programmes to fix them. While we can all enjoy the prospect of the status quo being disrupted, we’ll need better people than these to put an end to migrant invasions, insane economic spendthriftiness, and the prospect of a hot war with Russia.

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Richard Ings
Richard Ings
Richard Ings is an actor, musician, part-time revolutionary and one-time parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party. He can be found on Twitter @richardcings or richard.ings@thedemocrats.org.uk. He writes at https://richardings.substack.com/.

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