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Is Giorgia Meloni now the most influential figure in Europe?

Meloni has played her political cards well. Credit: Getty

June 2, 2024 - 5:00pm

Back in 2022, Le Monde reported on the “far-right rift between France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni”. But earlier this year, the headline in the same publication was “Le Pen draws closer to Meloni and distances herself from Germany’s AfD.”

The EU’s tectonic plates are shifting. Last week Le Pen wasn’t just distancing herself from the AfD, but getting them chucked out of Identity and Democracy (ID), which is one of the two populist groupings in the European Parliament. The departure of ID’s most extreme and pro-Russian member clears the way for a proposed merger with the other populist faction, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

If formed after the impending euro-elections, a populist super-group would easily overtake the European liberals to become the third biggest force in the Parliament. Indeed, if it attracts new members, then there’s a chance the grouping could challenge the socialists for second place. Possible recruits include the Fidesz party of Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, who’s expressed his support for the merger.

The European Union created in the image of Angela Merkel is under threat. A united populist Right could soon present itself as an alternative partner — on at least some issues — for the parties of the centre-right. If that is how the stars align after the elections, expect the European Parliament to become a major force for a much harder line on immigration.

This would be very good news for Meloni. Given what’s about to happen to her British counterpart, she knows that she must take back control of Italy’s borders — and for that she desperately needs the EU fully on side.

A Right-wing EU would be less good for Ursula von der Leyen, who only got her job as President of the European Commission thanks to the centrist alliance that currently controls the Parliament. Given the possibility of change, it’s no wonder she’s been trying to make a friend out of Giorgia Meloni.

The conventional wisdom is that Meloni will need to choose between Von der Leyen to her Left and Le Pen to her Right. However, that’s to reckon with the machinations of Emmanuel Macron, who, for his own reasons, has been trying to replace Von der Leyen with Mario Draghi. If Macron screws this up, an intriguing scenario presents itself, which is that Meloni makes a deal with both her would-be besties.

All three women would benefit: Von der Leyen would get to keep her job; Le Pen would receive the mantle of respectability; and Meloni would emerge as the pivotal figure in a broad Right alliance at the European level — just as she is back home.

A final point worth considering: the formation of the ECR group was initiated in 2005 by David Cameron when he was elected leader of the Conservative Party. Up until Britain’s final exit from the EU in 2020, Tory MEPs still sat with the other ECR parties in the European Parliament. If they were still there, they’d likely block any merger with Le Pen.

Perhaps Merkel should have given Cameron a better deal.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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Ben Jones
Ben Jones
22 days ago

It seems inevitable that after years of overly-centrist / soft left politics that eventually the centre-right would get a bit more… right wing?

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15 days ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Many promises. Few actions.