FLORENCE, Italy – European right-wing leaders fired the opening salvo of their promised EU-wide election campaign at a rally by the hardline Identity and Democracy group in Florence on Sunday.
In the wake of anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders’ shock victory in November’s general election in the Netherlands, Eurosceptics in the SIS vowed to change the political dynamic in Brussels when they addressed some 2,000 supporters in a 6th-century castle. Ten in the Italian Renaissance capital.
“Another Europe without socialists in power is possible, even desirable,” said Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s right-wing League party, who hosted a rally of the Identity Party’s 14 constituent parties.
Wearing glasses and a black collar, Salvini said he and his allies aimed to make the Identity Party the third largest group in the European Parliament after the center-right European People’s Party and the center-left Socialists and Democrats. The Identity Party is currently the sixth largest group with 62 seats in the 705-member EU legislature.
Claiming to be witnessing a “blue wave” – the chosen color of the identity card – Salvini said the group’s “goal is to reach third place, to become decisive.” He said that in order to break Brussels’ decades-long alliance between conservatives, socialists and liberals, after the European elections in June, anti-EU hardliners should join the centre-right forces of the European People’s Party or the European Conservatives and Reformists.
In all, 17 speakers took the stage on Sunday, many of them expressing Eurosceptic tropes and promising freedom from “Brussels bureaucracy.” Italian pop songs such as Gala’s “Freed from Desire” and Jovanotti’s “Viva la Libertà” (Peace to Liberty) provided the soundtrack..
Also speaking – and previewing upcoming campaign themes – Ashley St. Clair, the American conservative culture warrior; Piero Gattoni, a businessman who opposes the EU Green Deal; And the mayor of the local anti-Islam League, Anna Maria Sescent.
The attendance was limited to League party officials, and included a large group of right-wing Romanian immigrants draped in the country’s national flag, along with young rioters who support the return of the long-defunct Italian monarchy.
“I don’t feel like an actor [Italian President] Sergio Mattarella, I would love to come back [heir to the Savoia royal family] “Emmanuel Filiberto,” a man in his twenties said as arrivals streamed through the entrance. Dozens of people with colorful body art wandered near the castle that was hosting the Florence Tattoo Convention on the same day.
However, a number of senior Democratic Party leaders were absent from the rally, including Wilders, French nationalist Marine Le Pen, and right-wing Portuguese MP André Ventura. Left-wing media critics He saw their absence as a disdain To Salvini and a bad omen for the Identity Party’s election campaign.
Industry bosses have objected to Brussels’ plan to ban combustion engines from 2035, saying the new rules would hurt the continent’s industrial zones and ultimately benefit Chinese electric vehicle manufacturers.
“I don’t want this [the 2035 ban] “It was proposed by someone on the payroll in China,” Salvini said. “We’ve seen Qatargate, and I don’t want to see Chinagate.”
Several right-wing politicians on stage described former EU Green Deal head Frans Timmermans as among the arch enemies of identity, along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros..
Speakers were united in their criticism of Islam, illegal immigration and political correctness, but divided on the war in Ukraine.
Co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, Tino Shrubala, spoke out against Western sanctions against Russia, saying they had hurt the European Union’s economy more than Moscow’s.
“Ukraine cannot win this war,” Shrubala told the crowd, echoing similar claims from Austria’s far-right FPÖ party, but contradicting the pro-sanctions stance of other identity parties including the League.
Speaking to Politico, AfD lawmaker and deputy head of ID, Gunnar Beck, admitted that the different approaches towards Russia represent “a stumbling block in relations with the European Commission, and to some extent within ID.”
Earlier in the day, as white-haired League members and foreign delegates entered Ennahda Castle, hundreds of left-wing protesters were gathering nearby.
Salvini’s decision to gather troops in Florence, a city with a long center-left history, angered the city’s socialist mayor, Dario Nardella, who exchanged harsh criticism with the head of the League party. Hundreds of left-wing militants protested in the city center and wrapped the statue of Donatello David – one of the city’s famous monuments – with the European Union flag.
Among the few foreigners who participated in the Florence Identity March were dozens of Italy-based supporters from the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), who were individually wrapped in their country’s flag.
AUR leader, George Simion, shocked Identity Party delegates the day before the march by announcing that he would join the ECR party, led by Salvini’s nemesis, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Tensions between rival nationalist groups came to light when we spoke to AUR supporter Alex Borociano, who has lived in Italy for two decades.
Borociano claimed he was not a fan of Salvini after losing his bid to become an Italian citizen due to strict new rules introduced by the right-wing leader in 2019.
“I cannot vote in Italy as a result of Salvini’s law,” Borociano said.
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