Sway with Me: How Italy’s Salvini Lost His Credibility

Herbert Kickl Matteo Salvini
Herbert Kickl and Matteo Salvini, the interior ministers of Austria and Italy, meet in Brussels, July 12, 2018 (European Council)

Italy’s Matteo Salvini tried to be all things to all people, and failed.

The leader of the (formerly Northern) League aspired to become the next Silvio Berlusconi: the uncontested leader of the Italian right. To prove he could govern, he formed a coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and later supported the unity government of Mario Draghi.

But you can’t govern in Italy without making compromises, and that’s not something far-right voters tend to reward. Salvini has oscillated between mock statesmanship and populism, giving his supporters whiplash. Giorgia Meloni’s postfascist Brothers of Italy now threaten to eclipse him. Read more “Sway with Me: How Italy’s Salvini Lost His Credibility”

Trumpification of the Spanish Right in Madrid

Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso of Madrid, February 23 (Comunidad de Madrid)

Spanish conservatives hope the third time will be the charm.

In 2018, spooked by the return of the far right, they chose the reactionary Pablo Casado as their leader over the center-right Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. Casado pulled the People’s Party to the right, arguing for a clampdown on Catalan nationalism, lower immigration and tighter abortion laws. Voters didn’t approve. The party fell from 33 to 17 percent support in the election and lost over half its seats in Congress.

In the next election, seven months later, Casado doubled down. He refused to attack far-right leader Santiago Abascal and proposed to criminalize Catalan separatism. The conservatives did better, going up to 21 percent, but they still failed to defeat the Socialists. Abascal’s Vox also increased its vote share, to 15 percent.

The lesson from other European countries is that center-right parties can never outbid the far right, which is always willing to go a step further. Moving to the right in order to shrink the distance between mainstream and far right isn’t a winning strategy either. It makes it easier for conservative voters to switch.

In Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso is nevertheless attempting the same strategy — and she might win. Read more “Trumpification of the Spanish Right in Madrid”

Foreign Press Are Missing the Story in the Dutch Election

Mark Rutte
Prime Minister Mark Rutte answers questions from Dutch lawmakers in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

The big story in this year’s election in the Netherlands is that all parties, including the ruling VVD (of which I am a member), have moved to the left. As a result, there is broad consensus for deficit spending, far-reaching climate legislation, closer defense integration in Europe, more central government involvement in housing and raising corporate tax.

Not all foreign media have noticed. Many are still obsessed with yesterday’s story: the far right. Read more “Foreign Press Are Missing the Story in the Dutch Election”

Far Right Comes to Sánchez’ Rescue in Spain

Santiago Abascal
Spanish Vox party leader Santiago Abascal gives a speech in Valencia, February 22, 2018 (Vox España)

Sometimes bad people do good things. Spain’s neo-Francoist party Vox (Voice) has given Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez a majority for his plan to spend Spain’s €140 billion share of the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund.

Vox had criticized the plan for its “opaque” oversight during a debate in Congress, but when it became clear the conservative People’s Party (PP) would vote against it, the far right spied an opportunity.

“We regret that in the worst moment of these 42 years of democracy, PP is not the opposition but the absolute destruction,” a Vox spokesman thundered.

That’s a little rich coming from a party that wants to reverse Spain’s democratization in important ways, including by abolishing regional autonomies, teaching a more Franco-friendly version of twentieth-century history in middle schools and weakening women’s rights.

But it is also an example of how multiparty democracy can make a country more governable. Read more “Far Right Comes to Sánchez’ Rescue in Spain”

There’s Only So Much Race Can Tell Us

Democratic voters Davidson North Carolina
Democratic voters in Davidson, North Carolina listen to a speech, October 12, 2016 (Hillary for America/Alyssa S.)

American journalists continue to parse the November electorate, specifically the Latino vote.

Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Vox, has a good newsletter about Donald Trump’s gains with Latino voters in which he links to Harry Enten’s analysis for CNN. It turns out Trump didn’t appeal to just Latinos of Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan descent, who may have been alarmed by Democratic flirtations with socialism given the experience in their home countries; he did better with Latinos of all backgrounds compared to four years ago.

This is fascinating to political junkies like us, but having just moved back to the Netherlands, where the campaign for the general election in March is slowly getting underway, I’m reminded that this sort of demographic analysis is almost entirely absent in Europe. Read more “There’s Only So Much Race Can Tell Us”

EU Must Hold Firm in Rule-of-Law Dispute with Hungary, Poland

Viktor Orbán Giuseppe Conte
Prime Ministers Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Giuseppe Conte of Italy meet with other European leaders in Brussels, February 21 (European Council)

Hungary and Poland are holding up approval of the EU’s seven-year budget and coronavirus recovery fund, worth a combined €1.8 trillion, vowing to jointly veto so long as the rest of the bloc insists on tying funds to compliance with the rule of law.

The countries’ far-right governments, which are already being probed by the EU for politicizing their judicial systems, claim they are defending national sovereignty from foreign interference.

Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, said he would not “subject Hungary to a situation where a simple majority imposes issues upon the Hungarian people they do not want.”

The problem with that statement: 25 of the EU’s 27 member states support the proposed rule-of-law conditionality, as do seven in ten Hungarians and Poles.

EU-wide support is as high as 77 percent, according to a poll commissioned by the European Parliament. Read more “EU Must Hold Firm in Rule-of-Law Dispute with Hungary, Poland”

Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes

Sorry for the lack of new posts in recent weeks. I’ve moved back to the Netherlands from Barcelona and finding and furnishing an apartment has taken up most of my time.

Good news was awaiting me here, though. Forum for Democracy, a Putin-friendly, far-right upstart that only a year ago looked like a credible challenger to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right liberal party, is on the verge of collapse. Thierry Baudet, the party’s co-founder and leader, has stepped down.

Baudet — one of the few Donald Trump admirers in Dutch politics — broke with other party leaders to defend Forum’s youth wing, which for the second time this year was revealed to be a hotbed of far-right extremism. Het Parool of Amsterdam reported this weekend that multiple members had shared neo-Nazi content in the movement’s WhatsApp group.

In May, the party ejected three members for sharing similar content.

Baudet has winked at the alt-right with calls to defend “boreal” (northern) civilization from cosmopolitan liberal elites, who would “dilute” Dutch society by allowing immigration.

He claimed on Monday that the youth wing had been the victim of a “trial by media”. Read more “Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes”

Right-Wing Italians Swap Salvini’s for Even More Right-Wing Party

Matteo Salvini Marine Le Pen Harald Vilimsky Michał Marusik
Far-right party leaders Matteo Salvini of Italy, Marine Le Pen of France, Harald Vilimsky of Austria and Michał Marusik of Poland give a news conference in Strasbourg, May 11, 2016 (European Parliament/Fred Marvaux)

It’s been a bad few months for Italy’s populist right-wing leader, Matteo Salvini.

First his erstwhile governing partner, the Five Star Movement, and the opposition Democrats outmaneuvered him by teaming up to avoid snap elections which polls predicted Salvini’s League would win.

Now his antics in reaction to the government’s coronavirus policy are falling flat.

Salvini and his party “occupied” parliament (refusing to leave the chamber) to demonstrate against the COVID-19 quarantine. He has tweeted out disinformation about the disease, claiming it was created in a Chinese lab. Few Italians care.

Polls find two in three have little faith in the EU anymore, which many Italians feel has been too slow to come to their aid. (Italy has had one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus disease in the world.) Yet it hasn’t given the Euroskeptic Salvini, who once argued for giving up the euro, a boost. Read more “Right-Wing Italians Swap Salvini’s for Even More Right-Wing Party”

Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary

Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Ministers Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel speak in Brasília, Brazil, January 2, 2019 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

I try to avoid Nazi-era comparisons, since they’re seldom appropriate, but Viktor Orbán isn’t making it easy. The only thing that could make his power grab in Hungary more like the Enabling Act of 1933 is if, like the Reichstag fire, COVID-19 really had been manufactured (in a Chinese lab funded by George Soros, if we are to believe Russia’s disinformation).

Using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, Orbán has dissolved parliament and postponed all elections — indefinitely.

The Constitutional Court technically still functions, but it is packed with Orbán loyalists and provides no real oversight. For all intents and purposes, Orbán now rules alone. Read more “Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary”