EU centre-right takes risky bet ahead of Sweden and Italy votes – EURACTIV.com
The end of the much-discussed “grand coalitions” between Europe’s centre-right parties and social democrats has led the European People’s Party (EPP) to seek alternatives on the right side of the political spectrum to form governments.
Elections in Sweden and Italy could see traditionally pro-EU centre-right parties form governments and alliances with far-right and Eurosceptic parties to counterbalance progressive governments formed in countries like Spain, Portugal and Germany. But what could this mean for the European project?
Sweden and Italy are holding crucial elections on September 11 and 25 respectively.
In Stockholm, the latest polls suggest that the left bloc (ruling Social Democrats, the Green Party, the Left Party and the Center Party) is neck and neck with the right bloc, made up of the centre-right (EPP), liberals and eurosceptics.
The sanitary cordon is no longer a “norm”
Charlie Weimers, vice-president of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and member of the far-right Swedish Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SD), told EURACTIV that the Swedish elections could serve as a positive example for “the wider right in Europe of what we can achieve when we work together”.
“I mean, the EPP and Renew, they looked to the left during this term, and we see the results in different policy areas. The result is more progressive than conservative, to say the least,” he told EURACTIV.
“I think it would perhaps open the minds of many political leaders across the continent that there could be cooperation between the EPP, the ECR, Renew and the Identity and Democracy (ID) group when our interests will merge,” he added.
The Swedish politician insisted that the idea of a ‘cordon sanitaire’ was the norm in Sweden until a few years ago.
“And now the Swedish Democrats are number two in the polls; there has been a normalization of our party in Swedish politics. So I think it is the cordon sanitaire that may be challenged at European level,” he said.
The Italian experience
Italy faces a similar situation: a progressive bloc struggles to prevent the Conservatives from forming a government in the September 25 vote.
The right-wing coalition Giorgia Meloni (Brothers of Italy, ECR) with Matteo Salvini’s Lega (ID group in the European Parliament) and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forward Italy (European People’s Party) is expected to win with 48.2%.
It is followed by the left-wing coalition of Enrico Letta led by the Democratic Party at 29.5%.
Manfred Weber, currently in Italy, told a press conference on Tuesday that those who want to be sure that the centre-right majority will be pro-Europe “must vote for Forza Italia, for Silvio Berlusconi and Antonio Tajani, who served as President of the European Parliament. I was positively surprised by the project and the final program of the centre-right coalition”.
“It is very clear that (the center-right coalition) is in favor of European integration, reiterates transatlantic cooperation with our American friends, the role in NATO and European values,” he said.
After the fall of the Draghi government, Weber wrote on Twitter: “Europe needs a stable centre-right government in Rome. Forza Italia will remain a pro-European force, and the EPP will be at its side”.
Later today, Weber will meet Berlusconi, who yesterday tried to show off the pro-EU credentials of the new center-right coalition.
“Italy is a founding country of the European Union. Europe is our common homeland; our Christian and liberal principles were born here. We can only be pro-European, without hesitation and until the end,” Berlusconi said on social media.
Orbán is waiting around?
However, European progressives do not share the same view and see huge risks for the European project.
In a interview With EURACTIV Italy, Udo Bullmann, a German MEP from the Social Democratic SPD and former S&D leader, said the EPP had always struggled to make a clear distinction with the far right.
According to Bullmann, a “radical right” government in Italy could open the door to an “orbanisation” of democracy in a founding state of the EU, “returning us to the illiberal economic past, strengthening the illiberal sides of society and digging inequalities “.
Another critical element is the role of the Hungarian Prime Minister, friend of the Kremlin, Viktor Orbán, whose Fidesz party belonged to the EPP before a bitter division.
At a meeting in Rome last April, Lega leader Matteo Salvini – who rang with Meloni – found himself in “full agreement” with Orbán on creating a new “centre-right” to fight the rising socialists across Europe.