Far-right leaders from all over Europe gathered in Spain last week to form a united front – but forging a common platform on issues like Russia is proving tricky.
Under the slogan “Defend Europe”, representatives of far-right nationalist parties in Eastern Europe and the Balkans attended a summit in Madrid late last week aiming to forge a common voice in the European Parliament.
Leaders of parties from Hungary and Poland in Central Europe and from Romania and Bulgaria in the Balkans were present alongside Vox party host Santiago Abascal and including two prime ministers, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki.
Representatives from Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Estonia, and Lithuania were also present at the event, as was French presidential candidate Marine le Pen, head of the National Rally.
The co-president of Romania’s right-wing Alliance for the Union of Romanians, AUR, George Simion, told BIRN he attended on the sidelines but did not participate, as the meeting was primarily for parties with seats in the European Parliament.
“The parties that have MEPs met there. But on the summit’s sidelines, we collaborated,” he said.
Spain is the second biggest destination for Romanian emigrant workers, hosting about one million people from the Balkan country. AUR is currently polling at around 20 per cent of the polls after the party entered Romania’s parliament in December 2020.
Bulgaria was represented in Madrid by European Parliamentarian Angel Djambazki, from IMRO, well known in Bulgaria for his socially conservative and anti-LGBT views, and for his criticism of plans to warm up relationships with neighbour North Macedonia and stop blocking its EU ascension talks.
“There’s a war in Europe against national countries,” Djambazki claimed in Madrid, referencing trends towards multiculturalism. He was joined in Spain by longtime IMRO leader Krassimir Karakachanov, Minister of Defence, between 2017 and 2021, and also known for inflammatory remarks through his time in office.
Formerly part of the United Patriots group that was in a ruling coalition with the centre-right GERB party between 2017-2021, IMRO is currently out of Bulgaria’s government.
Vox leader Santi Abascal wrote on Twitter that the goal was to “defend Europe” from a combination of communism, Islam and globalists. “It is we who defend Europe. We will not allow the hammer-and-sickle flag to be raised, nor the crescent flag, nor the dark flag of the globalist elites,” he wrote.
Besides decrying the LBGT community and Muslim migrants and cheering traditional family values, many of the parties in Madrid have strong connections with the World Congress of Families, which mainly campaigns against abortion and women’s rights. Its main sponsors are Konstantin Malofeyev and Vladimir Yakunin, two Russian oligarchs with ties to the Kremlin who finance Russia-friendly and Christian Orthodox initiatives in former Soviet countries and in the West.
Against immigration and federalism
One political aim of the summit was to forge a joint stance on immigration and sovereignty and strike an alliance in the Parliament, where the political right is split between the Identity and Democracy group, ID, and the more moderate European Conservatives and Reformists, ECR.
Participants argued that the European Community, the EU’s ancestor, was forged as an area of free cooperation between sovereign states. In their joint declaration on Saturday, they called for an EU that is not “alien to its history” and is moving away from the “Christian European ideals” on which it was founded. They denounced the EU’s current policies on migration, slamming the FRONTEX border force as well.
“There is a growing threat that seeks to transform the Union into an ideologically charged federalist super-state; a corporation which disregards national identity and sovereignty, and therefore the democracy, plurality and the interests of citizens,” the final joint declaration said.
The far-right leaders also denounced the “politically motivated attacks” on Hungary and Poland, which “demonstrates a complete disregard of basic EU principles and violates the spirit of the Treaties”.
Poland and Hungary are trying to form a joint front against the threat of European Commission sanctions for perceived democratic backsliding.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the participants “have shown that there is a different future for Europe, based on sovereign states, not on any centralised structure”.
Poland and Hungary have long advocated a “pro-sovereignty” line inside the EU, pushing back against EU intervention in how they shape domestic policy.
Tough dilemma over Russia
Turning to Russia’s military build-up on the Ukrainian border, the leaders pledged to “work to ensure that the nations of Europe act in solidarity in the face of the threat of external aggression”.
Before the summit, referencing the pro-Russian views of many far-right parties, Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk, from Civic Platform, urged Morawiecki not to align Poland with “pro-Putin, anti-Ukrainian” leaders.
Poland’s governing conservative PiS has generally maintained a staunch anti-Russian line, which observers say has been a serious obstacle to unity among the European far-right.
Morawiecki tried to appease those critical domestic voices, pointing out that the final declaration in Madrid included a condemnation of Russian aggression.
According to the Polish Press Agency, the declaration originally said: “Russian military operations on the eastern border of Europe have led us to the brink of war” and called for “solidarity, determination and defence cooperation in the face of such threats”.
Spanish daily La Vanguardia first wrote that the agreement on blaming Russia for the escalation must have been uncomfortable for Hungary’s PM Orban. But the original tough wording was not passed due to the intervention of France’s Marine Le Pen.
The press secretary of Hungary’s Orban, who has good relations Russia, stressed that the accent of the Madrid Summit was not on Russia but on the protection of European culture and Christianity.
Orban specifically argued in a Facebook post that the conference participants were most concerned also with high energy prices, resulting from Brussels’ climate policies. Rising energy prices were making millions of families and whole countries bankrupt, he said, and EU green politics must be stopped.
In his Facebook post, Organ ignored the military escalation at the Russian-Ukrainian border but in a press statement later, pleaded for peace and de-escalation.
The disputes over Russia and other issues in Madrid indicate that political cooperation between all members of the far right in Europe may not be viable.
Notably, Orban’s Italian ally, Matteo Salvini, pulled out of the meeting. Another potential Italian partner, Giorgia Meloni, was not present either.