European right-wing populist leaders have declared they will cooperate more closely at the European Union’s parliament in order to defend the sovereignty of the bloc’s 27 member nations.
A statement at the end of a meeting in Warsaw, Poland, fell short of a declaration to create a new alliance at the European Parliament – an idea that some of the party leaders have sought, but has so far not materialised.
However, French far-right party leader Marine Le Pen said the meeting was “a key step” towards closer cooperation.
“It’s a step forward that is very welcome and allows me to be very optimistic about the future,” Ms Le Pen said.
The party leaders agreed to meet at least every two months at the European Parliament, while another meeting is planned in Spain in two months “to continue to move forward on strengthening and creating that big European force”, Ms Le Pen added.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s nationalist ruling party, hosted the meeting, which was also attended by Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal.
The event follows a joint declaration by 16 right-wing parties in July and a visit by Ms Le Pen to Budapest in October.
The governments of the two central European nations remain locked in a bitter stand-off with the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, which is withholding funds to both countries over democratic backsliding.
Warsaw and Budapest argue that the commission is taking a step that never was laid out in any EU treaties.
The statement Saturday said the populists need a model of cooperation to “put a stop to the disturbing idea of creating a Europe governed by a self-appointed elite”.
“We reject the arbitrary application of union law, bending or even violating the treaties. Only the sovereign institutions of the states have full democratic legitimacy,” it added.
The EU retracted it after a backlash from conservatives and the Vatican.
Citing that incident, the populists said they objected to attempts “to ideologically alter our languages is a way which will detach a human being from their culture and heritage”.
Wojciech Przybylski, editor-in-chief of Visegrad Insight, a policy journal focused on Central Europe, said there is a paradox in a “transnational meeting of nationalist parties”.
He thinks the Warsaw event was organised so the party leaders can show their voters “they are not alone”.
Both the Hungarian and Polish ruling parties, he noted, are “in deep trouble”, with Mr Orban’s Fidesz party forced to leave the main group of conservatives at the European Parliament and Poland’s governing populists seeing a drop in popularity at home.
The Poles’ welcome of Ms Le Pen marks a recent change of heart for Poland’s governing conservatives, who had long refused to cooperate with the French presidential candidate due to her warm relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Ms Le Pen’s stance has been a taboo in Poland, a country long dominated by Russian and Soviet rule.
“We have as much in common with Ms Le Pen as with Mr Putin,” Mr Kaczynski remarked in 2017.
As Saturday’s meeting opened in a hotel, a small group of protesters outside blew whistles and yelled accusations that the leaders were extremists serving the interests of the Kremlin.
The demonstrators held signs saying “Russian pact”, and chanted: “Warsaw free from fascism!”
Polish party officials defended the meeting with Ms Le Pen, arguing that Europe’s mainstream leaders have done much more than Ms Le Pen to help the Kremlin – citing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has been supported by outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel.