Italy’s Interior Minister, as well as its Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, is the most vivid example of the “Trumpification” of politics in Europe. His ‘League’ party, known for its tough stance against Muslim illegal immigration, may still be the junior partner in Italy’s year-old populist coalition government, but it’s long been clear that Salvini is the one who is calling the shots.
The Atlantic And so his meetings Monday in Washington with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will only strengthen his grip on Italy, and possibly lead to closer ties between Rome and the Donald Trump administration.
The visit may even give Salvini the external support that he needs to break with his coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, leading to early elections as soon as this fall, in which Salvini’s League Party would place first, according to recent polls.
Salvini truly is a man of the people, drawing Trump-scale crowds wherever he goes:
That would bring a right wing government to power in the heart of Europe for the first time since World War II, with significant ramifications for European policies on immigration and economics. But even without fresh elections, Salvini is already the one setting the agenda in Italy, and to a certain extent in Europe, where he’s become a beacon for the far right.
Although institutional protocol prevents Salvini from formally meeting Trump—as deputy prime minister, he’ll meet his counterpart, Pence—the visit more than symbolically places Salvini in the company of other “strongmen” who have visited the White House this year: Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
In a news conference after his meeting with Pompeo, Salvini said the two discussed “values” and culture, and he made a case for how Italy was more in line with the Trump administration than France and Germany, both controlled by centrist governments, and could be a valuable interlocutor in Europe. “I think Italy is the biggest European country with which the United States can and wants to have a dialogue right now,” Salvini said. This may be grandiloquent, but it’s certainly true that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel aren’t on the same page as Trump.
A devoted admirer of Trump, Salvini, two years ago, changed his party’s motto to “Italians first” after taking over the leadership of the League in 2013. He’s transformed it from a separatist party that wants more tax autonomy for the wealthier Italian north into a national sovereignist party that has been conquering the center and south of Italy with its message of lower taxes and Italy “for Italians,” and its promises to protect Italy’s borders from what Salvini calls an invasion of illegal immigration.
What the proposed wall with Mexico is to Trump, Italy’s ports are to Salvini, and he’s made a dramatic point of closing them to illegal alien migrant boats from NGO Non-Governmental Organizations that sail around the Mediterranean picking up mostly Muslim immigrant wannabes from Africa.
This hard line has made him a point of reference for right-wing politicians across Europe, including the National Rally of Marine Le Pen, in France. Salvini has long admired Le Pen, but in recent months the tables have turned, and she’s now benefiting from his success.
Adoring crowds surround Salvini at this pro-life, pro-family address at the Worlds Congress Of Families.
Salvini’s success, like Trump’s, also stems from the lack of a coherent political opposition. The Italian left is weak and divided, and has struggled to provide a convincing counter-narrative to Salvini’s.
Like Trump, Salvini is a master communicator on social media and in piazzas, Salvini mixes anti-Muslim migration rhetoric and “common sense” economics and holds a lot of rallies— which helped the League win 34 percent in elections for the European Parliament last month, more than double its showing in national elections a year earlier. The League has also been sweeping regional elections across Italy.
Salvini and Pompeo “reiterated the value of the United States’ longstanding relationship with Italy, including as NATO Allies and members of the G7” group of advanced economies, the US State Department said.
He focused instead on a “shared vision” with the Trump administration of “Iran, Venezuela, Libya, the situation in the Middle East, Israel’s right to exist” and “concerns about Chinese arrogance towards Europe and the African continent.” “Between Italy, the United States, Israel, Brazil, Poland and Hungary, there is a closeness in their vision of the world, of rights and values,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has hailed Italy’s Salvini as ‘great friend of Israel.’