On 17 September, I attended the annual meeting of the League, the party led by Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, in Pontida (Bergamo). Salvini’s party has 66 MPs in the Italian parliament, and is one of the three political forces in the right-wing governing majority. The meeting marked the launch of the campaign for the European elections and was attended by Marine Le Pen, President of the Rassemblement National, France’s leading far-right party with 88 elected members in the National Assembly. The alliance between Le Pen and Salvini marks a distance between the identitarian right of Matteo Salvini and the far-right represented by Giorgia Meloni, who defines herself as a conservative right-winger. After Le Pen and Salvini’s meeting, I interviewed Marine Le Pen on the issues of migration, European alliances and Europe.
By Anna Bonalume
What is the priority of your alliance with Matteo Salvini and his political party, the League?
The priority of my alliance with Salvini is to guarantee freedom, freedoms, in other words the freedom of peoples to decide for themselves. And today the European Union is preventing the freedom of peoples to decide for themselves.
What freedoms are you referring to?
The freedoms endangered by the European Union. The European Union should be a structure for nations to cooperate with each other on major issues, but it cannot unilaterally undermine our vital interests as peoples through a form of power that is constantly increasing, as the European Commission grants itself. By doing away with internal combustion engines and risking the collapse of our car industry, by imposing immigration that the people have not chosen. All these issues. It’s freedom and therefore democracy. There is no democracy if the will of the people cannot be expressed freely and if their will, when it is expressed, is not respected.
If, as you say, the European Union is endangering the freedom of the people and therefore democracy, are you planning to leave the EU in a referendum, as you have proposed in the past, to guarantee respect for democratic freedoms?
But why? Why would I do that?
Because you say that the European Union prevents democracy!
Madam, when you are confronted with someone who is giving himself powers to which he has no right, what do you do? You put them in their place. You put them back in the context of the powers that have been delegated to them. You tell him that he cannot go beyond that. Why break everything, why break the whole system? We just need to re-establish the rules and reorientate the European Union. We want to reorientate the European Union from a Europe of the Commission to a Europe of the nations.
But should the Commission disappear?
If the Commission were to stay where it is, it would be a Council Secretariat.
You met Matteo Salvini and the League in Italy on Sunday. The party is currently losing ground, with 8% of voting intentions according to IPSOS Italy, whereas in the European elections it won 34% of the vote. How do you see the future of this alliance?
I’ve known the League and Matteo Salvini for a long time and I haven’t seen him change his mind. We are the League’s oldest and most loyal allies. A loyal and faithful friend is one who remains there in times of success and in times of setback. I have no fears about the future of the League or about Matteo Salvini finding his way back to political success. I’ve had too much experience in politics not to know that sometimes there are air gaps, but the important thing is to endure, unceasingly, without moving. We are not opportunists.
The League has changed radically in recent years. It has gone from being a federalist and autonomist party with the idea of getting out of the euro and the European Union to a national party that wants a stronger Italy in Europe. The League has changed its skin several times.
It hasn’t changed its skin, it’s become a major party that has a vocation to speak to the whole of Italy.
The French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin travelled to Rome to speak with his Italian counterpart. He announced that he would help Italy defend its borders and that France would not welcome the migrants who arrived on Lampedusa. In fact, he took the words right out of your mouth…
You know, Mr Darmanin…you have to wait for his latest statement. He said that on Europe 1, and four hours later he announced the creation of a reception centre in Menton, i.e. on the Italian border.
Mr Darmanin described Giorgia Meloni’s migration policy in May as a “failure”. Today the island of Lampedusa, as you would say, is overwhelmed by migrants. Do you see this as a failure?
I think the road to failure is to rely on the European Union to solve the problem, for two reasons. The first is that the European Union is in favour of mass immigration. You don’t ask a structure that is in favour of mass immigration to stop immigration! And secondly, it’s dangerous for nations to delegate responsibility in this area. It’s up to the nations to solve the problem…
Matteo Salvini closed Italian ports to the disembarkation of migrants
And he was right: the figures for arrivals have fallen drastically. Every time we show laxity in this area, it’s an extra draught of air for migrants preparing to come to Europe. We need to send out a clear signal: “we are not prepared to accept”.
How would you define Giorgia Meloni’s migration policy?
She’s calling on the European Union to push back, but in doing so she’s transferring the problem to her neighbour. We need to solve the problem at source. Nations need to put in place the conditions to stop people leaving. I have a lot of faith in an agreement between France, Spain and Italy that would make it possible to board the smugglers’ boats, take the migrants to safety and bring them back to the coasts from which they set off. Migrants must be deterred from coming. Europe’s problem is how to welcome them, but it does not respect people’s refusal to welcome them.
Even those who have the right to asylum?
The right to asylum has been totally misused. Guineans, Cameroonians, Tunisians… is there a war going on there? There’s no war over there, they’re just people who have come to make a life for themselves in Europe. We have no space, no infrastructure, no housing and we have the unemployed. For all these reasons, we have the right to refuse these migrants.
You have said that you want to leave NATO, while Giorgia Meloni in Italy wants to stay
No, I want to leave NATO’s integrated command. Italy and France are not exactly in the same situation. Italy doesn’t have an atomic bomb, but France does. This gives it independence, which allows it to participate in NATO but not to be directly in NATO’s integrated command, as Charles de Gaulle did.
One word to describe your relationship with Matteo Salvini and one to describe your relationship with Giorgia Meloni
Salvini is a dear and long-standing friend, and I have a relationship of trust with him. I have no relationship with Giorgia Meloni. I met her a few times before she became minister, when she was a young activist with Azione giovani (the youth organisation of Alliance nationale).
Did you talk to each other in French?
Yes, but we haven’t seen each other since.