Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and other European populists try to make common cause
TWO ghosts haunted a “counter-summit” of Europe’s nationalist leaders in the German city of Koblenz on January 21st: Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. To the 1,000-odd visitors in attendance, most of them supporters of the anti-establishment Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Mrs Merkel epitomised everything that is rotten in Europe: out of touch, elitist and besotted with immigrants. (Chants of “Merkel must go!” punctuated the day’s speeches.) The energy of Mr Trump’s inauguration the previous day, by contrast, crackled through the proceedings. “Last year the wind began to turn,” said Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party. “It brought us the victory of Donald Trump!” The crowd cheered and whooped—for if America, why not Europe?
Koblenz brought together the leaders of populist, nationalist parties from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere under the banner of the “Europe of Nations and Freedom,” their collective grouping in the European Parliament. That in itself was unusual: feuds and personality clashes have long marred attempts by these groups to find common cause. But although parties like France’s National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, and Austria’s Freedom Party are well established, they are surfing a new wave of success; several of the parties at the summit are leading polls in their respective countries. Plainly, they see themselves at the vanguard of a movement.
The leaders did not need to strain to find common themes. It was a familiar set of tunes, from attacks on unaccountable elites to Brussels-bashing to fear-mongering about African birth rates. Mr Wilders, fresh from a criminal conviction for inciting racial discrimination, delivered his usual absurdity-flecked attack on immigrants, declaring at one point that European blondes are growing afraid to show their hair for fear of being attacked by immigrants.