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What they don’t have is a coherent vision for what Europe will look like. For instance, Meuthen said the AfD was supportive of the European Union’s unified trade policy and common market. “It’s win-win for the people,” he told me. Just minutes before, however, Salvini had said that if the alliance gained more power in the European Parliament, it might want to name European commissioners who would revisit some questions close to his party’s heart, including trade, taxes, and tourism.
Salvini had said he was there representing a grouping of parties, including Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (formerly the National Front). But afterward Meuthen told reporters that Le Pen had not yet signed on. In fact, Meuthen told Politico last year that he’d never join up with Le Pen—because of their differences on economics and because of the long shadow cast on the National Rally by its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, who has denied the scope of the Holocaust.
On Monday, it was Meuthen who answered questions about whether AfD members were Holocaust deniers. (He said they were not.) The politicians also fielded questions about whether their fearmongering about immigration had emboldened the man who opened fire at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50. (They said it did not.)
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These sovereignist parties may be loud, but they’re not necessarily strong. The biggest bloc in the European Parliament remains the European People’s Party, which includes the Christian Democratic Union of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. French President Emmanuel Macron is also trying to forge alliances for a center-left bloc in the European Parliament that would help fend off the right-wing parties. His bloc would have marriages of convenience more than total synchronicity.
For all their talk of building a new Europe and a Europe of the future, it’s hard to know whether Monday’s event was a blip on the radar, or a perfunctory press event where parties trotted out slogans that already feel stale, or whether it marks the start of a new era, one in which the ghosts of Europe’s dark 20th-century past have come back to haunt the present.
Still, it could mark a shift in the composition of the European Parliament, an institution that has over time fought for, and gained, some measure of clout when it comes to policy making in the bloc. “For the first time in the new European Parliament, there will be not a minority, but an opposition—in the sense that Salvini’s group will be against the EU from inside,” Maurizio Molinari, the editor in chief of La Stampa, a Turin daily, told me. He’s right. It would be a new chapter if the bulk of the EU’s elected representatives question the European structure itself.