Even if populist and nationalist forces are establishing themselves in Europe, though, it’s not clear that Bannon has had anything to do with it. Indeed, his Brussels-based think tank—known simply as the Movement—has largely been a stillborn effort, stymied by limited buy-in from European partners, as well as stringent laws barring financial contributions from foreign sources. A separate effort to establish a so-called alt-right academy to train the next generation of nationalist populist leaders faced its own challenges this week when the school was barred from the ancient Italian monastery in which it was to be housed.
But perhaps the greatest inhibitor of Bannon’s success in Europe has been the very far-right parties he has professed to support. Though the former Donald Trump strategist has appeared alongside some of Europe’s most high-profile far-right leaders—from Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally in France, to Matteo Salvini, the head of the League and Italy’s erstwhile interior minister—few have agreed to unite under his nationalist banner. The Sweden Democrats expressed “no interest” in Bannon’s project. Vlaams Belang, a Flemish nationalist party, called the effort “poorly organized.” The Alternative for Germany said the interests of Europe’s anti-establishment parties are too “divergent” to be united.
Read: Why Trump turned on Steve Bannon
The most common refrain among those skeptical of Bannon’s plans is that he simply isn’t European. In their eyes, “he remains an American,” Jean-Yves Camus, a French political scientist and a co-author of Far-Right Politics in Europe, told me. “And you have to remember that several parties on the extreme right of the political spectrum are pretty much anti-American. They always criticize U.S. imperialism and U.S. foreign policy.”
But it’s not just Bannon’s Americanness that makes some European nationalist parties resistant to working with him. Their reluctance also stems from what is perceived as a fundamental misunderstanding of the way these parties work. Though many of Europe’s far-right movements are united in their shared views on immigration, the economy, and the role and future of the European Union, these beliefs don’t always manifest themselves in the same political goals. Despite hopes that they would be a dominant force in the European Parliament after elections this May, right-wing populist parties instead had to settle for forming the fifth-largest grouping in the legislature—their national priorities took precedence over any broader project. (The current far-right grouping, led by Salvini, failed, for example, to persuade Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz to join it.)
“You simply cannot build an alliance of all the mainstream right-[wing] conservative and extreme-right political parties,” Camus said. “You cannot have Orbán and Salvini and Le Pen and so on sitting on the same bench.”