Interview conducted by Olivier Bault for the magazine Do Rzeczy: “Italy closer to the V4?”
An interview with Max Ferrari, journalist, international affairs expert for the Italian party Lega, and advisor to the President of the Region of Lombardy, Attilio Fontana. This interview was published in the Polish weekly Do Rzeczy on 1 October 2018 and translated with the kind permission of its editors.
Olivier Bault: When they met at the end of August in Milan, Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orbán gave the impression that they were speaking to the EU with one voice, particularly concerning immigration and their relationship with Brussels and French President Emmanuel Macron. But is the position of the Minister of the Interior really that of the Italian government? There were some in the Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S) who said that it was not. For example, the President of the M5S group in the Senate referred to it as just a “political meeting”.
Max Ferrari: It is true that this was not an intergovernmental summit, and that Matteo Salvini was expressing the point of view of the League and not necessarily of the Italian government. However, one cannot ignore the fact that Salvini is both the leader of the League and the Deputy Prime Minister. It is not possible to separate those functions completely. It is also as Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister that he met the Hungarian Prime Minister.
Furthermore, opinion polls are showing increasing support for the League, which has overtaken its coalition partner to take first place in the polls. The impression is the same when one speaks to people on the street. Both within the government and outside it, what Salvini is doing in relation to immigration is winning significant support, including within the M5S. The right wing of that party, which has views closer to those of the League, is becoming more and more dominant.
Concerning immigration policy, the major difference between the League and the M5S concerns the relocation of migrants. The M5S is for it, while the League – like the Hungarian government and its partners in the V4 – wants to stop illegal immigration completely. We realise that accepting relocation would send out the wrong signal. We therefore well understand the V4 countries when they reject this mechanism. We know very well that the reason is not egoism or racism. In this area, the League is closer to Orbán than is the M5S.
The League also traditionally focuses more on what is happening in Central Europe. We are strongly engaged in the Mediterranean, where we are in a certain sense in frontal opposition to French interests, as we want Italy once again to become an important player in the region. We want to have a presence in Libya and we want to speak directly to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the North African countries so as to be able to manage the situation in the Mediterranean independently of Macron.
But on the other hand, the “head” of the Italian peninsula is deeply anchored in the Central European system. Our northern neighbours are Austria and Hungary, and also further to the North, countries like Poland. We must find a way to cooperate with Central Europe and to create together a new European Union based on our principles, not those of the left.
Olivier Bault: Does the League, which now sits in the European Parliament alongside France’s Marine Le Pen, want to reform the EU after the next elections with the help of Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice party?
Max Ferrari: Personally, I think that Fidesz in Hungary and Kaczyński’s party in Poland are a lot like the League. In the League, we hope to succeed in finding a formula to cooperate officially with Fidesz and Law and Justice after the European elections. In Italy, nobody would consider such a coalition of so-called “populist” parties to be anything strange. We do not see the qualification “populist” as an insult. On the contrary, the word has quite positive connotations, as it means that we act for the benefit of our people.
Therefore, it would be good if we could sit in the same group in the European Parliament and work together to revive the EU. We do not want to see the end of the European Union. We want to profoundly transform it so as to preserve cooperation while respecting the sovereignty of our countries.
Olivier Bault: Has the League not spoken in the past of taking Italy out of the EU?
Max Ferrari: That was rather media speculation. I would not pretend that such words were never spoken during any of our press conferences. Our relations with the current EU, which we do not like, might sometimes have been expressed in a rather simplified way. However, we never wanted to destroy our common European home. We are aware that some problems can only be solved together. But we also want to do a lot of things in an autonomous and sovereign way. Therefore I think that, with people who think like we do, we will be able to find a good balance between cooperation and sovereignty. This is most certainly possible, but to achieve it, we must overcome the leftist fanatics who currently lead the European Union against the European nations.
Olivier Bault: From the Polish perspective, it is important to know how the Italian government will behave in the sanctions procedure against Poland, initiated by the European Commission in relation to the reform of the judicial institutions. How do you think the Italian government will vote if there is a vote at the European Council? Will Rome be on the side of Brussels or Warsaw?
Max Ferrari: I cannot answer that. I can only give an assurance that the League will be with Poland, as in Italy we also have to deal with leftists who try to use judges to change the results of elections. Everyone could see how Salvini became the target of judges, supported by the left, because he started to defend our borders. We do respect the law, but we believe that the judges, for their part, should respect the voice of the nation. But concerning the Italian government as a whole, I cannot predict how the M5S will behave.
Olivier Bault: Is the Minister of Foreign Affairs – an independent – closer to the League or to the M5S?
Max Ferrari: He is a technocrat. Do not ask me why he was chosen for this position. Nevertheless, we can see that Salvini is also acting as a foreign minister. He has met Orbán, he has been to Israel, to Egypt, to Russia, he has met the American John Bolton [President Trump’s National Security Advisor, ed.]. Our enemies pretended that the League would never be recognised abroad, but thanks to Salvini, that recognition is becoming a reality.
Olivier Bault: What does the League think about the Law and Justice party in Poland?
Max Ferrari: We are observing events in Poland very carefully. Poland is currently the flagship of changes. She has carried out many social reforms that are really populist in the best sense of the word: policies to help families, an increase in the minimum wage, and so on. That is why we are looking very carefully at the way Law and Justice is ruling today, and I can tell you that, when I talk about Poland with the League’s deputies and senators, they are aware of what Poland is doing, of her reforms, of her natalist policy. Poland’s good practices are known in Italy, and Poland is perceived as a model.
Olivier Bault: The problem that Law and Justice has with the Italian League is the same as with the French Front National: its relationship with Russia is considered too favourable toward Vladimir Putin. What, in fact, are the League’s positions on NATO and relations with the USA and Russia?
Max Ferrari: The answer is very simple: as we feel a deep respect for the sovereignty of nations, we do not want to be involved in the problems between Poland and Russia. Those problems concern both of those countries and it is their duty to resolve them. From our point of view, the threat is not the nationalist and populist Russia, but the radical Islamists and the new communist terrorists. I am speaking here of numerous appeals for an armed rebellion against Salvini that have been formulated by the Italian radical left. We do not take these lightly, as we have not forgotten the terrorism of the Red Brigades in the 1970s. In this context, we do not see Russia as a potential aggressor. However, we do attach importance to our full membership of NATO. Our goal is to act as a mediator between the NATO and Russia, like Silvio Berlusconi did when he organised a NATO–Russian summit in 2002 during George Bush’s presidency, which I attended. We want mutual cooperation, and we think that this would be good for Europe and, more generally, for Eurasia. We understand the position of Poland, but as far as her problems with Russia are concerned, we consider them none of our business.
Olivier Bault: So the League does not wish to leave NATO?
Max Ferrari: No, that has never been part of our programme.
Olivier Bault: Does that mean that the alliance with the United States remains important for the League?
Max Ferrari: Absolutely! In the past, the League had a problematic relationship not with the USA itself, but with the Clinton and Obama administrations, which were close to the left and to the former communists in Italy. But now, our relations with the American president and with the USA are excellent. In my opinion, Salvini is one of America’s best allies in Europe, and that is also how he is seen by the Trump administration.
Olivier Bault: If there were new elections soon, would the League again ally itself with the centre-right Forza Italia and the nationalists of Fratelli dʼItalia? Do you share the same foreign policy vision as those parties?
Max Ferrari: I can simply tell you – and this is no secret – that many members of parliament and local councillors from other right-wing parties are asking to join the League. We do not court them, and we don’t even need to. There are even some on the centre-left who are coming over to us. We will see what the future brings, but this is evidence that we will see some kind of consolidation of the right, the emergence of a party that brings together the different tendencies, and the League might well be that party.
Translated by the Visegrád Post.