BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 19th September, 2018) Steve Bannon, a former adviser to US President Donald Trump, is the talk of the town not only in New York, where activists are protesting the right-wing advocate's appearance in a live debate set up by liberal UK weekly The Economist, but also in Europe where he is launching The Movement, a foundation and "club" expected to unite the populists of the hard right.
The Economist refused to withdraw its invitation for Bannon to participate in the newspaper's Open Future Festival. On Saturday, the former White House chief strategist was interviewed via video link by Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor-in-chief of the UK newspaper. Protesters gathered next to the magazine's New York office to express their frustration with the outlet's decision to proceed with the interview.
Earlier in September, The New Yorker magazine reconsidered its plan to have a live interview with Bannon at its own festival. The magazine made the decision as it faced backlash from a number of journalists, who feared that the interview would give too big a platform for Bannon's views.
Meanwhile, the preparations to launch Bannon's The Movement are progressing in Europe, ahead of the European Parliament election on May 23-26. The organization has already been registered, but it has yet to fully take shape. Bannon has promised to be fully active in developing his movement in Brussels, from November onward, after the US midterm elections.
On September 8, Bannon and his closest ally in Europe, Mischael Modrikamen, the chairman of the small Belgian Parti Populaire (PP), flew discreetly by private jet from Brussels to Rome and then to Budapest, where they met Matteo Salvini, the head of the Italian Lega and the Italian interior minister. Bannon also met with Prime Minister of Hungary and head of the Fidesz party Viktor Orban.
This came on the heels of an August meeting between Salvini and Orban, who pledged to promote anti-migration policy.
BRINGING DIFFERENT GROUPS TOGETHER
"Our Movement is conceived as a 'club,' that will collect funds from donors, in America and Europe, to make sure the 'populist' ideas can be heard by the citizens of Europe who perceive more and more that Europe is not a democracy anymore. Important sums have already been collected," Modrikamen told Sputnik.
However, next to the financing of the populist parties at European level, the main question is, what will be the program that members of the club will defend? Populist parties in Europe have different profiles: some are more liberal than others, some believe in a form of European unity and others do not.
The Movement intends to bring together parties that might be rivals in their own countries, to make itself into "a club and a think tank at the disposal of the parties participating, from all over Europe," the Belgian politician explained.
"We are really open-minded and could very well see different parties as members, from the same country where they are competing with each other: why not see, next to the [France's National Rally] RN of Marine Le Pen, the party of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, [Debout la France,] or The Republicans of [Laurent] Wauquiez?" Modrikamen said.
In the Netherlands, this club could welcome both Party for Freedom, headed by Geert Wilders, and Forum for Democracy, led by Thierry Baudet. In Italy, it would bring together Lega and Brothers of Italy.
"The idea is to analyze the evolving situation, with studies and polls in the different member states, on the real questions that worry citizens, not the lies and 'fake news' spread by the traditional political parties and their friends in the media," Modrikamen said.
According to Modrikamen, who is heading The Movement in Bannon's absence, all parties are likely to have three topics on which they agree.
"We are all sovereigntists and the common basic points on which there is unanimity and on which we want to build The Movement are: The fight against uncontrolled immigration; the fight against Islamism, for a real security on the continent; and a Europe of sovereign nations, proud of their identity," the Belgian politician said.
"The problem of the populist parties [in the parliament] is the fact that the traditional parties have vowed to strangle the so-called Eurosceptic, or worse even 'Europhobic parties' by cutting their financial support. All parties represented in the European Parliament benefit from relatively generous subsidies if they manage to form a 'group' representing at least seven European national parties (present or not in the European parliament), with a minimum of 25 MEPs [members of the European Parliament]," Lebreton, who belongs to the French RN, said.
According to the parliament member, the attacks on those who oppose the current state of affairs "have been relentless and scandalously biased for years."
"The ADDE, the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe, of parties like the British Nigel Farage (UKIP) and Nicolas Dupont Aignan (Debout la France!) have seen their financing cut by three-quarters for having organized polls in different European countries with respectable polling agencies. The ultras of the European Parliament (in this case the Greens) considered this as a way to influence the vote of the Brits, during the weeks leading to the Brexit referendum. It is ridiculous. Now they have turned to Marine Le Pen and our parties, with ludicrous accusations, so to me the most important thing that Bannon could do is secure financing for the populist parties, from private donors, at European level," Lebreton said.
Modrikamen has also expressed concern over the traditional parties' wish to "dry every financial source of the populist parties quickly, ahead of the campaign for the European elections next year."
Bannon's foundation is expected to help right-wing groups with polling and research, and give them campaign advice.