The Far Right Wants to Take Over Europe, and She’s Leading the Way

“There’s just one question on voting day. Do you want an Islamized Europe or a European Europe?”

This stark choice was posed by Marion Maréchal, a rising star of the French far right, at the launch of her party’s campaign for the European elections in June. In an incendiary speech, she spoke of a Europe under siege from “many foreign powers and Islamist organizations profiting from anarchic immigration in their efforts at destabilization, subverting our youth, organizing something like a Fifth Column in our countries and recruiting deadly jihadist soldiers.” She was joined by a stream of speakers bewailing a European project hijacked by L.G.B.T.Q. activists, environmental fanatics and anti-Western ideologues.

Yet for all the apocalyptic anger, this wasn’t a call to quit the European Union. While Ms. Maréchal’s Reconquest party sulfurously accuses elites of orchestrating a Great Replacement of Christians by Muslims, it seeks its own place in the corridors of power. Across the continent, the aim of far-right parties like hers is not to exit the bloc but, increasingly, to take it over. In this project, they have a model: Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy.

Ms. Meloni is already an inspiration to the European far right. As the head of the right-wing coalition in Italy, she has overseen attacks on L.G.B.T.Q. groups and migrant-rescue organizations, a takeover of the public broadcaster and a continuing attempt to change the Constitution to expand executive power. But it’s on the continent where she has really distinguished herself. Combining staunch Atlanticism — commitment to NATO and Ukrainian defense alike — with relentless opposition to immigration and climate policy, she has become a major force in Europe. For the European far right, poised for an advance, Ms. Meloni is leading the way.

Since coming to power in October 2022, Ms. Meloni has impressed many with her pragmatic approach and abandonment of her previous criticism of the European Union. In Brussels, she has developed a reputation for skillful diplomacy. She was christened an “Orban whisperer,” for example, after helping talk the prime minister of Hungary out of vetoing further E.U. aid to Ukraine this year. Viktor Orban’s change of mind didn’t come without a cost — the European Commission also released 10.2 billion euros, or $10.8 billion, of previously withheld funds for his government — but Ms. Meloni was still crucial to winning him around.

Such diplomatic success has led some to suggest that Ms. Meloni is not falling in line but actually setting the agenda. In a report widely seen in Italy, Fareed Zakaria on CNN hailed “Meloni’s moment” in Europe, comparing her position with the leading role previously played by Angela Merkel, Germany’s former chancellor. On economic policy, the claim is overblown; Italy’s economy, though growing, isn’t staking out new territory. But the comparison is not without merit. In several areas, Rome is giving Brussels direction.

For one, Ms. Meloni has been at the forefront of plans to further outsource the bloc’s border policing to autocratic North African countries. In July last year, she was in Tunisia to announce a deal to curb migration across the Mediterranean; last month, she did the same in Egypt. Both times she was flanked by Europe’s top official and president of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who in January gave her blessing to Ms. Meloni’s broader vision for E.U.-Africa relations. Even as the bloc agrees on new rules for processing migrants once they reach the continent, Italy is working to ensure they never arrive in the first place.

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