Europe’s far-right and nationalist leaders to meet in Spain on Friday

Hungary and Poland's leaders and France's Marine Le Pen will be in Madrid on Friday for a gathering of nationalist and far-right leaders, Spain's Vox party leader Santigo Abascal said on Wednesday.

far right leaders meet in spain
Poland's Mateusz Morawiecki, Spain's Santiago Abascal, France's Marine Le Pen and Hungary's Viktor Orban will all be present at the Madrid summit. Photos: Attila KISBENEDEK, OSCAR DEL POZO, STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP

The meeting comes two months after a similar gathering in Warsaw in December, with the follow-up organised by the far-right Vox, which is the third-largest party in Spain’s parliament.

“The aim is to continue the work begun at the Warsaw Summit: to defend Europe against external and internal threats by promoting an alternative to the globalist trend which threatens the European Union by attacking the sovereignty of nations,” said Vox leader Santiago Abascal.

Among delegates attending the two-day summit which begins on Friday are Hungarian premier Viktor Orban, his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, far-right leader Le Pen, a candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election, as well as far-right leaders from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and The Netherlands.

In July, Le Pen, Orban, Abascal, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and a dozen others signed a joint declaration announcing plans for a “grand alliance” in the European Parliament whose aim was to “reform Europe”.

Salvini, leader of Italy’s anti-immigration League, was notably absent from the Warsaw gathering and will also not be attending the Madrid talks.

In December, the parties discussed joint votes on sovereignty and immigration issues in the European Parliament but stopped short of striking a formal alliance.

The right-wing and pro-sovereignty parties fall into two distinct groups within the European Parliament: the Identity and Democracy Group, to which Le Pen’s National Rally and Salvini’s League belong, while the other is the European Conservatives and Reformists Group which groups Vox and Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party among others.

Last March, Orban’s Fidesz left the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest group in the European Parliament, and is looking for a new home.

Both Poland and Hungary have been locked in a dispute with Brussels over their perceived backsliding on EU democratic norms, and are fighting a mechanism linking payment of EU funds to the rule of law.

Last year, both filed complaints with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the mechanism with a ruling expected on February 16.

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Spain briefly arrests Catalan MEP on return from exile

Catalan politician Clara Ponsati, a leading figure in her region's failed bid to gain independence, on Tuesday returned to Spain from five years in exile and was briefly arrested despite having immunity as an MEP.

Spain briefly arrests Catalan MEP on return from exile

The 66-year-old was released by a judge and summoned to appear at the Supreme Court on April 24th over “prosecution for a crime of disobedience,” the court said.

Ponsati does not risk prison, however, owing to legal reforms in Spain, where Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has adopted a strategy of dialogue with the moderate separatists and pardoning those involved in the independence bid.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, Ponsati and fellow MEP Toni Comín led efforts by Catalonia’s separatist regional government to stage an independence referendum in October 2017 despite a ban by Madrid. The vote was marred by police violence.

Several weeks later, the Catalan administration issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering a political crisis that prompted Puigdemont and several others to flee.

“I have come to denounce the systematic violation of our rights,” Ponsati told a news conference in Barcelona, a few hours after entering Spain from France by car.

Puigdemont denounced her “illegal arrest” on Twitter.

Ponsati, who fled Spain along with Puigdemont, first lived in Belgium and then in Scotland where she taught economics at the University of St Andrews.

Scotland dropped a Spanish request for her extradition after her election to the European Parliament in 2019 and subsequent move to Belgium.