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Will populists unite to blight the EU?

Alan MacKenzie
January 17, 2019

With their figurehead in Washington, are Europe's populists bringing the Trump playbook to the EU? Mischael Modrikamen is working with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon to unite them with their group, 'The Movement.'

Belgien Politiker Mischael Modrikamen
Image: DW

Mischael Modrikamen on Conflict Zone

The director of a group set up to support populist parties in the upcoming EU elections has told DW their politics are not damaging the social fabric and that their movement is a "worldwide club."

Mischael Modrikamen, who is working with Donald Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon as the director of their group, "The Movement," denied that populists were damaging society by stirring up anger and polarizing political debate.

"The biggest damage has been created by the elites or the so-called elites to the ordinary guy for the last 20 or 30 years," Modrikamen told host Tim Sebastian on DW's top political interview program Conflict Zone.

"We are bringing damages to the elites, to the establishment as it is today," said the Belgian lawyer and politician.

Globalist project

How Modrikamen’s group plans to turn this damage into electoral success is vague – "wherever it would be permissible and possible and wherever there would be a demand, we would be helping," he says on their aims – but Bannon has made clear he sees Brussels as the next battleground, calling it the "beating heart of the globalist project."

Italien Steve Bannon in Rom
"If I drive the stake through the vampire [of Brussels], the whole thing will start to dissipate," says former Trump strategist Steve BannonImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/ANSA/M. Percossi

Did they want to cripple the world’s largest trading bloc?

"This doesn't mean that we want to bring down totally the EU. We want it at least to be reformed. If it can't be reformed it has to be indeed abandoned," Modrikamen told Tim Sebastian.

"As far as it was technicalities and so on, nobody really cared. We were happy to live within this EU framework," said Modrikamen. "But the moment that they decide who should get in and get out of Europe … That in Warsaw or in Budapest they should accept migrants, you know, Muslim migrants, without being checked and so on, that they don't want, then they become real imperialists. So they are shooting themselves in the foot."

Recruitment drive

In September, Italian Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the anti-immigrant League party, Matteo Salvini, joined The Movement as a founder member.

"He showed, like Trump did, that whenever you are in power you can change things. Everybody said, 'we can't stop the migrants getting in' and so on, and Salvini said, 'we are blocking the harbors. Nobody will get in anymore.' … It's action and that's why he's an icon," said Modrikamen.

But The Movement has so far been unsuccessful in recruiting other high-profile figures.

In August 2018, the group was rebuffed by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, whose co-leader Alexander Gauland said, "We are not America," and that the interests of Europe's anti-establishment parties were "quite divergent."

Deutschland AfD - Europawahlversammlung in Riesa | Alexander Gauland
Steve Bannon was spurned by AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland but Modrikamen says it is a matter of time before there is an official meeting with the partyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

Modrikamen told Conflict Zone this information was out of date and there had been many meetings between his group and the AfD since then: "It's a question of time before they will come officially to the meeting."

Czech President Milos Zeman, a supporter of Donald Trump, also rejected The Movement's advances, which Modrikamen said was down to a clash of interests, not vision: "It focused immediately on a totally different issue from Europe and sovereignism and populism … The meeting focused on the relation with China. And you know that Bannon and America are fighting hard Chinese imperialism, while some countries like the Czech Republic are being, or willing to be, a port of entry for China in Europe."

Black or white?

And with Donald Trump as the putative leader of the populist movement, Sebastian confronted Modrikamen over the US president's contested public statements.

"I don't think that he [Trump] is a liar. I think he's a big disruptor," said Modrikamen, though he admitted that Trump exaggerated "from time to time."

He denied, however, that he himself was not interested in the truth.

"I am very interested in truth, but I can tell you as a lawyer I know how things can be presented. You know there is this saying that only lawyers and painters can turn black into white. So, in politics it happens too and with the press it happens too."