Milan: Right-wing populist leaders rallying in Milan predicted historic results in next week's European Parliament elections that would allow them to transform European politics and return sovereignty back to the nations that make up the European Union.
The leader of Italy's right-wing populist League party, Matteo Salvini, was joining the leaders of 10 other nationalist parties in front of Milan's Duomo cathedral on Saturday. It was a major tour de force for the expanding movement ahead of the May 23-26 vote that will take place in all 28 EU nations.
The far-right and populist leaders in Milan are making one of the strongest challenges to the European status quo in decades, united under an anti-migrant, anti-Islam, anti-bureaucracy banner.
Participants include far-right leaders Marine Le Pen of France's National Rally and Joerg Meutten of the Alternative for Germany party alongside more moderate right-wing leaders.
The leader of Austria's anti-immigrant Freedom Party, Heinz Christian Strache, skipped the event, staying at home to offer his resignation as vice chancellor after two German newspapers showed video of him offering government contracts to a potential Russian benefactor in return for support for his party.
Despite the political setback for a key member of the Europe of Nations and Freedom parliamentary group, Le Pen predicted the group "will perform a historic feat, moving from the 8th place in Europe to third or maybe second" among major political groups in the European Parliament.
Le Pen called Strache's predicament a domestic matter, but expressed surprise "that this video that seems two years old is coming out today, a few days before the election."
"(We are united) in our conception of cooperation in Europe, our shared desire to protect our citizens, our common refusal to see our country being subjected to the submergence of migration," Le Pen said. "The fundamental fight we are waging is a commitment against totalitarianism, globalization and Islamism to which the European Union is responding respectively through accession and complacency."
The party leaders want to decentralize some EU policymaking, including for trade, agriculture and banking, while tightening immigration laws. Most share common views over immigration and the desire for certain powers to be returned to the member states' capitals, but clash on other economic and social policies.
An analysis by the London-based Teneo consultancy forecasts that Europe's two traditional center-right and center-left political groups will be weakened in the May vote, falling short of the 50% threshold of support for the first time.
But Teneo said that result will mostly increase the influence of other centrist parties more than that of the nationalists.
Still, the populist influence in Europe is likely to expand. The question remains how they can parlay that into political changes.