When Matteo Salvini headed to a snow-clad Warsaw in early January to offer a populist pact to Poland’s ruling party, Italy’s deputy prime minister had not one but two elections on his mind. As leader of the euroskeptic League, he wanted to forge a grand alliance of nationalist, Brussels-bashing forces before a European Parliament vote in May. But if his anti-migration party achieves a strong showing there, he may also push for an early general election at home, putting an end to the current coalition government and aiming to secure the office of prime minister for himself.
During his Jan. 9 visit to the Polish capital, Salvini attempted to sell his proposed alliance to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the governing Law and Justice party, as “a pact for Europe modeled on the one between the League and the Five Star Movement,” the anti-establishment party he governs with in Rome. Across the European Union, League officials have courted leaders including France’s Marine Le Pen, Germany’s Alice Weidel of the AfD party, Sweden Democrats chief Jimmie Akesson, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, according to a League government member who declined to be named discussing strategy. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, another captain of Europe’s resurgent nationalists whom Salvini has met, hailed him as a “hero” after the Warsaw visit and told reporters that the advent of an “Italian-Polish axis” would be “one of the best things to start the year off.”