Núria Bassa, Toni Strubell – Conservatism or fascism, Mr Tajani?

Democratic shortcomings of EU leadership unveiled

Toni Strubell  is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want

Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer

Llegeix en català aqui


The leader of Fratelli d’Italia and winner of the September 25 elections, Giorgia Meloni, has sworn in as prime minister and made public the list of members of her new far-right government. One of those named is her deputy prime minister, Antonio Tajani, journalist, monarchist, air force officer, conservative, Berlusconi cheerleader, but also one of the politicians who presided over the EU Parliament, no less, in the 2017-2019 period. Tajani is now to lead the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a task which they say will allow him to tone down the diplomatic blunders of his party leader and act as aide-de-camp for a prime minister who has placed many avowed fascists in her government (ministries of Agriculture, Culture etc.) despite presenting them, needless to say, as lifelong democrats. But who can this have fooled? Yet no one in Brussels seems to be too flustered that a former EU leader, with so many toasts to “democratic values” behind him, should be accepting a key post in a clearly philo-fascist government that denies so many of them?

We will start by asking how the presence of Tajani in the Meloni government can be seen as a “democratic guarantee”, as suggested by some. A quick look at his track record could prove revealing. Even when occupying such a spotlit position as president of the European Parliament, he had already come under scrutiny for his philo-fascist opinions some of which had triggered off strong criticism and reactions inside and outside Italy. Indeed in 2019 he justified during a radio interview that Mussolini had done “good things” for his country. “To be honest” he said “he built roads, bridges, buildings, sports centres and rehabilitated part of our Italy”. Needless to say, such concessions as to consider dictators and murderers as “rehabilitators” were deemed completely unacceptable on the lips of an EU leader. After a volley of criticism, Tajani had had to go back on his words and claim not to be a fascist. Now, having entered a government full of self-confessed fascists, will he still be able to say the same?

In Catalonia the role played by Tajani in the EU in favour of state authoritarianism is remembered with particular pain and indignation. While he held the presidency of the European Parliament (2017-2019) he did his utmost to blur any EU response to Spain’s violent attacks on the democratic process that led to the October 1st 2017 Independence Referendum despite its approval by absolute majority in the Catalan Parliament. Acting shamelessly at the service of the Spanish State -not in accordance with the democratic principles of international law, as repeatedly pointed out by UN and The European Council- he made it clear that he would not yield one millimetre to the independentists in government nor to their legitimate political aspirations. He made this clear from the first days of his mandate, when he tried to counter-schedule a conference to be given by President Puigdemont and other leaders with a meeting of the ambassadors to the EU, an improvised event which was to start in an adjacent room of the Parliament at the very same time. A month and a half later, he decided to veto a press conference with presidents Torra and Puigdemont, while allowing a meeting of the far-right party Vox. Where were the famous “red lines” that EU leaders had so often alluded to as a formula to keep fascism out of bounds? Both Puigdemont and the Greens/ALE group condemned this decision as quite illegal. Months later, at the end of 2019, Tajani refused to recognize Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín as elected MEPs, and forbade them access to the Parliament. He prevented them from taking office and thus aligned himself with the Spanish authorities which maintained that they could not be proclaimed MEPs because – being in exile – they could not go to Madrid to swear allegiance to the Spanish constitution. Again, in answer to Madrid requests, Tajani was quite willing to contravene EU norms and deny rights to lawfully elected MEPs for ideological reasons.

This fierce defense of the territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Spain has earned him the suspect recognition of numerous official Spanish institutions and seedy unionist groups, though this does not seem to have raised much opposition from EU parliamentary groups. In 2013, Tajani won the distinction of Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Civil Merit. Later, in 2017, he unblushingly accepted the Princess of Asturias award as a representative of the European institutions, and used his long speech to praise the “magnificent quality of Spanish democracy” (sic). To top that, in 2018 he received the Carlos VI European Award from Felipe VI, who thanked him for the “defense of the rule of law” in Spain and called him “a great friend of Spain”. Tajani’s answer could not have been more cynical: “We must reaffirm ourselves in the face of nationalist selfishness (sic) and those who want to raise borders and destroy our coexistence”. Thus spoke a man who now forms part of a hugely nationalist and selfish government which promises to raise all the frontiers it can to stop poor immigrants from accessing Italy. Thus spoke a man who acts in favour of the despotic submission of stateless nations to authoritarian state power and the harshest dictates of international capitalism. Certainly, Tajani’s presence in the Meloni government registers a new high water mark in the unmasking of the alleged democratic standards expected of European leaders. The current EU cannot be blind to the fact that its leaders are willing to toy with fascism, a fact that makes a mockery of the lip service once paid to “democratic principles” and “people’s rights”. Who can now believe that these are to continue being indispensable ideological parameters for the future? The gravity of the threat being posed to democracy in the EU can no longer be overlooked.

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