It was a historical event in Koblenz, Germany. Dramatic folk music opened the counter-summit that was held this weekend under the umbrella of Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), a grouping in the European parliament, which has 40 members from nine countries.
Only hours after US president Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington, the event organised by the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) leader Frauke Petry and party MEP Marcus Pretzell, kicked off at the meeting place of two grand rivers, the Rhine and the Mosel. The tremours of the meeting were felt in most capitals with the mainstream media struggling to find “differences” between the participants.
Guests included French presidential frontrunner and Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen, Dutchman Geert Wilders, whose Party for Freedom (PVV) is leading polls ahead of March elections, and Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Northern League. Salvini, an Italian intellectual, has one of the largest numbers of followers on Twitter.
The speakers entered the stage followed by flag bearers representing Europe after the closing notes of a haunting men’s choir, a bocco chiusa. Delegates however were outnumbered by the 2 000 police officers assigned to keep protesters out. Authorities in the central German city were prepared for the protest on Saturday by a coalition of left-wing groups, as well as mainstream political parties and unions.
The demonstrators included Sigmar Gabriel, SPD politician, vice chancellor and economy minister, who had just announced his intention to run against Angela Merkel, signalling the high level of media attention the demonstrators had hoped to gain from being outside the conference venue.
Malu Dreyer, currently serving as the Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate and deputy to the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, was also outside in the cold.
Delegates inside were welcomed by Martin Schiller, AfD councillor from the city of Münster.
As Markus Pretzell, the first speaker remarked, some 350 journalists had applied for accreditation — despite a highly publicised ban on some of the biggest German media organisations.
To laughter and jeers from the audience, Pretzell welcomed journalist Justus Bender from the German daily, the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (FAZ). Bender had turned to the courts to be at the event, because “he likes the populists of Europe so much”, Pretzell joked. “Show yourself Herr Bender!”
Pretzell added that he wanted to welcome “real friends” too and not only “fake” ones.
The meeting however did not go ahead without some friction in the AfD regarding NATO. Georg Pazderski, chairman of AfD’s Berlin branch, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily: “I find that the National Front does not suit us at all. The FN is a socialist party. Personally I have reservations.”
AfD co-founder and leader of the Brandenburg division, Alexander Gauland, complained about Petry’s lack of “courtesy” because she had publicly announced her participation through Twitter.
This is not a new conflict within the AfD. Pazderski is a former colonel in the German Bundeswehr who takes an openly pro-NATO position. Gauland, a former high-ranking CDU member, opposes NATO criticism in the party.
Pretzell highlighted the plight of the German “Mittelstand”, the backbone of the German economic miracle and pointed out that protectionism meant protecting national industry from the voracious appetites of multinationals.
Sigmar Gabriel, he said, had promised to do away with the TTIP, but now, ironically, has to thank Donald Trump for its demise.
He said the protesters outside were responsible for the failures of foreign policy and defence, because all they seek is “integration”. He reminded the delegates that Brussels was planning the inclusion of Turkey and Ukraine, currently being torn apart by civil war.
Pretzell noted that open borders had created a considerable security risk: “We have a problem with political Islam”, and slammed the EU for funding terror against Israel.
‘The end of a world, the birth of another’
Marine Le Pen took to the stage after Schiller praised her charm, announcing the end of globalisation. She said the rejection by voters of one world had grown for ten years after French, Dutch and Irish plebiscites. But Trump’s victory has put the Neo-liberals in an even bigger bind. “The revolt of the people against a non-elected power” was unstoppable, she said.
“It’s no longer a question of if, but when,” she continued to loud cheers. Le Pen headlined the gathering of patriotic leaders as they presented a united European front in a year of high-stakes elections.
“We are experiencing the end of one world and the birth of another,” Le Pen said. “We are experiencing the return of nation states.”
France’s presidential candidate told the conference “2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up” and 2017 will be the year in which Europe will follow. The first domino to fall was Brexit, she added. She joked that she liked the British much more since their decision to leave the EU.
Le Pen is now considered a serious contender in the French presidential election. The popular candidate stressed the common goals that all patriots shared: “It doesn’t matter one bit that our policies are different,” Le Pen said. “The whole point is that we don’t need one policy for all.”
She described the EU as a religion with its bureaucrats acting as its high priests, excommunicating everything outside their faith as they bar all criticisms of their failing system: “Recall [Jean-Claude] Juncker’s remark: ‘There can be no democratic vote against European treaties.’ This is the real definition of tyranny.”
She said Europeans were being subjected to an information war. “In their logic, each nation should be seperated from the others so that they form no bond. In France they lie about Germany. In Germany they lie about the UK.” Le Pen added that Merkel is being portayed in France as a “national hero” by the system because of her “generosity towards migrants” while the French are told they are “mere nothings”.
“The elites want to shut up the people and have them believe they act in their interest,” she continued. She called Merkel’s migration policy a “catastrophe unfolding daily’. She warned her audience that the “interests of the powerful are veiled by beautiful words”. The FN leader said Merkel cannot account for 500 000 migrants, exposing the chancellor as an “incredible lightweight”.
Marine Le Pen
“Tradition, social fabric, different languages, history and the unique qualities [of a people] are not interchangeable. Economy is anchored in a national reality. I love Germany because it’s German. I love France because it’s French.” She denounced the EU as “a force of sterilisation”.
“Some 95 percent of countries have borders, so patriotism is the future of politics. When nations come back, so will diversity and peace, not war. The warmongers are those against Putin and Trump,” Len Pen concluded.
Le Pen stressed the unity of the movement on the French radio station Classique on Friday: “Each of us is strongly attached to sovereignty and freedom in general. I believe that what also brings us together is a rejection of the European Union’s laissez-faire policies.”
She said none of the participants could be described as “extreme right”, a label that she said was used “by our adversaries to discredit us”.
‘A Patriotic Spring’
The dapper Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who travels with 24/7 protection because of death threats from political Islamists, opened his speech in German with the rousing words: “‘Hallo Deutschland!… Yesterday a new US, today Koblenz and tomorrow a new Europe!”
Wilders announced his attendance at the conference on his Twitter feed using the hashtag #WeWillMakeOurCountriesGreatAgain, a play on the new US president Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America great again”.
He said Europe needed a strong and self-aware Germany, “proud and standing up for its culture and identity”. He added: “Europe needs Frauke instead of Angela”, to wild applause.
Wilders lauded German patriots for doing their duty, “standing up against the new totalitarianism threatening us”. All Europeans were faced with the same threat to their existence, he said. He noted that Africa’s population will increase fourfold within a century, while one in three Southern Africans want to leave their continent. In Asia and the Near East one in five inhabitants seeks greener pastures, potentially a disaster for Europe.
He quoted from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian novelist and historian, saying the truth is mostly bitter, not sweet. Wilders exposed the “bitter truth” on how the establishment promotes Islamisation through universities, politicians and churches, encroaching on hard-fought freedoms. “My heart breaks to see how people feel unwelcome in their own countries,” he added. “Our values are wasting away. We don’t want Germany to stop existing. We want a home too, free and proud.”
The Dutch politician regretted the fear that has set in: “Fear rules, security is gone, freedoms are gone, people are scared to say what they think, women fear to show their blonde hair. This charade must end.”
He also quoted from Dutch researcher, professor Koopmans’s study done at Humboldt University in Berlin, revealing that between 10 and 20 percent of Muslims in Europe favour violence as a political solution and added that all cultures were not morally equal.
The leader of the anti-Islam Dutch Freedom Party told his audience: “The people of the West are awakening. They are throwing off the yoke of political correctness.
“This year will be the year of the people … the year of liberation, the year of the patriotic spring.”
His party, now the post popular in the Netherlands, could win the largest percentage of votes in the Dutch parliamentary election in March campaigning against the EU superstate and multiculti.
Wilders told his fellow politicians that they were acting on behalf of the people: “History is calling on us to save Europe!”
‘Immigration has nothing to do with solidarity’
Matteo Salvini opened his speech with a dedication to the Italian victims of the recent earthquake left homeless, while immigrants were lounging in hotels at the expense of the taxpayer. Salvini denounced it as “madness” and “suicide”.
Three years ago he said despondency had set in, but patriots in the ENF had won the wager: “Thanks to Trump: The winds of liberty, the end of globalism, sovereignty and the freedom of peoples.”
But, he said, immigration had nothing to do with solidarity.”It is merely a tool to destroy values.” He said the EU was economically unbalanced and even to Germans this was counterproductive.
“I think everyone knows the euro as criminal experiment is over,” Salvini said. He added that [Mario] Draghi, ECB chief, was not Italy and Merkel was not Germany.
The Lega Nord leader noted that Italy had gained much the same experience as the EU from the different economic realities inside Italy. He warned that wealth transfer from the north to the south had solved very few problems and warned that if Germany continued on this path, it would stifle development and destroy growth.
Salvini also lambasted Anglo-American propaganda directed against the popular vote, saying that nationalists who disagreed with EU policy were not “uneducated, unworthy” voters.
He said there was little difference between left and right in the establishment outside of democratic control. He also addressed the plight of the Italian youth, where unemployment plagued some 40 percent.
Salvini warned against “false anti-system parties trying to sow dissent”.
‘If they lay a finger on these ladies!’
Austrian FPÖ politician and MEP Harald Vilimsky tipped his hat to Marine and Frauke and warned the protesters outside that they would be looking for trouble if they laid a finger on his co-participants.
“I’m proud to stand in front of educated people who reason calmly. Outside are troublemakers who vandalise,” Vilimsky said. He added that a minister from Luxemburg convicted of corruption was outside with the protesters.
He also conveyed good wishes from Norbert Hofer and FPÖ party leader HC Strache, who was in Washington attending the Trump inauguration. “We will fight the old corrupt establishment. There are no cracks in the alliance. Our European alliance has a common goal: Europe of the fatherlands!”
Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the Alternative for Germany party, explained to the audience how “nudging”, a political tool had numbed voters into not taking responsibility for their actions.
She said the Eastern Europeans had thrown off the parasite of the state, just to be saddled with another. “When Viktor Orban [Hungary’s Prime Minister] wanted a refrendum on immigration, he was treated as if he had commited a crime against their values.”
Petry said because Merkel had grown up in East Germany, she did not like people who thought for themselves. Merkel preferred “nudging” the unquestioning, uncritical masses towards their own demise. Petry added that surprisingly no one was asking the Saudis or Egyptians to give up their national character.
The AfD leader ended her speech with a fitting quote from Nietzsche: “The good — they have always been the beginning of the end.”
Despite the dire warnings from most of the participants, the general mood was celebratory after a year that saw Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and election surges for previously “fringe” groups.
Koblenz means “confluence” in German, a summit which indicated a journey already beyond the Lorelei rocks of divisions.