PARIS — Europe’s far-right politicians are desperate to make friends with Donald Trump, but the U.S. Republican candidate is snubbing them — at least for now.
As Trump continues to dominate headlines — in the U.S. and in Europe — with provocative statements that women who seek abortions should be subject to “some form of punishment” or that NATO is “obsolete,” far-right and Euroskeptic groups from France to Italy to the Netherlands are trying to ride the billionaire’s momentum to make gains at home.
Unfortunately for the delegation, whose members belong to the Euroskeptic Europe of Nations and Freedom group, Trump decided at the last minute not to attend the conference. Instead, Le Pen’s allies (including parliamentary adviser Ludovic De Danne, French MEP Bernard Monot, Austrian MEP Georg Mayer, Belgian MEP Gerolf Annemans, and former UKIP memberJanice Atkinson) met with Ben Carson, who has endorsed Trump, plus a group of Trump youth supporters. They also saw U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom many top Republicans are talking up as a possible fallback nominee at a brokered Republican convention in July.
“I spoke to Ludovic De Danne,” said a U.S.-based source who described himself as an adviser to the Trump campaign and manager of his social media pages, but asked not to be named. “He called me because he knows I work with Trump. He said: ‘While we are there it would be nice if we could meet with some senior Republicans, including Donald Trump.’”
“One of the reasons they came was to meet him,” the adviser said.
The source added that while Trump was “super concerned” with the situation in Europe, he did not want to meet foreign politicians who would do little to advance his domestic campaign.
“I think the moment he has the nomination he will be a lot more free to reach out,” the source added.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not respond to requests for comment.
De Danne told POLITICO that the MEPs had paid for the trip out of a parliamentary budget for fact-finding missions.
“We were also meant to meet Trump, had he been free. But the goal of the trip was not to express support for the Trump campaign,” De Danne said.
While De Danne said that Marine Le Pen was equally interested in Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and Trump as “anti-establishment” candidates, a National Front official in the U.S. said that a meeting between her and Trump was possible in coming months.
‘Go, Donald, go!!’
The National Front’s position toward Trump is evolving quickly. While Le Pen bristled at being compared to the Republican candidate in December, saying that she was “not American” and that she defended all French people “regardless of their religion,” her party’s tune changed as Trump racked up primary wins.
In February, Vice President Florian Philippot praised Trump for “questioning the establishment.” Another Front executive, Louis Aliot, told Le Monde newspaper that he agreed with Trump’s calls for a “more moderate United States in terms of foreign policy.”
And Robert Menard, a far-right mayor who is close to the National Front, said of Trump: “His views and his sensibility are very close to that of the [French] patriotic right.”
Outside of France, politicians are less bashful about their admiration for the real estate mogul. Matteo Salvini, head of Italy’s Euroskeptic Northern League, posted in February on his Facebook page: “Go, Donald, go!!” reaping some 2,000 comments.
Geert Wilders, head of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, showed similar enthusiasm on Twitter, writing: “I hope Donald Trump will be the next U.S. President. Good for America, Good for Europe. We need brave leaders.”
A representative for Wilders’ party did not respond to a request for comment.
A Salvini representative said a meeting with Trump was in the cards.
“We are working on a meeting between Salvini and Trump, I’ll make no secret of it,” spokeswoman Iva Garibaldi told POLITICO. “I can’t say when with certainty, but soon. I am positive it will happen.”
Marco Dugnani, an Italian MEP from the Northern League, was less sure but confirmed the “work was in progress” to make a meeting with Trump happen. The Northern League is hoping to get a photo opportunity with the Republican candidate ahead of local elections in Italy, which take place between May and June.
Salvini shares Trump’s admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In October 2014, Salvini flew to Moscow for a 20-minute sitdown with Putin during which they talked Europe, immigration and Italy-Russia connections. A photo of the meeting posted by Salvini on his Facebook page received 27,000 likes.
But so far, Trump seems not to have noticed.
This article was written for POLITICO.eu