At a summit in Hungary featuring ferocious far-right culture warriors such as Jordan Peterson and Sharon Slater, a keynote address by a supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia as well as of greater European integration might seem out of place. Yet when Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s prime minister and leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, took the stage on Sept. 12 at Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s annual Budapest Demographic Summit, what she left out of her speech was as interesting as her rhetoric bashing a supposedly “woke” left. However much joining with Orban to celebrate patriarchy was popular with some of Meloni’s supporters in Italy, the caution both showed when discussing the European Union hinted at divisions between right-wing movements across Europe that are often viewed as natural allies.
The gaps in the narrative of political partnership presented by Orban and Meloni are evident in the Italian government’s official readout of their discussions before the conference. While Orban has regularly expressed skepticism over the EU’s support for Ukraine’s struggle for survival, the Italian readout emphasized the assistance Hungary and Italy had already provided to Kyiv and underlined the importance of continued EU unity in backing Ukraine. So although Meloni and Orban strained to demonstrate far-right unity at the summit’s public events, their attempts to fudge their points of disagreement only served to highlight them.
Three days later, Meloni had another occasion to demonstrate her influence in European politics through a meeting with an EU leader who has often been one of Orban’s principal adversaries. In a joint visit to Italy’s Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, which has struggled to manage refugees trying to reach EU territory by sea, Meloni and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen inspected the emergency response and emphasized the need for greater EU coordination over migration, something Orban has frequently opposed. Meloni’s delicate balancing act between ideological cooperation with a fellow far-right leader and the pursuit of deepening European integration when it comes to border policy points to strategic fault lines that have the potential to divide European far-right movements.