“This is Italy, full of hope and dreams and looking to the future,” Salvini told the crowd in the northern town of Pontida, which has for three decades been the venue for an annual mass gathering of the hard right.
On Sunday the town’s main square was awash with the flags representing Italy’s provinces and the banners of the General Labour Union (UGL), founded in 1996 from the ashes of the neo-fascist CISNAL union.
The League claimed 100,000 people had turned up, many bussed in to to hear Salvini speak, drink beer and buy T-shirts bearing Salvini’s name and the slogan “Italians first”.
Addressing the crowd, Salvini hailed the result of the Swedish general election, where he said voters “sent the left packing” as they ushered in an alliance of the right and far right.
Although Sweden hasn’t yet formed a new government, the recent election saw major gains for the far-right nationalist Sweden Democrats, a far-right party with roots in the fringe white supremacist and neo-Nazi movement.
The Sweden Democrats party rose to prominence with populist, anti-immigration messages similar to those of Salvini and his far-right coalition partner Giorgia Meloni, whose post-fascist Brothers of Italy (FdI) party was almost unknown at Italy’s last election in 2018.
The right-wing populist League is now trailing behind FdI, polling at 12 percent to their 24.
The League, FdI and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia form a right-wing coalition set to take around 46-48 percent of the vote altogether, which would allow them to form a government with a comfortable majority.
Salvini conceded Americans had rejected former US president Donald Trump and his cry of “America first” in favour of Democrat Joe Biden. “That’s democracy,” he said.
He said the League’s top six priorities were to curb soaring energy prices and develop nuclear power, give more decision-making powers to the regions, make tax and legal reforms, guarantee retirement at 41 years of service, and stop migrant boats landing on Italy’s shores.
Surveys suggest immigration is less of a concern for Italians than the rampant inflation squeezing already stagnant wages.
Formerly the Northern League, Salvini’s party has toned down its secessionist aspirations for Lombardy, focusing instead on railing against the European Union and immigration.
The League’s current estimated vote share of 12 percent would represent a notable decline from its performances in 2018 and 2019 as it participated in successive governments while FDI remained in opposition.
The eurosceptic FdI party, which has close ties to Hungary’s populist prime minister Viktor Orban, this week attacked the EU for threatening to suspend financing for Hungary.
The European Commisson on Sunday proposed suspending 7.5 billion euros in funds for Hungary while waiting for Budapest to introduce anti-corruption reforms.
The bloc has been at loggerheads with Hungary for months, with Brussels suspecting Orban’s government of undercutting the rule of law and using EU money to enrich its cronies.
In a television interview on Sunday, Meloni condemned “using the question of the rule of law as an ideological club to hit those considered not aligned”.
Meloni also criticised the EU’s policy towards Poland – another eastern member accused of flouting the rule of law..
Meloni is campaigning on a nationalist platform that calls for a “different Europe” with more powers for member states.
Salvini has also appeared sympathetic to Hungary’s leader, telling supporters on Sunday: “Orban has done some things right and made some mistakes”.