Milan - Far-right, populist parties from around Europe celebrated their vision for historic change on the continent at a rally in Milan on Saturday ahead of EU elections next week.
Alliance of nationalist and far-right parties
Italy's firebrand deputy premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who hosted the event, told crowds of a "new chapter in history being written in Milan."
Thousands gathered in front of the city's famous Duomo, or cathedral, to celebrate Salvini and his new alliance of nationalist parties.
Those present at the rally included Marine Le Pen, who heads France's National Rally; Dutch populist Geert Wilders; and Joerg Meuthen, leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
"We have initiated a new political era," Meuthen said in a speech at the rally. He accused "arrogant technocrats" of destroying Europe and pledged to bring down political "elites."
Meanwhile, Wilders praised his host, saying: "Europe needs more Salvinis!"
Salvini, leader of the nationalist League, has led efforts to create a pan-European alliance of far-righters seeking to upend EU politics, traditionally dominated by centre-right, liberal and centre-left parties.
Le Pen said she wants to form a "super faction" with the parties in the next European Parliament. Such an alliance could alter the structure of the European Union for the "first time in decades," she said on Saturday, calling the prospect "inspiring."
Not an easy task
The far right is expected to do well in the May 23-26 European Parliament elections, but uniting them in a single alliance is a difficult task. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a notable absentee from the Milan event.
The rally is likely to produce calls for tougher controls on migration and Islamist terrorism. But other issues divide the parties: Salvini's demands for looser EU budgetary discipline, for example, are the opposite of what the AfD has called for.
The event was somewhat overshadowed by a corruption scandal that hit Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) and prompted the party's top candidate for the upcoming elections, Harald Vilimsky, to cancel his attendance at Saturday's event.
Austrian vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the FPOe, resigned on Saturday after secret footage showed him offering government contracts in exchange for political support.
Georg Mayer, fellow FPOe member and a lawmaker in the European Parliament, attend instead of Vilimsky. He did not mention the scandal in his speech, calling instead for an end to "mass migration, Islamization and centralism."
The far-right gathering in Milan attracted counter-demonstrations by left-wing groups and politicians. Banners hanging from nearby buildings called for a "return to humanity" and "only bridges, no walls."
EU satisfaction of the members