Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Europe must act quickly to curb far-right mobilisation

Missile seizure in Italy shows just how potent and destructive neo-Nazi networks have become

Police stand by a Qatari army missile seized at an airport hangar near Pavia, northern Italy. AP
Police stand by a Qatari army missile seized at an airport hangar near Pavia, northern Italy. AP

The discovery in northern Italy of a huge arsenal of weapons belonging to a far-right group, from small arms and knives to a Qatari missile, raises more questions than it answers.

First, how did a French-made missile, stamped with the logo of the Qatari army and equipped with a 30 kilogram warhead, end up in the hands of Italian neo-Nazis? Whether the missile was decommissioned and neglected, or stolen and trafficked into Italy, armies have a responsibility to ensure their weapons are not accessible to terrorists.

Second, how did Italian politics lurch so far to the right that Fabio Del Bergiolo – who, it is alleged, was attempting to sell the missile on WhatsApp – is a failed senate candidate?

Third, how have far-right networks grown so large that they encompass Italian fascists and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine? More details will emerge in the coming weeks, but the incident augurs poorly for Europe.

This is the most devastating weapon found in the possession of a western European extremist group. As one academic told The National: “The worry is that the extreme right will mobilise in the same way as violent Islamists before and with links to foreign battlefields, access to equipment and large networks.” The seizure followed a year-long police investigation into the Italian far right. However, authorities in Europe have been too slow and soft in their response to right-wing terrorism.

Europe has rarely felt so polarised, with swelling nationalism raising the spectre of violence. For a misguided and militant minority, Europe’s ethnic and cultural identity is hanging in the balance – and they are determined to fight back. Italy is a case in point. As the nation’s politics have shifted to the right, with the rise of the ruling Lega party, more extreme voices have been brought into the fold, normalising hate that was once confined to the political fringes.

When its myriad factions unite – often online – Europe’s far right becomes a potent and destructive force.

Governments and mainstream political organisations should step in to curb this threat – yet too many are keen to exploit and promote it. The links between Italian neo-fascists and pro-Russian separatists are no coincidence. Indeed, there appears to be a level of ideological affinity between Moscow and certain European governments, such as Italy and Hungary. It is even alleged that Italy’s populist interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has links with pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that liberalism is dead. That might be untrue, but the European far right is battling to hasten its demise.

The leadership of the European Union is currently changing, with Ursula von der Leyen elected president of the European commission on a unity ticket. The bloc’s new guard has its work cut out to bring a fractured Europe together. It must ensure that confronting far-right groups – increasingly well-organised, well-supported and well-armed – is high on the agenda.

Updated: July 17, 2019 06:14 PM