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The Reactionary International

This week in Madrid, a Vox party rally brought together Holocaust deniers, Israeli officials and right-wing leaders from around the world — putting Spain at the centre of a new far-right international movement.

Argentina's far-right president Javier Milei addressed the Vox rally.

Three weeks before the European parliament elections, the global far-right gathered in Madrid last Sunday in an unprecedented display of its international coordination. Hosted by Spain’s neo-Francoist Vox, the three-day event ended in a mass rally with speakers that included France’s Marine Le Pen, Portugal’s André Ventura, Argentine president Javier Milei, Israeli Likud minister Amichai Chikli — as well as via videolink Italian prime minister Giorgia Melonia and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán.

The closing event, attended by more than 10,000 people, kicked off with a video denouncing the United Nations’ development goals as an ‘ecofeminist’ conspiracy while distorted images of Bill Gates and Greta Thunberg flickered on screen. If such imagery plays on traditional antisemitic tropes of cosmopolitan elites orchestrating a new world order, it was quickly followed by the ex-Trump official Mercedes Schlapp leading a pro-Zionist chant of ‘Viva España! Viva Israel!’

Indeed, while clear contradictions between the various far-right discourses were on display, the collective animosity towards shared, overlapping enemies and an allegiance to forms of reactionary authoritarianism outweighed any differentiating factors. Vox could both invite neo-Nazi Holocaust denier Pedro Varela and declare Israel ‘an international reference in the fight against Islamic terrorism’, while Milei’s anarcho-libertarianism and Le Pen’s chauvinistic protectionist rhetoric could both be warmly received.

‘We patriots must remain united’, insisted American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp at the rally. ‘We are not going to let George Soros or Biden divide us.’

In this respect, Sunday’s rally was also further proof of Vox’s increasingly central role in linking reactionary political movements from across the world. It not only operates as a key bridge between the European and Latin American far-right but, ahead of the European parliament elections, is also pursuing closer ties between the two major far-right families within the EU: Meloni’s pro-NATO and more traditionalist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Le Pen’s more pro-Russian and extremist Identity and Democracy grouping.

As polling shows the far-right making significant gains in June’s elections, Vox’s Santiago Abascal is now positioning himself as a central figure within this ‘reactionary international’ — even as his own party has lost ground domestically over the last year. One party official even went so far as to boast that ‘only Vox is capable of holding such a [far-right] gathering.’

An Anti-Communist International

News headlines around the convention have been dominated by the diplomatic row that erupted after Milei called the wife of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez  ‘corrupt’ on stage. Yet the Argentinian president’s relationship with Vox predates his entry into frontline politics, having been one of the signatories of the 2020 Madrid Charter alongside the likes of Eduardo Bolsonaro and Chilean extremist Jose Antonio Kast. This was the founding document of the Vox-led, anti-leftist alliance, the Madrid Forum, which seeks to combat the spread of ‘communist-inspired totalitarian regimes’ in Latin America.

As Podemos founder Miguel Urbán notes in his 2024 book Trumpismos, the Madrid Forum is looking to achieve something distinct from that of CPAC in the United States. Whereas the latter organises periodic events bringing together international right-wing leaders and activists, the Madrid Forum aspires to be a permanent ‘international organisation of far-right parties’, with a yearly plan of action. As Urbán writes, ‘Vox has maintained a frenetic agenda of networking, trips and events with the objective of constructing the first stable framework for the coordination of far-right Latin American forces, one, moreover, which would have [itself] at the centre.’

This cross-border organisation remains somewhat incipient. Yet according to a recent report from the Progressive International, the Madrid Forum’s ‘most important impact’ so far ‘has been its ability to create and mobilise a network…to undermine left-wing governments in the region.’ In this respect, a major investigation by a consortium of Latin American publications found politicians associated with the alliance have engaged in coordinated campaigns aimed at ‘delegitimising the electoral results in several countries’ — working across borders to amplify fake news stories of electoral fraud in Peru, Columbia and Chile and backed up by organised online trolling campaigns.

In reality, the Madrid Forum also forms part of a broader far-right infrastructure of extremist Catholic associations, Latin American exiles, and reactionary think tanks in the Spanish capital , which have also helped turn the city into a key meeting point for authoritarian forces globally. Madrid regional premier Isabel Ayuso, from the radical wing of the conservative Popular Party, has adopted the Cuban exile slogan ‘Liberty or Communism’ while during a month of violent street protests over Sánchez’s reelection last November, the same far-right network and insurrectional rhetoric was mobilised in an attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of his parliamentary majority.

Tipping the Balance of Power

Milei carried over these tactics into Vox’s convention as he flew into Spain looking to pick a fight with the country’s centre-left prime minister — even going so far as to denounce Sánchez’s ‘totalitarianism’ and describing him as an ‘arrogant and delirious socialist’ on his return to Buenos Aires. The ensuing diplomatic row, which saw Spain withdraw its ambassador to Argentina, kicked off Vox’s European election campaign with a bang.

Yet Abascal had also hoped to launch the campaign with both Le Pen and Meloni present on stage with him as he sought further protagonism internationally through fostering increased cooperation between two existing wings of the European extreme right. Both Meloni’s post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia and Le Pen’s Rassemblement National are currently leading in the polls in their respective countries, while the combined projected seats of their two EU-wide groupings would make the extreme right the second largest force in the European parliament.

Furthermore with the Greens and Macron’s liberal Renew grouping expected to both suffer heavy losses, the European parliament could potentially have a right-wing majority of MEPs for the first time in its history. This would not necessarily displace the dominant grand coalition of centrist parties but could allow the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) to secure an alternative majority in certain votes — such as those around environmental issues, civil liberties or immigration.

Yet as academic Cas Mudde notes, this historic far-right surge ‘could become a Pyrrhic victory, if [the] parties remain so divided.’ The ECR, which includes Fratelli, Vox and Eric Zemmour’s Reconquête diverges most from Le Pen’s Identity and Democracy group on foreign policy — as well as, as a result of that, on their degree of mainstream respectability. With her strict pro-NATO positioning, Meloni has cultivated closer links with the EPP since becoming prime minister and wants to keep the door open to a pact with Ursula von der Leyen over her re-election as head of the European Commission after June’s elections.

In this respect, her decision not to attend last Sunday’s event in person saw her seeking a difficult balancing act, with her videolink intervention designed to neither shut down Vox’s overtures to Le Pen or align herself with them. ‘We will see what happens after the elections’, one Vox official insisted — with the party seeing itself as best placed to operate as a pivot between the various groupings over the coming term.

In particular, the announcement this Tuesday from Le Pen and Matteo Salvini that their parties would no longer sit in the same group as Germany’s AfD opens up the possibility of a significant realignment on the European far-right after the elections — as does the expected incorporation of Orbán’s Fidesz into ECR.

In any case, the threat of a major far-right advance is clear. ‘We the patriots must occupy Brussels’, proclaimed Orbán in his intervention at Vox’s convention while Chega’s Ventura asserted: ‘Europe is ours. Europe is ours!’ In the wake of the 9 June poll, it will become clear how realistic this prospect is.