BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Two months after Donald Trump’s election, a Brussels lawyer founded a movement to promote the U.S. president’s ideas in Europe but only now has it become a vehicle for Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon to attack the European Union.
Mischael Modrikamen told Reuters on Tuesday of a whirlwind relaunch under way since he met Bannon in London this month at the prompting of Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and of a meeting of minds that is transforming the group he registered as “The Movement” on Jan. 9 last year to rally nationalists in Europe.
“It’s all happened very fast,” said Modrikamen, who is well known as an advocate in his native Belgium for defending the interests of small investors as well as being prominent in the Jewish community and the founder of the small People’s Party.
He had, he said, written to the presidential transition team while Trump was preparing to enter the White House after beating Hillary Clinton in November 2016 but received no response. Aided by Farage, with whose UK Independence Party Modrikamen’s PP has links, he finally met Bannon, whom Trump fired last year, at a Mayfair hotel on Sunday, July 15, to discuss cooperation.
“It was a match,” Modrikamen said. “We shared the same vision and same ideas and the tool was available.
That tool was The Movement, the private foundation he had “put on ice” after setting it up at his home address in suburban Brussels with 2,500 euros ($2,928) of capital and himself, his wife and Laure Ferrari, a French aide to Farage, as directors.
Its goals, stated in a constitution lodged with Belgian authorities, were “to promote the rule of law, free enterprise, national sovereignty, effective national borders, popular consultation, the fight against radical Islam, a scientific and not dogmatic approach to climatic phenomena and the defense of Israel as a sovereign state on its historic land”.
Bannon told Reuters The Movement will serve as a “clearing house” in Brussels, at the heart of the EU, for the “populist, nationalist movement in Europe”, with the objective of boosting the anti-EU presence in the European Parliament at May elections so as to undermine the 27-country union.
Modrikamen, 52, said Bannon “absolutely agreed” with the basic principles the Belgian had written for the Movement but they were now “fine-tuning” its purposes, while setting a budget, priorities and a means of operating with 10 to 15 staff.
Among other original aims it was to be “the link between the Movement started by President D.J. Trump in the USA and citizens and political movements in other countries, including the Brexit campaign” and to offer support, including financial aid.
Modrikamen said it was “premature” to speak about a budget for The Movement now, but he expected Bannon and others to become directors and the group to offer help across Europe and possibly beyond, including cash “where the law allows”.
Financing rules for the European Parliament have seen a number of parties, including France’s National Front, now the National Rally, investigated. Police raided Modrikamen’s offices in November as part of a probe of funding linked to UKIP, though he and all those involved reject any wrongdoing.
Parties grouped around UKIP and the National Rally control about 80 seats in the 751-member EU legislature. Current polls suggest they could increase that number even though Brexit will see UKIP leave and the Parliament shrink by 46 seats. There are also other significant eurosceptic groups which might rally to Bannon’s cause, though many are very divided on other issues.
As Modrikamen acknowledged, eurosceptic and populist parties vary greatly across Europe. Farage, for example, accused the National Front of anti-Semitism and refused to ally with it; some want an end to the EU, others merely to overhaul it.
“Everyone has their own DNA,” said the Belgian, whose PP could itself break into the European Parliament next year.
“A movement like ours should reflect what unites us fundamentally — a return of sovereignty to states, borders, the fight against radical Islam, limiting immigration.”
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald ; @macdonaldrtr; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg