The far-right government headed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is a reality in Italy after her party’s overwhelming victory in the elections on 25 September. “Fratelli d’Italia” is the first party and for the first time fascism returns to the government in Italy with a right-wing coalition together with the Northern League of Matteo Salvini, now vice-premier, and Forza Italia of Silvio Berlusconi who has returned to sit in Senate despite its legal problems.
An advance, that of the far right in Europe, which has already applauded the success of the Swedish Democrats who, with 20.54%, overtook their allies, coming in second place immediately after the solcialdemocrats who, while remaining first, will not be able to govern since the breakfast of the left has been overtaken, albeit briefly, by that of the right thanks to the leader Jimmie Åkesson, who managed to clean up (almost as much as Meloni in Italy) and get a party descending from the neo-Nazis off the ground swedes. Pieces that are added to already consolidated regimes, such as that of Pis in Poland or of Fidesz in Hungary, while in France and Spain the right wing of Marie Le Pen and the party of Vox can’t wait to reach the finish line.
But how did the far right’s normalization process come about in Europe and what is it really aiming at?
The anonymous network Agenda Europa
What is really going on in the extremist right through an intricate network of organizations with consolidated relationships of friendship and collaboration, is an ambitious political project that aims to smooth out rights by restoring what the network that binds together numerous far-right groups calls the “Restoration of the natural order”: a concept that we have often heard in many public speeches (such as those of Giorgia Meloni) which translated in a nutshell would be the principle of safeguarding the” traditional family “at all costs.
Created in 2013 in London, “Agenda Europa” is a pan-European, Christian-extremist network, born anonymously and secretly, which annually convenes a summit that brings together the most important homophobic and pro-life organizations representing ultra-right. The documents reveal that Agenda Europe is composed of conservative non-governmental organizations that work against various aspects of human rights: organizations divided into “pro-life” and “pro-family” involving more than 30 European countries and with a blog in which members share the manifesto titled “Restoring the Natural Order”.
A 134-page, anonymous, undated and unbranded document that provides a detailed legal perspective
Based on criteria of strict secrecy, “Agenda Europa” was born from a meeting with 20 North American and European anti-abortion leaders with a heart “to develop a Christian-inspired European thought group” to “devise new strategies regarding European anti-abortion movements”. Organized by the Austrian conservative and Catholic activist Gudrun Kugler, and the American Terrence McKeegan, the London meeting was to be “strictly confidential”, and when the blog “Agenda Europa” appears, harshly criticizing any progress in the field of reproductive health, it becomes a point of reference for all others. Its ranks include political leaders and government officials from all over Europe, with the support of senior prelates. Its propaganda methods are clear: to blame those who support women’s rights and civil rights for being discriminatory and intolerant of Christians (Christianophobics), and to name the bans they want to impose as “rights” to be claimed.
Not only because as a methodology it is fundamental to label the adversaries as “violent” and oneself as “victims” fighting against a totalizing and discriminatory system. The main motto is “Let’s use the weapons of our opponents and turn them against them” and the method is to rebuild a facade of credibility towards voters who are unable to reconstruct a precise strategy: theirs.
Ramifications in the institutions
In 2014, the summit took place in Fürstenried Castle near Munich, then in 2015 the summit was held in Dublin, while the 2016 summit was hosted by the Polish organization Ordo Iuris in Warsaw. The majority are Catholic but the main representatives of Protestant and Orthodox traditionalists are also involved. “Agenda Europe”, however, evolves and becomes the main organizational center against human rights by coordinating the main NGOs to advance “true rights”, including politicians and leaders of right-wing parties, and with a network of parliaments both nationally and of the European Parliament. Like Luca Volontè of the Novae Terrae Foundation (the same one in which the senator of the Lega Simone Pillon participated), a former UDC parliamentarian sentenced to 4 years in prison for international corruption.
But also, Irish Senator Ronald Mullen, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski, Zejlka Markic, founder of the Croatian political party HRAST, Paul Moynan, political advisor for the European Conservative and Reformist Party (ECR), and Jakob Cornides, civil servant of the Directorate General for Trade to the European Commission. Among the big right-wing NGOs, we find the inevitable Ignacio Arsuaga of Hazte Or, a great friend of Meloni, and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM): both at the top of the World Congress of Families (the one we had at Verona in 2019 to be clear).
But what are their main purposes?
The main objectives are soon said: cancel the right to divorce, access to contraceptives, assisted reproduction techniques, abortion, redeem lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI), affirm once and for all the necessity to always defend marriage (also neglecting domestic violence if there is one), then prevent the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women and have those who have already ratified it withdrawn, press against the legislation on equality, to counter the threats deriving from the laws against discrimination, to sensitize public opinion on the persecution of Christians and, of course, to put women back at the center of her real function: that of a mother of a family subject to her father-master husband, thus re-establishing “the natural order of things “or the” traditional family “, the real one.
The traditional family
For them, on the topic of marriage “the first essential step is to recognize its procreative purpose”: an institution “that exists in the interest of children and, to a certain extent, in the interest of mothers who raise children”. A marriage which is only between a man and a woman, and which is “not just one of the many options for two people who want to start a family, but it is the only morally acceptable option”.
While on divorce the manifesto states that there are no international human rights that oblige countries to allow divorce, and that “legislation that allows a person to obtain a divorce too easily could be considered a violation of the right to marry”. While “the use of artificial contraceptive techniques is by nature an intrinsically immoral act”, and abortion is prohibited also in the event of rape, incest, fetal abnormality or risk to the health of the mother, as “if freely interpreted, in fact they come close to allowing abortion on demand ”.
Methods of pressure
One of the methods to restore this order is to enter governments and institutions, national and international organizations (including the EU), trying to create ad hoc laws or in any case profoundly influencing their content and process. A strategy that is producing concrete results. Some examples? The Polish law of 2016 to prohibit abortion drafted by Ordo Iuris, the prohibition of same-sex marriage in several Central European countries and over a dozen similar actions at national level and in European institutions, with the precise aim of limiting rights of women and LGBTI people. “Restoring the Natural Order” therefore proposes a normative framework based on the unifying concept of “Natural Law”, thus transcending the specific theological and confessional considerations of the members.
An action that is bearing fruit, as demonstrated by the Polish experiment that can be taken as a point of reference on what could become the Europe hoped for by these right-wingers
The laboratory of the reactionary right: Poland
After Orban’s Hungary left the “Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence”, Morawiecki’s Poland not only succeeded with a coup of the Constitutional Court to ban abortion even in the case of fetal malformation, but is working hard on a “Deal on the family” to be adopted by all European countries, contrasting this document with the Istanbul Convention already ratified by many states, including Italy.
A few years ago, the Sejm (Lower House of the Polish Parliament) voted the bill “Yes to the family, no to the Gender”, which authorized the President of the Republic, to exit the Istanbul Convention by proposing more suitable measures and asking the government to create a team to write a “Convention on the rights of the family”. In place of the Council of Europe Convention against gender-based violence signed by 45 countries, the Polish draft equates violence against women, men, children, the elderly, the disabled, and cancels the basic notion of the Istanbul Convention that male violence is a structural phenomenon resulting from an imbalance between the sexes.
Theses shared by the Polish Episcopate, as the Convention would attack religion despite only saying that it cannot be invoked to justify abuse and harassment
Deal on the family vs Istanbul Convention
A deal on the rights of the family that Poland has proposed, through an official letter sent by Prime Minister Morawiecki to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia. Letter introducing concepts of “crime against the family”, “child’s right to conception”, “protection of marriage between women and men”. An initiative that has aroused the interest of Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania, and which could create an alliance in Central and Eastern Europe, blocking the expansion of rights and putting the Istanbul Convention itself in great difficulty. A deal in which the weakening of the “traditional family” is indicated as the cause of domestic violence which can be resolved by giving the father greater control over the children, and by rejecting homosexual relationships and abortion.
The powerful legal institution of Ordo Iuris
Working on the drafting of this “Convention on the rights of the family” advocated by the right-wing government of PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), is Ordo Juris, the powerful legal institute that with its group of lawyers has written several bills in this direction. A deal signed by many far-right organizations in Europe, convinced that domestic violence is caused by the lack of a strong concept of family unity corresponding to the traditional model (that of the natural order) consisting of father, mother and children. The authors of this deal affirm that the causes of violence are not related to structural gender inequality but to “pathologies” such as pornography, alcohol, drugs and the sexualization of women in the media and in the public, and that it is essential to eradicate these deviations which also include abortion and homosexuality.
Article 37 asks countries to cooperate to ensure criminal liability for those who perform abortions and Article 14 asks public authorities “not to influence, in any way, the reduction of fertility or make it difficult for families to have children”. Convention on the rights of the family already supported and signed by several right-wing activists such as the Spanish Ignacio Arsuaga (HazteOir and CitizenGO) and Gregor Puppinck of the European Center for Law and Justice. Alternative convention already presented to the European Parliament where the Polish legal institution is also leading a campaign asking the European Commission to stop its efforts to ratify the Istanbul Convention because the biggest fear is that if the EU ratifies the Convention for the contrast violence against women, even those Member States that have not ratified it autonomously, should implement it.
Against abortion: those who have signed curiae friends
However, Ordo Iuris did not only work to stem the Istanbul Convention, because it also drafted the 2016 bill (“Universal Life Protection”) to eliminate abortion in Poland and in December 2020 presented the Polish Constitutional Court key to banning abortion in Poland with curiae friends (legal arguments). But what is friends curiae? Agata Bzdyń, lawyer of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, explains: “It is an opinion used to provide a court with arguments on which its decision should be based. The legal institute Ordo Iuris has been following this practice for some time, even in Strasbourg, where it often asks for its own opinion drawn up ad hoc by its lawyers to be deposited.
I have examined a series of requests of this type and I know the methods of verbal manipulation that Ordo Iuris uses to support its claims”
In support of Curia friends against abortion, an international network of far-right activists has signed: 31 organizations. Among the signatures are Professor Bogdan Chazan, director of MaterCare (an international organization of Catholic gynecologists registered in Canada); Patrik Daniska, president of the Human Rights and Family Policy Institute (HFI); the Slovakia Christiana Foundation, created by the Father Piotr Skarga Foundation of the Institute of Social and Religious Education in Krakow; the Croatian “In the Name of the Family”; Vigilare Foundation, subsidiary foundation of the Piotr Skarga Association; the Voice of the Family network, which represents an organized opposition to Pope Francis and proposes the obedience and virginity of Saint Mary as a model for women; the Lithuanian Free Society Institute; Alix Lejard of the French organization Femina Europa.
Francesca Romana Poleggi
But also Francesca Romana Poleggi of the Italian Pro Vita & Famiglia (among the organizers of the World Congress of Families); Sharon Slater of Family Watch International (an organization in Uganda that led a campaign to punish homosexuals with life imprisonment, as reported by “Open Democracy”); the Americans Population Research Institute and the Personhood Alliance (a radical wing of the anti-abortion movement in the US that fights to exclude abortion even as a result of rape or incest); Stefano Gennarini, director of the American Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (powerful backstage lobbyist of the United Nations).
How was Ordo Iuris born?
The Institute is able to develop complex legislative packages to be submitted to Parliament, and has members who are able to infiltrate decision-making contexts as they are closely linked to the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in government since 2015. Like Aleksander Stępkowski: lawyer, lecturer at the University of Warsaw, co-founder and first president of the Ordo Iuris Institute, was Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry between 2015 and 2016, and then appointed Supreme Court Justice in 2019, first President of the Supreme Court in 2020 and Supreme Court spokesman in the same year. Ordo Iuris is therefore not only an institution belonging to “Agenda Europe” but it is a powerful ultra-right Catholic organization that works with a large number of similar organizations in the world, as well as having ramifications in Estonia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Croatia and other countries. Low, with the aim of expanding to the rest of Europe (as shown by financial transactions to Lithuania and Slovakia of around € 100,000 in one year). Not only because Ordo Iuris is also an ally of ADF International, the Alliance Defending Freedom which supports opponents of sexual and reproductive rights around the world, and which in 2017 obtained “special consultative status” at the Economic and Social Council of United Nations (ECOSOC).
Tradition, Family and Property
Born in 2013 by the Father Piotr Skarga Foundation with an initial grant of 50,000 Polish zlotys (10,000 pounds), Ordo Iuris actually got its baptism in Brazil under the protective wing of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP): a transnational network of ultraconservatives founded in 1960 by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, which brings together 40 Catholic organizations and who for years has collaborated with the extreme right, starting with the regimes of Latin America.
“TFP is not a normal non-governmental organization but it is a political engine that idealizes a medieval lifestyle, and aspires to inflict its own ideology on everyone else,” says Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual Rights and reproductive
Founded as an ultra-Catholic movement characterized by the fusion of social conservatism and economic hyper-liberalism, the TFP (which has as its symbol the golden lion rampant as Ordo Iuris) started from Latin America to conquer Europe in the late 1990s. After the death of its founder, it became one of the most active networks against women’s sexual and reproductive rights and against LGBTQI people. Network to which the Croatian Vigilare and the SPTK Foundation for the protection of family and tradition in Estonia are also linked. In the 1980s, the TFP was accused of being involved in the attack on Pope John Paul II: accusations that were rejected, although in the 1985 report the Brazilian bishops describe it as dangerous due to its “esoteric character” and for the “fanaticism”.
But where do they get the money?
Funding these ultra-conservative right-wing organizations are billionaires, aristocrats and oligarchs. As for the “Restoring Natural Order: An Agenda for Europe”, which brings everyone together, it is difficult to know where the money comes from because many of their donors want to remain anonymous. On the other hand, “Open democracy” would have shown that much of the money comes from the Christian right in the United States: billionaires very close to the Republican Party. Families who create foundations in the United States, which in turn give money to NGOs that invest them in Europe by collaborating with European organizations or by setting up their own offices in Europe, such as the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) and the Alliance for the Defense of Freedom (ADF), both based in Brussels.
Yet at the first meeting in London to found “Agenda Europa” we find Vincente Segu, head of the Mexican organization Incluyendo Mexico with strong relationships with the billionaire Patrick Slim Domit (son of Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world); Archduke Imre and his wife, Archduchess Kathleen, of the Habsburg-Lorraine family; Oliver Hylton, former wealth manager of Sir Michel Hintze, financier of the Conservative Party in the UK. While in 2014 we also find Alexey Komov, head of the Great Foundation of Charity of San Basilio in Russia close to the very rich far-right oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, and Luca Volontè former parliamentary founder of Novae Terrae (FNT). Indeed, an inexhaustible source of funds is Russia, with oligarchs close to the Kremlin who have created foundations by investing in Russia and other European countries. Among the most important are Vladimir Yakunin, with the Istoki foundation which funds the anti-abortion movement Sanctity of Motherhood Program.
Inquiry published by the Italian newspaper Articolo21