'Italy is our starting point, and Salvini the model,' says this Belgian politician bringing the populists of Europe under one roof with the help of Donald Trump's former right-hand man.
BRUSSELS — Southeast of the palaces of the European quarter, about 10 kilometers from the center of Brussels, is a luxurious red-brick building surrounded by green. Located in Watermael-Boitsfort, the wealthiest of the capital region's 19 municipal districts that form the Brussels-Capital Region, this structure is the home of a conservative Belgian politician. But its importance stretches well beyond the country's borders.
It is here, 42 Avenue du Houx, that The Movement — Steve Bannon"s political project to unite the all European nationalists under one roof — plans to have its base of operations. "But it won't be a political party," says Mischaël Modrikamen, the man who actually lives in the building. "The movement will be a sort of club, open to all populist leaders."
A club with decidedly comfortable trappings. There's a pool outside, dogs that follow the passing gardener, and chestnuts falling from the trees.
Modrikamen is a politician and lawyer by trade. He first dropped into the media spotlight 10 years ago when he defended shareholders of Fortis Bank after they'd been overwhelmed by the subprime mortgage crisis. Today, he's Bannon's right-hand-man in Europe — even though the two only met for the first time July.
"But from the first moment, there was a spark," Modrikamen recalls with a twinkle in his eyes.
More sovereignty for the nations, border control, immigration limits and a fight against radical Islam.
The UK's Nigel Farrage had organized the lunch in London where they met, and on that day the international nationalists got their start. From a technical standpoint, The Movement existed before that. Modrikamen incorporated it as a foundation in January 2017, with members such as Laure Ferrari, a French politician linked to Farage, and Yasmine Dehaene, the lawyer's wife. It was a legal instrument, in other words, that Modrikamen was then able to place in Bannon's hands. The next step was a European recruitment tour.
In early September, Modrikamen went to Italy to welcome Matteo Salvini to the club. He returned the following weekend, still in the company of Donald Trump's ex-guru, to welcome Giorgia Meloni. "Italy is our starting point, and Salvini is a model for many," the lawyer explains. "We will certainly also have contact with the 5 Star Movement. It's true that we come from the right. But we have many points in common with them, and they're aligned with Farage."
On September 18, another important figure was added to the ranks: Louis Aliot, the French European Parliament member and life partner of Marine Le Pen, announced that the Rassemblement National (ex National Front) will enter the club. "The moment has come to unite our strengths," says Modrikamen, speaking in a conference room in his home. "We have to create an international populist organization with four to five common principals." They are: "More sovereignty for the nations, border control, immigration limits and a fight against radical Islam. We will start in Europe, but our objective is to create a global club, from Canada to Asia."
Bannon, Salvini, and Modrikamen after a meeting — Photo: Mischaël Modrikamen's official Facebook page
The membership will be open "to populist leaders who are already part of other political families, like Viktor Orban. We don't ask for exclusivity." And the money? "It makes me laugh when people bring up Russia. We are financed by private donations."
The first big finish line is the European Parliament elections next spring. The movement wants to push its affiliates to establish a unified group, leaving them the freedom to organize themselves as they best believe. "We will provide the expertise," says the lawyer. "We want to give the movement tools for the elections. Polling services, analysis of big data, social media strategies."
They don't play to participate, but to win: "Opposition is not enough; you have to enter the control room." The road to follow? "The Austrian model. With the right's Kurz, Seehofer, or even Boris Johnson, the room for dialogue is there."
We will provide the expertise.
The Movement's base of operations will be right here in this villa, south of Brussels, that already hosts Modrikamen's legal offices and the seat of the "Popular Party" that he founded in 2009. From where, in editor's clothes, he also runs the daily newspaper Le Peuple.
"We have 1,200 meters squared at our disposition, which is great," he says, gesturing at the park that surrounds the house. In the initial phase, The Movement will employ 10-15 people, with plans to grow.
Under an enormous painting of Winston Churchhill that stands in the hallway of the villa, everyone is ready for the challenge. "The pro-immigration global elites are already organized. Now we need to do the same and unite ourselves as well. Because we"—he smiles as he cuts a croissant with a knife—"We are the spokesmen for the people."