The far right-wing at the doorstep of the Italian government

On Sunday 25th of September 2022, the post-fascist party Fratelli d’Italia (“Brothers of Italy”) won the parliamentary elections. Giorgia Meloni, the party’s leader, is claiming the leadership of the next government. A period of uncertainty is opening up in Italy and in the European Union, as the right-wing and far-right coalition faces considerable challenges.  
photography of Giorgia Meloni / crédit @Andreas Solaro
photography of Giorgia Meloni / crédit @Andreas Solaro

The legislative elections in Italy

The Italian Republic is a parliamentary democratic republic with a bicameral parliament, with 200 senators and 400 deputies, who have equal powers. Italian executive power is exercised by the President of the Council of Ministers appointed by the President of the Republic after consultation with Parliament. The President of the Council of Ministers leads the government and is responsible to Parliament. 

Legislative elections are held every five years with a mixed system, combining proportional representation by region for two-thirds and a first-past-the-post system for the remaining third. However, there is a chronic instability in the Italian government, due in particular to the play of party alliances. Therefore, no government has ever lasted five years. This is the case today with the early parliamentary elections that took place on the 25th of September 2022, following the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi on the 20th of July. As a former president of the European Central Bank, he was obviously highly regarded in European circles.

On Sunday 25th of September, the coalition composed of Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia, Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia party won around 43% of the votes. This gives the coalition an absolute majority of seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Giorgia Meloni’s party alone received 26% of the votes , with an abstention rate of 36%. Meloni reacted: “Italians have sent a clear message in favour of a right-wing government led by Fratelli d’Italia”. Thus, she affirmed her ambition to become Prime Minister: “We will govern for all Italians”. Matteo Salvini rejoiced on Twitter: “the coalition has a clear advantage both in the House and in the Senate! It will be a long night, but I want to thank you already”.

tweet from Matteo Salvini, head of the League party and former Vice-president of the Council of Ministers

Giorgia Meloni is the favourite to head the government in which the far right would largely dominate the classical right. The Democratic Party, the main left-wing formation has to be satisfied with a score of 19%.

Giorgia Meloni to head the Italian Council of Ministers

Giorgia Meloni was born in Rome in 1977 and grew up in the working-class district of Garbatelle. She developed her strong identity in contradiction with her very left-wing and even extreme left-wing entourage. She has been active in politics since she was 17, particularly with the youth of the Italian Social Movement. In 1996, she was in charge of the national student action of the National Alliance, the far-right party. During the elections, she was interviewed by France 3 and gave a speech praising the founder of fascism and Italian dictator for nearly 20 years: “I think that Mussolini was a good politician, meaning that everything he did, he did for Italy. You don’t find that in the politicians we’ve had in the last fifty years”.

French National Audiovisual Institute archives, 1996 France3 interview

She later trained as a journalist, while remaining deeply involved in politics. After serving as vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies in 2006, she becames minister for youth in Berlusconi’s government. Today, as head of the Fratelli d’Italia party, she is trying to erase her youthful political legacy in order to reassure voters and international opinion.

Fratelli d’Italia, a small party on the rise

After the cancellation of the primary elections of Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party in 2012, Giorgia Meloni left the party to found Fratelli d’Italia alongside two former members of the government, Ignazio la Russa and Guido Crosetto. In 2014, she became president of this party, which uses Mussolini’s flame as its symbol, while declaring that the page of fascism has been turned (apologising for fascism is punished in Italy). This small political party made 4% in the 2018 legislative elections and 6% in the 2019 European elections. It then began to take off in the polls as Matteo Salvini fell. Giorgia Meloni thus benefits from the absence of a real competitor on the right. She succeeded in establishing herself as leader of a right-wing coalition with the League and Forca Italia.

official logo of the political party Fratelli d’Italia

Fratelli d’Italia has claimed since its creation to be the heir of the Italian Social Movement, founded by former leaders of the Italian Social Republic. It thus plays on ambiguity, using the logo of the tricolour flame, and the Roman salute which is tolerated by Italian law “for commemorative purposes”.

Giorgia Meloni’s party is therefore labelled as post-fascist by the opposition and international opinion, even though she denies it. Her political career shows that she has moved away from her radical beginnings, while still indulging in this ambiguity.  

The rise of the far right in an Italy in crisis

In Italy, due to the very disparate coalitions, programmes are not intended to be implemented and are sometimes very vague. They are mainly used to differentiate the candidates. Therefore, the campaign is not the only moment in Italian political life and the debate continues afterwards. The particularity of Italian elections is the hypersonalisation of the candidates. Since there is no real programme, the electorate’s attention is devoted to the person who embodies the party or coalition. Political figures are consequently consumed as products to be tried, which is what Giorgia Meloni embodies. She seems to be able to bring renewal, she has never been “tried” and she is a woman.

Giorgia Meloni’s programme is hence not defined, even if the guideline is given. She notes a demand for security, lower taxes and purchasing power, but without explaining the means. She plans to block migrants crossing the Mediterranean, as well as an ambitious family policy to boost the birth rate in ageing Italy. Moreover, she promises to give the country back its dignity, which stems from the popular feeling of having been mistreated.  But despite her promises, the likely future head of government already seems to have her hands tied. Indeed, she will have to deal with soaring prices in an Italy that is crumbling under a debt of 150% of GDP. Her economic room for manoeuvre will therefore be very limited.

Having always had a firm position towards Russia, Giorgia Meloni is very Atlanticist on the context of the war. She has no choice, as she needs the money from the European post-pandemic recovery plan of 130 billion euros. However, she claims a change in Europe’s attitude, following the example of Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński. She advocates a Christian and Western European identity, allied with the US, and turned towards respect for values and authority.

Therefore, Giorgia Meloni is the favourite to take over the government. This is a real earthquake for Italy and the European Union, for a founding member of the European Union and the third largest economy in the euro zone. Giorgia Meloni’s policies could jeopardise Italy’s relationship with the EU, the European recovery plan, future economic agreements or European construction as it is conducted today. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne declared that France would be attentive to the “respect” of human rights and abortion in Italy.

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