Italy looks set for its first far-right-led government since World War II
A party with neo-fascist roots won the most votes in Italy’s national elections, which look set to deliver the country’s first far-right-led government since World War II and its first female prime minister, near-final results showed Monday.
Italy’s lurch to the far right immediately shifted Europe’s geopolitical reality, placing a Euroskeptic party in position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed the victory for the Brothers of Italy party and its leader, Giorgia Meloni, as a historic message to Brussels, while Italy’s left warned of “dark days” ahead and vowed to keep Italy in the heart of Europe.
The near-final results showed the conservative coalition in Sunday’s election netting some 44% of the vote for parliamentary seats, with the Brothers of Italy receiving about 26%. Meloni’s partners divided up the rest of the coalition’s share of votes, with populist leader Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League winning nearly 9% and the more moderate Forza Italia of ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8%.
The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26%, while the 5-Star Movement — which had been the biggest vote-getter in 2018 parliamentary elections — saw its share of the vote halved to about 15% this time around.
Turnout was at a historic low of 64%. Pollsters suggested that voters stayed home in part in protest and also because they were disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the three governments since the previous election.
Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the postwar, neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, sounded a moderate, unifying tone in a victory speech early Monday.
Some call her a fascist, but Giorgia Meloni’s outsider image appeals to many politics-weary Italians.
“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people [of this country],” Meloni said at her party’s Rome headquarters. “Italy chose us,” she said. “We will not betray [the country], as we never have.”
While the right-wing coalition was the clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi remains in a caretaker role.
The elections, which took place six months early after Draghi’s government collapsed, come at a crucial time for Europe as it faces Russia’s war in Ukraine and the related soaring energy costs that have hit ordinary Italian pocketbooks as well as industry.
A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including her pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend against Russia’s invasion, even as her coalition allies strike a slightly different tone.
Gina Lollobrigida says she’s seeking office because she is ‘tired of hearing politicians arguing with each other without ever getting to the point.’
Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both have distanced themselves from his invasion, Salvini has warned that sanctions against Moscow are hurting Italian industry, and even Berlusconi has excused Putin’s invasion as one forced on him by pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
A bigger shift and one likely to cause friction with European partners is likely to come over migration. Meloni has called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and has proposed screening potential asylum-seekers in Africa before they set out on smugglers’ boats to Europe.
Salvini has made clear he wants to return to the interior ministry, where he imposed a tough anti-migrant policy as minister. But he may face an internal leadership challenge after the League suffered an abysmal result of under 10%, with Meloni’s party outperforming it in its northeastern stronghold.
Salvini acknowledged that the League was punished for its governing alliances with the 5-Stars and then Draghi, but said: “It’s a good day for Italy because it has five years of stability ahead of it.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic changes working patterns, rural Italian towns are offering cut-price homes to lure new residents. Even Americans are buying.
On relations with the European Union, analysts note that for all her Euroskeptic rhetoric, Meloni moderated her message during the campaign and has little room to maneuver given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in coronavirus recovery funds. Italy secured some 191.5 billion euros (about $185 billion), the biggest chunk of the EU’s recovery program, and must hit reform and investment milestones to receive it all.
That said, Meloni has criticized the EU’s recent recommendation to suspend 7.5 billion euros (about $7.3 billion) in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding, defending Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a democratically elected leader.
Orban’s political director, Balazs Orban, was among the first to congratulate Meloni. “In these difficult times, we need more than ever friends who share a common vision and approach to Europe’s challenges,” he tweeted.
Far-right French politician Marine Le Pen praised Meloni for having “resisted the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union.”
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Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox opposition party, tweeted that Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”
Meloni is chair of the right-wing European Conservative and Reformist group in the European Parliament, which gathers together the Brothers of Italy, Poland’s Law and Justice Party, Spain’s Vox and the Sweden Democrats. The Sweden Democrats just scored a victory in elections on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting immigration.
“The trend that emerged two weeks ago in Sweden was confirmed in Italy,” Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta said, calling Monday a “sad day for Italy, for Europe.”
“We expect dark days. We fought in every way to avoid this outcome,″ Letta said at a somber news conference. While acknowledging that the future of the party and his own future required reflection, he vowed: “The PD will not allow Italy to leave the heart of Europe.”
Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at Rome’s Luiss University and the executive editor of the Journal of European Integration, noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a consistent foreign and European policy that is in some ways bigger than individual party interests.
Rocco Morabito was convicted two decades ago in absentia of drug-trafficking as part of the fearsome ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate.
“Whatever Meloni might be up to will have to be moderated by her coalition partners and indeed with the established consensus of Italian foreign policy,” Christiansen said in an interview.
Meloni proudly touts her roots as a militant in the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, or MSI, which was formed in the aftermath of World War II with the remnants of dictator Benito Mussolini’s Fascist supporters. Meloni joined in 1992 as a 15-year-old.
During the campaign, Meloni was forced to respond after the Democrats used her party’s origins to paint Meloni as a danger to democracy.
“The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws,” she said in a multilingual campaign video.
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