The Speaker
Saturday, 20 July 2024 – 07:46

Right-wing alliance takes power in Italy

An alliance of right-wing parties, including the Brothers of Italy led by Giorgia Meloni, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia and former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s Lega party, has swept to victory after elections took place in Italy on Sunday.    

Ms. Meloni’s party won the largest portion of the vote share at 26%, with the centre-left Democratic, led by Enrico Letta, coming in second with a 19% share.  The populist Five Star Movement, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009 and currently led by Giuseppe Conte, came in third with 15.4% of the total share.  The election was called after the collapse of Mario Draghi’s broad coalition, which included Forza Italia and Lega, as well as the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party, in July.  The Brothers of Italy were not part of the coalition.  

In Italian politics, parties tend to form blocs to compete in elections.  The strong performance of Brothers of Italy disguised the poor turnout for the other two constituent parties of the rightist bloc.  Berlusconi’s Forza Italia only took 8.12% of the vote share, whilst the previous rising star of the far-right Matteo Salvini’s party Lega only managed 8.7%.  This is a remarkable result for the Brothers of Italy, who have risen from obscurity (with 4.4% of the vote share in the last general election in 2018) to ascendancy.  Meloni will likely become Italy’s first-ever female prime minister, although the government must be confirmed by President Sergio Mattarella, which is expected to happen in October.  

Italy is in deep debt; it is the second most indebted country in the EU.  It is heavily dependent upon the COVID recovery payouts offered by the EU, which totals around €191.5  billion.   Although she had softened her stance towards the EU, she still has a history of Euroscepticism, indeed earlier on in the year she denounced ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ in a speech to the far-right Vox party of Spain.  The EU is seeking to enforce reforms in the judiciary and civil service started by former prime minister Mario Draghi and has linked funding to help service Italy’s debt and revive its economy to these reforms.  With Meloni expected to seek renegotiation of this deal, a potential flashpoint of conflict between Italy and the wider EU, particularly France and Germany, is created.    

Viktor Orban in Hungary, leader of the governing far-right Fidesz party and Mateusz Morawiecki, leader of the ruling Justice party in Poland, were especially eager to offer Meloni their congratulations.  Indeed, the two states have been a thorn in the side of the EU, conflicting with Brussels over immigration and civil liberties.  If Meloni rules as a populist crusader, rather than as the pragmatic conservative image she presented in the elections, then the three countries could find themselves in an alliance of nationalist governments on the European stage.    

Another issue is the war in Ukraine.  Meloni backs EU sanctions on Russia and considers herself firmly on the Ukrainian side.  However, Salvini and Berlusconi are more ambivalent.  Salvini has criticised Russian sanctions, blaming them for the economic woes that confront Italy, especially on the issue of energy prices.  Berlusconi has made statements that can be interpreted as being pro-Russian, justifying the invasion by saying that Zelenskyy’s government needs to be replaced by ‘decent people’.  This, alongside the sense of grievance Salvini carries over being overshadowed and beaten to the Prime Minister job by Meloni (he was heard calling Meloni a ‘pain in the ass’ on a secret recording), shows fractures within the victorious coalition.    

As for domestic issues, Meloni has promised a hard-line approach to questions over immigration, cultural identity and LGBT issues. Immigration specifically was a key plank in the election.  Salvini, who was Interior Minister in the previous government, used his position to push for a policy of blockading refugee boats and Meloni wishes to take this further. It is likely that a raft of policies, such as closing shelters and scrapping temporary work permits, will be introduced to make being a refugee more difficult in Italy  Meloni’s promises on reducing immigration will encourage a punitive approach to migrants and embolden racism within Italy.  

Meloni is on record as denouncing so-called gender ideology and the ‘LGBT lobby’, which has caused activists considerable anxiety over a possible threat to LGBT rights in the country.  Although Meloni has denied suggestions that she will roll back abortion access or LGBT rights, politicians within her coalition have made homophobic statements, including Federico Mollicone, a culture spokesman within the Brothers of Italy, who criticised an episode of Peppa Pig for featuring a same-sex couple and said that same-sex couples are ”not legal”.  Activists worry that, at best, Meloni’s government will stall progress on LGBT rights in Italy (which are behind those of comparable European countries) and at worst, invigorate homophobia and transphobia within Italy as a political force.  

At this stage, much is still unknown about how Meloni will actually govern.  There is uncertainty over whether she will take a hard-right populist approach or a more technocratic and pragmatic approach when the coalition assumes power later this year. 

However, one thing is for certain; Meloni faces a plethora of challenges from day one in office, including a moribund economic outlook, rising energy prices and a deepening debt crisis.  She must also satisfy her voting base with ‘red meat’ policies, whilst keeping a close eye on her two coalition partners lest discontent begin to spread. Italy is a politically volatile country, and Meloni will have to tread carefully if she wishes to buck the trend of short-lived Italian governments.  

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