Frédéric Mertens de Wilmars
Lecturer and Coordinator of the Degree in International Relations / Universidad Europea de Valencia
fter Sweden, the far right has made a new breakthrough in Europe, where for the first time since 1945, a post-fascist party is in power in Italy. According to the election results, the Fratelli d’Italia party is emerging as the main political alternative. This comes as a shock to the Italian political class and European rulers, but at the same time it was the chronicle of a victory foretold for several reasons.
First, the voting system: 2/3 of deputies and senators elected by proportional representation, and 1/3 by majority vote. The right-wing coalition presented a single candidate in all the polling stations. The right-wing coalition won 44-45%. The opponents were in the majority, but they were divided and therefore did not win.
Secondly, Italy is a founding member of the European Union. It is a political earthquake for Italians, but also for Europeans. Italy’s endemic economic crisis has tired the Italian electorate. Giorgia Meloni’s success is due to the fact that she has been in opposition for 10 years. She seems new, although she started in politics at the age of fifteen. Today she is 45 years old. She has catalysed all the discontent. Indeed, she has developed the nationalist theme, which appeals to a certain Eurosceptic electorate, which is looking for values, especially conservative, even reactionary ones. She was a fascist, she does not deny it. However, she has belatedly distanced herself from fascism, without saying that it was the evil of the 20th century. She avoids this debate on fascism. It is conservative, especially on questions of values. It mixes liberalism and at the same time talks about social protection. It has clear enemies: Islam, immigrants, migrants, as well as a great distrust of all sexual minorities. Within public opinion, there are those nostalgic for fascism who share Meloni’s ideas, but so far they are a minority.
The post-fascist Meloni has succeeded in her gamble: by campaigning on immigration, she has been able to rally an electorate sensitive to identity issues, and by promising to lower taxes, she has been able to win over small businessmen. However, he may face a number of difficulties in the future. Since Italian politicians tend to change political labels after being elected, he will have to deal with some defections from the right, which could make his task more difficult. He will also have to deal with Berlusconi, who has received between 8.5% and 12.5%, confirming his return to the limelight. He will have a role to play in this majority. Some already see him as the future president of the Senate.
As for the Italian left, it has not been up to the task, it has betrayed its voters. The campaign was not well run. Enrico Letta [former prime minister, leader of the Democratic Party] did not understand the magnitude of the danger, he should have united all forces. He only repeated three words, environment, labour and civil rights, but without any real content. Giorgia Meloni has been underestimated by her opponents. Five years ago they were at 4%. Her rise has been spectacular. Her voters have been marginalised, the election results were the great revenge of the electorate. It is true that the left failed to unite people, but it was complicated. There is a problem throughout the European left. There is a problem of the relationship with the working classes.
Abstention, which is 36%, and eight to ten points more in the South of Italy, has played a very important role in the election results. This is the proof that there is a real political distrust. It is the worst turnout in the history of the Italian Republic. As elsewhere in Europe, it is also a symptom of the crisis of the Italian political system and democracy.
As for the consequences in Europe, there is also the question of how Italians will spend the winter, when they will have to pay for electricity, when their bills will rise. So far they support Ukrainian policy, except for sending arms. A priori, it seems that there will be no change with regard to the Ukrainian war, but there will be, because the Italy of Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi could ally itself with Poland and Orban’s Hungary: it is Europe’s policy as a defender of rights that will be weakened. As long as Poland and Hungary were marginal countries, it was one thing. But now it is Italy, it is the heart of Europe. We risk having a real problem of point of view, and a change in relation to Europe. On the war in Ukraine and Italy’s position, does Giorgia Meloni intend to continue with the policy she has followed so far? If we look at the outcome of the elections, she can impose the agreement on her partners. And this Italian policy must continue.
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