If Italy’s recent local elections were a test of the nation’s pulse, then the country could take a right turn next year.
It is because of the success of the feast of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) by Giorgia Meloni.
He became Italy’s main opposition force and led a right-wing coalition that recorded massive gains in local polls.
With general elections slated for next year – and the Brethren of Italy leading opinion polls – the prospect of Meloni being Italy’s next prime minister is gaining momentum.
Who is Giorgia Meloni and what does she represent?
The leader of the Italian brothers, Meloni, was born and raised in Rome, the capital.
The origins of his party lie in the now defunct Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano), which rebuilt the defeated Fascist Party from its ruins at the end of World War II and transformed it into a nationalist force. more moderate.
The Italian Social Movement was co-founded by Giorgio Almirante, who had been an active collaborator and organizer in the Italian Social Republic, a Nazi puppet state during the war.
Back in 2020, Meloni describes Almirante as a “patriot” and praised his “unconditional love for Italy, his honesty, consistency, [and] his courage “.
“Brothers of Italy is a party in line with the neo-fascist tradition,” Professor Andrea Mammone, one of Italy’s leading contemporary historians, told Euronews.
“Many of its members show a positive approach to Mussolini’s regime. Two of Mussolini’s great-nephews joined the party. That says a lot about their nature.
Nevertheless, Meloni – in politics since the 1990s and a former youth minister in Berlusconi’s coalition cabinet – has carved out an image of a moderate and acceptable politician who has distanced herself from fascist apologists and nostalgics in within his party.
Meloni’s current platform is built on a national-conservative and sovereignist model. It opposes mass immigration and the so-called “Islamization” of Italy and Europe, calls for a strengthening of law and order and the relaxation of the notoriously Kafkaesque bureaucracy of Italy.
Alongside Salvini, she has also often been seen as one of the country’s foremost Eurosceptics, due to her criticism of the euro and “Brussels bureaucrats”.
Euroscepticism itself is generally described as a recent phenomenon in Italy, attributed to political developments following the 1992 Maastricht Treaty – in particular the eurozone and refugee crisis of the past decade.
Nonetheless, it actually traces a much older history in the country, with anti-European sentiment alive since the 1950s.
Meloni’s recent assertion that “Europe needs a soul” has a striking parallel to the headline of a far-right magazine from 1957, which called the Common Market “Europe without a soul”.
Even more unexpectedly, the main Italian Eurosceptics were the Communists – the polar opposites of Meloni, who nevertheless shared similar protectionist concerns.
Despite her anti-EU criticism, Meloni remains firm in her opposition to a hypothetical “Italexit” and has dismissed claims that she is “anti-European”.
On social issues, Meloni is resolutely traditional and opposes abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.
What do the local election results mean for Italy?
Local elections often act as a sort of political thermostat, shining a light on the public mood.
The results of the first round – a second is scheduled for June 26 – gave a serious boost to the confidence of the Brothers of Italy, since the party obtained the best result within the center-right coalition, which -even is in the lead, overall.
Recent surveys support these trends. The latest results showed that the Brothers of Italy have become the first party in the country, vote at 22-23% and just ahead of the Democratic Party, which comes in second place with 19%.
The centre-left Democratic Party also scored a favorable result – winning back the northern Italian city of Lodi, for example – and technically emerged as the single best performing party, with 17.2% . The reverse was true for the once-leading Five Star Movement, which suffered a crushing defeat and won only 2.1% of the vote.
Brothers of Italy is running in a center-right electoral coalition, which includes two parties currently in government: the populist anti-immigration party of Matteo Salvini, the Northern League (Lega Nord), and the former Premier Minister Silvio Berlusconi, more moderately conservative, Go Italy (Forza Italy).
Notably, the elections also signaled waning support for Salvini, who brought the League to a (short-lived) government in 2018 and topped the 2019 European Parliament elections with 34.3% of the vote. League stronghold Verona nearly lost to the centre-left and will have to undergo a second round of elections.
Salvini himself was once seen as responsible for the Northern League’s palingenesis in the 2010s, reversing the failing fortunes of the former breakaway and outraged party. Nonetheless, his party has haemorrhaged nearly half of its supporters since 2020, many of whom have been picked up by the Brethren of Italy.
Analysts attribute the losses to Salvini’s failed bid to call a general election in the summer of 2019 – a maneuver that resulted in his accidental self-exclusion from government – and his approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, which was widely perceived to be poorly calculated and cumbersome.
To add insult to injury, a Salvini-backed referendum on justice reform, held on June 12 – the same day as local elections – was scrapped after recording a record turnout of 20.9 %.
Following this, the Brothers of Italy could become the main Italian party in the general elections of 2023. But as Meloni herself urged on the Italian television program Porta a Porta, the key lies in the coalition centre-right that stands together as a unified force.
“The centre-right [coalition] must stick together,” Francesco Giubilei, a writer and conservative activist, told Euronews. “The moment it splits, it loses.”
“The League pays for the fact that it is in government,” he added. “The Brothers of Italy, being in opposition, perform better and intercept a cross-sectional electorate – intercepting disappointed voters from the Five Star Movement and the League, but also voters who see the Brothers of Italy as a force politician who could potentially form a government, due to Meloni’s conservative turn in recent months and years.
Asked about the League’s disappointing performance in local elections, party MP Alex Bazzaro shared Giubilei’s sentiment.
“We pay for [our] choice to stay in government,” he told Euronews.
What do Italians think of Giorgia Meloni?
Meloni’s reputation as a consistent and convinced politician made her popular with a large segment of Italian voters, ranking among the most trusted leaders in Italy.
Many others, however, do not share such a sentiment and instead view his far-right political background as particularly disturbing.
“A cabinet led by her will essentially mean that Italy will follow a path similar to that of Orbán – nationalism, anti-EU, anti-immigration, with some tensions with international allies,” warned Mammone, an expert from the Italian extreme right. “Moreover, it will lead to a further rehabilitation of fascism.”
For many in the gay community in particular, the prospect of Meloni taking the helm is particularly worrisome, given his LGBT+ rights record.
“The Italian right is in line with the propaganda supported by all European sovereigntist forces, which aims to limit the rights, freedom and self-determination of women and LGBTIQ+ people”, declared Gianmarco Capogna, activist and door -word of the organization Possibile LGBTI+. . “Meloni fits perfectly into this image.
Despite the Senate’s rejection of the Zan anti-homophobia bill last October, Italy has made massive progress on LGBT+ equality over the past decade and has seen favorable shifts in public opinion.
The day before the local elections, Rome hosted its Pride Paradewhich filled many streets and squares of the historic center with tens, even hundreds of thousands of people.
Just two days later, Meloni spoke out against LGBT+ rights at a rally for Spain’s far-right Vox party in Marbella, Andalusia.
“Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby! Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology! she shouted from the podium.
“We are facing a full-frontal attack on the struggle for the demand for equality, which is capable of mobilizing 900,000 people as we saw last Saturday in Rome,” Capogna concluded. “It’s not just the LGBTIQ+ community, but the realization that these battles, our battles, are battles for civility.”