Europe’s Second Far-Right Win, Where is Italy Headed Now?
“Pronti a risollevare l’Italia,” states Giorgia Meloni, the current front runner in the far-right coalition, on her official party’s website, Fratelli d’Italia.
On September 25, 2022, Italy held a snap election after the Italian Government Crisis in July led to the step down of former Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, despite winning a vote of no confidence days earlier. The election will result in the next ruling coalition and the next Prime Minister of Italy, which, if the government does not dissolve prior, will be the governing coalition of Italy for five years.
This comes at a crucial time where the country is split on many issues such as the sanctions against Russian gas, its stance on the EU, especially in the Eurozone, abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and methods for economic recovery. This last issue is specifically highlighted by Fratelli d’Italia, the head of the potentially most right-wing government in Italy since World War II. Fratelli d’Italia had a commanding lead in the polls, which
demonstrates the dramatic growth of the party; five years ago, Meloni’s party was only receiving four percent of the vote. With a Fratelli d’Italia victory, Italy potentially will move toward the governing styles and ideological policies of more right-leaning countries in the EU, which would mark a significant transition in EU politics and change up power balances that have been in place for decades.
The primary candidates who ran in the election were Meloni, president of Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) and runner-up Enrico Letta who leads the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party). Other people and parties playing key roles in the elections are ex-Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, Movimento 5 Stelle (5-Star Movement) party led by Giuseppe Conte, Italia Viva led by Matteo Renzi, and Azione led by Carlo Calenda.
The election was spurred earlier this summer in July, when, on July 14, Mario Draghi offered his resignation as prime minister. His official resignation did not occur until July 20 when he failed to get 100 percent support from his coalition in the vote of no confidence conducted on that same day. The week before, Italian President Sergio Mattarella rejected Draghi’s original offer to resign, which is the reason behind the vote of no confidence.
Draghi’s cabinet was formed by a variety of political parties, ranging from far-right to far-left on the political spectrum. Draghi, however, is an independent and comes from a strong economic and financial background, being the former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi’s background in economics led him to be a stabilizing force in the EU as the Italian prime minister, helping Italy recover from the COVID-19 economic downturn and being vocal in the current EU energy crisis due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
However, when the 5-Star Movement withdrew its support from Draghi’s government and began the government crisis, Conte expressed grave concern about the direction Italy was headed under the Draghi government, stating he has “a strong fear that September will be a time when many families will face the terrible choice of paying their electricity bill or buying food.” This statement by Conte was in regard to the Draghi government’s handling of the ongoing energy crisis in Europe, and remains something major to consider as Italians go to the polls to vote this Sunday.
Polls are not shown two weeks before the vote, but the rightist coalition involving Fratelli d’Italia, La Lega, and Forza Italia has maintained a positive trend in previous polls. It seems as though Giorgia Meloni is the likely choice for Prime Minister. The positions of the parties in this election are as follows: the conservative alliance call for tax cuts to help with inflation; the PD (Democratic Party) wants tax reductions dedicated toward lower income groups; Five-Star has emphasized a “citizens’ wage'' to combat poverty; Fratelli d’Italia calls for support of Western Policies against Russia; La Lega under Salvini calls for easing of economic side-effects on Italians imposed by the EU’s sanctions on Russia; Forza Italia under Berlusconi defends Putin, recently receiving lashback for it.
As the frontrunner in this election, Meloni and Fratelli d’Italia have their ideological roots in neo-Fascism, with Meloni even describing fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini as a “good politician.” While Meloni occasionally denies her beliefs in fascism, one of her key statements in her political career is, “we will defend God, the homeland, and the family,” which mimics the Mussolini era slogan “God, homeland, family.”
Countries in the EU are split on their views of Meloni and where she could lead Italy if she is elected. Right leaning countries, such as Poland and Hungary, are supportive of Meloni and see an opportunity for Italy to become an ally, with Viktor Orbán being a known political and economic inspiration for Meloni’s policies. Zdzislaw Krasnodebskia, a lawmaker from the ruling PiS party in Poland, stating that the rise of right-wing parties in EU countries “is a chance to correct European policy.”
However, two major EU powers have great concern over Meloni’s rise in Italy and what would happen if she were to be elected. Germany’s Rolf Müntzenich, a lawmaker in the ruling Social Democrat party, stated “it is worrying that a founding member of the EU is in such a situation. It is a threat to the EU and to Italy,” and a German magazine called Stern labeled Meloni as “the most dangerous woman in Europe.” French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed concern in private about Meloni’s rise in Italy, while publicly expressing optimism.
While the right has been on the rise in Italy, however, in the past couple weeks, voter sentiment seems to have shifted while opinion polls have been closed, hinting toward a rise of the left-leaning 5-Star Movement under Giuseppe Conte. Despite this, the right is still probable to win a majority in both houses of parliament. The head of the Eumetra polling agency said that nothing is certain and predicted that the rightest majority has fallen at about 20% since a few weeks ago. The rise of 5-Star could be due to Conte’s campaign focus, which has emphasized a poverty relief scheme dedicated toward southern Italians. But, this doesn’t mean the left is united: the Democratic Party, another leftist party, is also running for seats. Because “Italy’s electoral system favors groups able to form broad alliances,” the united right could very well win the PM position if the left does not fix its divisions.
During the parliamentary elections, voters elect all members of two chambers of the Italian parliament. A constitutional referendum had cut the size of the chambers almost in half, the lower house going from 630 to 400 seats and the Senate from 315 to 200; ⅔ majority now requires 267 of 134 seats. Polls are open from 7:00am to 11:00pm local time. An estimated 50 million Italians are eligible to vote. There are about 61,500 polling stations that will be open from 7:00am to 11:00pm. Although this is one of the most crucial elections for Italy in the past 70 years, turnout is expected to hit a record low, falling below 2018’s turnout of 72.9%.
Below the percentage of each party’s seats in the house can be seen:
As of Sunday afternoon, turnout has been steady. President Sergio Matttarella, the figurehead who will ultimately decide the winner, casted his vote in his hometown of Palermo.
Views of the voters, especially surrounding Meloni, have proved very diverse, ranging from people refusing to vote completely to those voting for her based on her image. A ice cream-shop owner, Giandrea Pipolo, has stated he feels very strongly about the issue of the cost of living and that politicians in this election are not concerned enough about this, so much so that he has a sign in his shop showing the rise in electricity prices to maintain his shop with the words: “Io Non Voto,” which translates to “I’m not voting.”
On the other side of the spectrum, there are voters for Meloni who support her, not because of her conservative policies, but because she is a woman. One voter at the probable next Italian ruling coalition’s final rally in Rome stated that she is voting for Meloni “because she is a girl like us…” indicating a sentiment among Meloni voters that does not have to do with far-right conservatism, but her gender. And considering how the coalition is ideologically center-right, with other parties intending to balance out Fratelli d’Italia’s far-right ideology, many voters might believe in the possibility that Meloni will not be able to implement some of her more controversial ideological positions, such as her views against the LGBTQ+ community.
Meloni’s stance on Italy’s position in the EU is “a bit more assertive,” according to Lorenzo de Sio, a professor of politics at LUISS University in Rome, who was interviewed by the DW. But, he says, it’s unlikely that “Italian foreign policy, and Italian policy towards European integration, will change.”
There are five common sentiments throughout Italy that make the results of this election essentially crucial to the country’s future relations. First and foremost, regarding the far-right’s rise, a total of 32% of Italians believe their democracy is in decline, a 5% increase from before the election had taken place. An average of 75% of supporters of the center-right coalition think democracy is in a “bad state,” with 50% of Fratelli d’Italia thinking it is in danger. It is not known yet whether this means more support for the far-right or an increase in non-voters. Though there are concerns of the Eurosceptic right leaning toward more independence, they are not likely to reach any real substance, as the country tends to veer toward a “European reflex,” a general agreement with EU stances on China, Russia, and the US. Generally sentiments are split, both in the left and right wings, about how to deal with certain EU and national issues. The election of a new PM was thus even more important, as the country, along with the EU, will observe how the new government will deal with these issues.
After polls closed, Giorgia Meloni told a crowded pressroom that the election was just the beginning for her party to prove its value and fulfill its responsibilities. “L’Italia ha scelto noi, e noi non la tradiremo,” Meloni said, which translates to, “Italy chose us, and we will not betray her.” She expressed one of her main goals as PM as rebuilding the trust between the citizens of Italy and their government, to make Italians “nuovamente orgoglioso di essere Italiani,”: proud to be Italian again.
Meloni hopes to make Italians "nuovamente orgoglioso di essere Italiani,": proud to be Italian again.
Meloni celebrates her victory.
So far, her victory has brought a mix of reactions from absolute praise and admiration from right-wing political figures in the US, and fear and criticism from the left. Strong sentiments of a recent video that captures Meloni’s speech from 2019 arguing and defending the traditional family have poured into social media dialogues. The video became mainstream after her party’s big win. Liberal sides of the media have already started to condemn her beliefs, while conservatives have begun to embrace her as a new leader with nationalist ideals. The similarities between her party’s ideal and those of the fascism that was birthed in Italy by dictator Mussolini are undeniable, and her victory has only reinforced the ideals of the far-right in today’s world, which is to be seen in the future, if that will be enough to mobilize smaller, nationalist parties throughout Europe and the rest of the Western world to go after their own win.
The new parliament will convene for the first time on October 13, after which the President, Sergio Mattarella, can start consultations.