With Giorgia Meloni set to become Italy’s next Prime Minister succeeding Mario Draghi’s hugely effective “technical” government, it is the most right-wing government since Mussolini, the biggest win ever for the extreme right in Italy. And a remarkable victory for a woman in a country where few women lead political parties or have ever made it to high-level positions, and none to prime minister. This is big news coming right on the heels of the extreme right’s victory in Sweden a week ago.
Is Europe veering right? Is Italy going to play in Putin’s hands?
Unsurprisingly, the victory was immediately cheered by extreme right-wing populists who are Putin’s friends, like Marine Le Pen, the French valkyrie who hates Brussels and Viktor Orban, Hungary’s notorious “illiberal” Prime Minister.
As I write, results from Italy’s snap general election held yesterday are still provisional. The poll, for the broadcaster Rai, gave her coalition 41-45% against 25.5-29.5% for the leftwing bloc. So far, the officially counted results lean towards the higher number for the right. Therefore, it is already fairly clear that the right-wing coalition won around 44 percent of the vote, as shown in the screenshots below:
Election Results: Senate (registered at 4:44 pm, Sept.25):
Election Results: Chamber of Deputies (registered at 5:07, Sept.25):
The right-wing coalition is composed of the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), the party Meloni helped to found and leads since 2014, the League led by Matteo Salvini, and Forza Italia by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian proto-Trump, eager to return to active politics. As per their previous agreement, the coalition brings to power Meloni as the leader of the new government.
This is, by all measures, a crushing victory, considering that the Partito Democratico (PD), the biggest opposition party on the left only got some 26% of the vote.
As to the other parties and coalitions in the running, the only other two of interest capable of obtaining seats in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies are the Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement) founded by comedian Beppe Grillo with the idea of “cleaning up” Italian politics, and Carlo Calenda, the star of the Italian “new left”.
Calenda, who operated outside the PD, struck a temporary alliance with Matteo Renzi. Called the Terzo Polo, it was meant to “counter” the rise of the extreme right. Calenda’s sudden alliance with Renzi was very odd considering Renzi’s dubious political career, from being a Prime Minister who once upon a time had clocked in over 40% of the votes and now, as a result of several corruption scandals, was flying low, around 7%.
Why would a “clean” politician ever ally himself with a tainted one?
As it turns out, the ill-named “Terzo Polo” (it translates as “third pole”, never a good place to be) was a bad idea. The hope had been to rake in 10% of the votes and thus get decent representation in Parliament, with 12 Senators and 35 deputies.
Forget all that. Instead, Calenda and Renzi don’t appear to be able to even reach 8%, they are sitting at 7,7% for now and they will be lucky if they get 4 Senators and 15 deputies. Reportedly, Calenda is now hoping to ally himself with “moderates” left and right in 2023 and eventually creating a party he plans to call “Pact for the Republic”.
The Movimento 5 Stelle, also one of Italy’s strongest parties only five years ago but with fast-falling popularity, it was predicted to fall even further in this election, as one of its members, Conte, who had led the government before Draghi came on the scene, was the person responsible for the political crisis. He had withdrawn the party’s support, causing the fall of Draghi’s government and many people were unhappy with him.
Instead, 5 Stelle surprised everybody and made a decisive comeback, winning some 15% of the votes, inspiring some commentators to argue that this showed that Draghi’s action in government was not as popular in Italy as generally supposed.
But this is not the 5 Stelle of 2018 led by Luigi Di Maio: Now, in this election, Di Maio lost his seat in Naples, his hometown to Sergio Costa, a general of the Forestry Carabinieri, and he is no longer in Parliament. But then Luigi Di Maio had always been an unprepared youngster and if he acted reasonably well as Foreign Affairs Minister in Draghi’s government, it was largely because he had benefited from the support of the well-prepared Italian diplomats of the Ministry.
In the end, Meloni herself got most of the votes on the right, pulling in some 26 percent – as much as the PD got on the left. And a lot more than her main partner in the coalition, Matteo Salvini who used to be the right’s icon, the man who had dared to reform his party, the League, to try and extend it beyond Lombardy to the whole of the peninsula. But this was not counting the fact that when Salvini was Interior Minister, many Italians felt he had done a poor job of it.
The urns returned a damning verdict: Salvini got only some 9% of the vote, and lost the region of Calabria, a clear sign that his reform of the League had failed and no Southern Italian believed that the League had really cut off its racist roots. As to Berlusconi, he is back as a Senator as a result of the decent 8 percent won by his Forza Italia party.
And for a woman, Meloni’s win is quite a record: The only other notable woman in Italian politics today, Emma Bonino, leader of the openly pro-European and “green” party, Più Europa, only got 2.9% of the votes.
If early results are confirmed – and at this point, there is no reason to believe they won’t be – that share for the right is enough to control both houses of parliament, but it falls short of the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution without a referendum. This means that no matter what Meloni and her partners – Salvini and Berlusconi – do over the next few years, the political system itself cannot change.
“Now Meloni is the shiny new object in Italian politics. . . . There’s this feeling that the scariest of governments are only going to last a year or two, so how bad could it be?”
What to expect: More divisive politics?
The foreign press writes about “divisive identity politics” entering “the mainstream of national debate”, saying that Meloni will rock the boat in Brussels.
And the Russian press was happy to underline the wind of panic blowing through Western media. The official agency Ria Novosti, for now, beyond reporting the results of the elections as they come in, noted the reactions of the “Western press frightened by the results of the elections in Italy” and put together a collection of comments from European newspapers such as Guardian, Financial Times and Welt.
Meloni’s party scares foreigners: Housed in the historic Italian post-fascist party, the M.S.I.’s former headquarters in Rome, Fratelli d’Italia has retained its fascist symbolism—a tricolored flame—and Meloni herself is often heard calling to “Dio, patria, famiglia” (“God, country, and family”).
Meloni herself can be scary: The daughter of a communist and born in one of Rome’s working-class suburbs known for extremism, the Garbatella, an ill-served home of both fascists and communists (nobody in the middle), she is a great communicator, a born politician who joined the MSI when she was 15.
She never studied beyond high school. Unlike Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission President who has a medical education and has worked as a doctor, or Angela Merkel who taught science, she has no academic background. Also, she has little experience in government, beyond a stint as a minor minister in one of Berlusconi’s governments.
Meloni believes in the virtues of strong state power and is nostalgic for all the “good stuff” Mussolini has done for Italy. The stiff-armed Roman salute associated with Il Duce is common among her followers, and Mussolini’s granddaughter Rachele is a Party member and a member of Rome’s city council.
Meloni is outspoken: She has stated that she is against the liberalization of taxi licenses or the sale of loss-making airline ITA and supports the nationalization of TIM, the telecom company. A fiscal reform implementing a regressive “flat tax” is part of her coalition’s program. And the Italian right famously doesn’t care about the climate, LGTBQ rights or women’s rights, including the right to abortion, and of course, many of its exponents, including Salvini, have flirted with Putin and expressed support for a range of other populist leaders, from Erdogan to Duterte.
So can we expect the worst? Will Meloni go to Brussels as she has threatened to renegotiate the terms of the post-covid recovery funding, the PNRR painstakingly obtained by Draghi’s government just last June?
How far can Meloni go?
With the PNRR, what is at stake for Italy is no small matter: It is set to receive some €200 billion in EU post-pandemic relief funds by 2026. Moreover, Italy is in an uncomfortable place: It is the EU’s most indebted country, with a debt of some 150 percent of GDP.
However, so far, an Italian sovereign debt crisis has been written off by most analysts as Italy’s treasury has regularly raked in enough funds to service the debt without difficulty and has successfully maintained a reasonable rating in the eyes of international investors who, as a result, continue to finance it. Fitch’s credit rating for Italy as well as Standard & Poor’s stand at BBB with a “stable outlook”. Only Moodys has recently downgraded it to Baa3 with a negative outlook.
That negative outlook could get worse if Meloni goes overboard with expensive “social” policies that the Italian state can ill afford. And that would immediately be reflected in the already widening spread between the yields that markets ask of Italian vs. German sovereign bonds.
Obviously, the European Central Bank will be watching closely the situation and will come to the rescue with its latest tool, the Transmission Protection Mechanism. But that comes with strings attached: It is conditional on respect for EU fiscal rules and implementation of reforms.
Can the Meloni government afford to ignore both the European Central Bank and the EU Commission that has warned that renegotiations are off limits? Not likely.
But there is something more: A set of directives that are likely to keep Meloni within reasonable bounds. I refer to the very program that she subscribed to along with her partners, Berlusconi and Salvini at the start of their campaign: The “Accordo Quadro di programma per un Governo di centrodestra”.
That program (15 pages) is worth a close read. Aside from the flat tax plus a series of promised tax cuts and a few other classic policies from the right that focus on “support of the family” (“sostegno alla natalità”), containment of “illegal” immigrants, and the “defense” (“tutela”) of “national interests” and “cultural and Christian roots” (“… promozione delle radici e identità storiche e culturali classiche e giudaico-cristiane dell’Europa”), the rest of the list of policies is remarkably centrist and rational, setting clear limits on what can and cannot be done, notably:
- Full support of NATO and the European Union
- Revision of the PNRR – but only with “full accord of the EU Commission” and “as a function of changed economic conditions and priorities” (“ in funzione delle mutate condizioni, necessità e priorità”)
- Support for climate change policies, reforestation, the circular economy (“Rispettare e aggiornare gli impegni internazionali assunti dall’Italia per contrastare i cambiamenti climatici; Definizione ed attuazione del piano strategico nazionale di economia circolare…etc”)
- Support to agriculture, livestock, fishing
Much is missing from this list – for example, there is the goal to contrast “animal diseases” but no sense of the One Health approach, there is an awareness that something needs to be done for university teaching and research but it is poorly spelled out and insufficient, not addressing the root causes of academia’s problems in Italy.
Still, it is a fairly comprehensive roadmap and one with which a very large number of Italians agree, judging from the election results – even if voter turnout was historically low, around 64% (most elections have been above the 70% mark).
It is likely that Giorgia Meloni can ill afford to veer off course. Of course, it is too early to tell what she will do, but if she sticks to her coalition’s program, she might last more than “a year or two” as Costa predicted. She might even turn out to be that rarity, a politician with a sense of the state, a long-run vision. But that might be a little too optimistic on my part.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Giorgia Meloni in 2022 Source: with Hermann Tertsch and Victor Gonzalez, Wikimedia