Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Elections

The mainstreaming of Giorgia Meloni

David Broder is Jacobin’s Europe editor and the author of “Mussolini’s Grandchildren: Fascism in Contemporary Italy.” His work has appeared in the New York Times, the New Statesman, La Repubblica and Il Fatto Quotidiano.

As Italy’s Sunday election inches ever closer, Brothers of Italy co-founder Guido Crosetto doesn’t seem too confident his party’s allies will do so well. “I hope they maintain decent scores, as they’re part of the coalition,” he told La Stampa newspaper, “they were connected to certain parts of society.”

When asked why he wasn’t speaking in the present tense, he simply explained, “I read the polls.

To a certain extent, these were crocodile tears. Brothers of Italy does still need its electoral partners to do well — so long as they don’t challenge Giorgia Meloni’s claim to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

But Meloni owes much to the more moderate forces in what Italians call the “center-right” alliance. They’ve allowed her the opportunity to present herself as part of the mainstream, not just because she’s been softening her policies — at least in presentation — but also because center-right politicians jumping on her bandwagon have given her a veneer of respectability and credibility.  And she needs them.

Meloni and her “post-fascist” Brothers of Italy are the main cause behind the weakening of both Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s The League. The party has been eating into the electoral support of its allies, rising from 4 percent in the polls in 2018 to around 25 percent in the last surveys before the election. Currently, about half of likely Brothers of Italy voters are defectors from The League.

This is because, even as its electoral allies joined recent cabinets alongside technocrats and center-left politicians, Meloni’s party stood aside, maintaining ideological purity and boasting of what it maintained to be a “monogamous” approach to coalition-making. And that steady stance is now likely to be rewarded on Sunday by right-wing voters.

Just as Silvio Berlusconi claimed  he “constitutionalized the fascists” by drawing them into his first government when he was prime minister in the 1990s, now we’re seeing a reversal, with luminaries from Forza Italia and former Christian Democrats rallying to Meloni — looking to play prominent roles in her cabinet.

It’s to mutual advantage, as Meloni’s party lacks strength and depth when it comes to senior, experienced politicians. Her governing experience comes from serving three years as youth minister in the last Berlusconi administration, which fell apart during the sovereign debt crisis.

But while the billionaire tycoon then lent his votes to Mario Monti’s “technocratic” government, Meloni and some other right wingers didn’t — instead founding Brothers of Italy in 2012, gathering so-called “post-fascists” into a distinct party. However, her small nativist force has produced few political heavyweights to date.

The party’s first leader was the rambunctious Ignazio La Russa, a 1970s neo-fascist who served as defense minister for Berlusconi and is still a prominent voice in the party today. Prone to outlandish public interventions—whether it be Roman-saluting in parliament or furiously berating talk-show opponents—his role in the current campaign has been relatively subdued, and he’s not expected to be appointed to head a major ministry if the right-wing coalition ends up winning.

Crosetto, one of the party’s few co-founders who isn’t from a neo-fascist background, has been more useful for Meloni. A Forza Italia lawmaker in the 2000s, his direct prominence has waxed and waned. Eventually losing his seat in the 2013 election, he then briefly returned to parliament for a year in 2018, when he served as the party’s national coordinator.

Today, Crosetto is president of the aerospace and defense business association AIAD — part of the employers’ federation Confindustria — and he has served as an interlocutor for Meloni with the business world. The Italian media has reported he’s planning a visit to the City of London for Meloni after the election, an opportunity for her to reassure the captains of “high finance”— the very people she once denounced.

Crosetto originally hails from the Christian Democrats — the party that long dominated Italy. However, a recent poll of former Christian Democrat voters suggests large numbers still lean toward Forza Italia, and seeking more support from this electorate, Crosetto has taken to speaking of Meloni forming a “government of all the talents” on the center-right. Meanwhile, Gianfranco Rotondi, another former Christian Democrat now standing for Brothers of Italy, has described Meloni as Rome’s most effective politician since long-time premier Giulio Andreotti.

The most prominent defector to Meloni’s camp, however, is Giulio Tremonti, former finance minister in most of Berlusconi’s governments. While his ministry ended ingloriously during the sovereign debt crisis, he is a staunch defender of free-market policies — he advocates rebuilding Italy’s manufacturing base by lifting taxes on firms that invest in restructuring and ending over-regulation. Now running as a Brothers of Italy candidate, the party has identified him as a respectable face for its economic agenda.

Having such defectors from other center-right forces in the ranks of her party has also given Meloni the opportunity to reassure nervous Western allies. At this month’s Cernobbio summit on Lake Como, she again strove to present herself as an Atlanticist and supporter of Ukraine. But some Italian media — and her domestic opponents — have questioned her sincerity, especially as she’s emphasized the need to support Ukraine for the sake of “international credibility.”

Policy toward Ukraine is likely to emerge as a messy problem for Meloni, as polls suggest that right-wing voters are evenly split on sanctions against Russia, and Brothers of Italy supporters are mostly opposed.

Similarly, The League’s leader Salvini, long an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, questions the value of sanctions, bewailing the sacrifices ordinary Italians have been making in terms of soaring energy prices. Widely seen as the more disruptive force, he may well be tempted to use sanctions to harass Meloni after the election, seeking to undermine her authority.

But Salvini has his own problems. While desperate to reassert himself as a national leader, many in his party fault his leadership for the erosion of support for The League. And his party’s Northern regional governors are more concerned with getting their hands on EU recovery funds than with Salvini’s posturing.

Though Meloni sells herself to Italy’s allies as a relatively safer bet, her party is no monolith either. Crosetto has repeatedly suggested her government may inherit insurmountable economic dramas, which could clearly create problems as small businesses and households deal with soaring energy bills.

However, so far, Meloni has had real success in airbrushing her image — even in international media. And alongside the soft-pedaling of her record of racist conspiracy theories, this operation has also resulted in her profile becoming more autonomous from her party’s legacy. But it remains much less clear whether this can last, or if a government confronted with immediate crises will give vent to its most poisonous instincts.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You May Also Like

Technology

BUCHAREST — Governments shouldn’t shut down the internet to quell protests, the newly elected head of the United Nations’ telecoms agency suggested on Friday....

Europe

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to recapture more territory in eastern Ukraine after Kyiv’s forces pushed Russia out of the key city of Lyman....

Energy

Press play to listen to this article A long-running campaign to oust World Bank President David Malpass — led by climate hawks within the...

Europe

European Council President Charles Michel said EU leaders will discuss the security of critical infrastructure at a summit on Friday, following damage to Nord Stream...

Europe

Press play to listen to this article BIRMINGHAM, England — They say absence makes the heart grow fonder — and it’s the absent guests...

Europe

Giulia Blasi is a writer and activist based in Rome, and the author of the feminist primer “Manuale per ragazze rivoluzionarie” (Rizzoli, 2018) and...

Europe

Joseph Webster is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and edits the China-Russia Report, an independent newsletter. This article represents...

Europe

Latvia’s national election on Saturday appeared set to show a victory for the New Unity party of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, according to an...