A hope and a doom of the Italian Republic 

Giorgia Meloni is taking Italian politics by storm. A hope for disillusioned Italians, tired of technocratic rule, she is at the same time a scuttle for Berlusconi and Salvini, who see in her a chance to get, again, a share in the power of the Italian republic. Recent surveys give Fratelli d’Italia, headed by Meloni, 25 percent of the vote. As a coalition of Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini, the far right rises to 39 percent. 

Giorgia Meloni comes from Movimento Sociale Italiano and picks up the legacy of one of its leaders, Gianfranco Fini. Even the symbol of Fratelli d’Italia, chose by Meloni when she founded the party in 2012, is the same as that of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (a flame in the colours of the Italian flag).

The main ideas of MSI include an appraisal of “traditional values”, law and order, and hostility towards revolutionary movements.

It particularly advocated a centralised state, with no autonomy for regions and with a strong president. The party pursued a dualistic, populist policy, by cooperating with radical, neofascist movements, sometimes involved in terrorist activity, especially during so-called Anni di Piombo, and at the same time taking part in electoral politics. While both wings of the party agreed after the 1950s that fascism was dead, they nevertheless defended certain ideas, belonging to fascist legacy. The main basic idea, that is the same for the historic postfascist parties and the new face of this phenomenon is strict, anti-immigrant, and chauvinist  definition of being Italian, with references to white, Judeo-Christian foundations of Europe. 

The history of MSI ended in 1995, when its activists created Alleanza Nazionale, a more conservative than post-fascist party. Giorgia Meloni played an active role there; she was a leader of its youth wing. And her links with fascist heritage do not end here. Meloni praised Benito Mussolini as “a good politician, the best in the last 50 years” in an interview to the French newscast Soir 3 in 1996. In May 2020, Meloni praised as a hero Giorgio Almirante, a Nazi collaborator and editor-in-chief of the antisemitic and racist magazine La Difesa della Razza. Earlier, in November 2018, Meloni declared that the celebration of the Liberation Day, also known as the Anniversary of Italy’s Liberation from Nazi-Fascism on 25 April, and Festa della Repubblica, which celebrates the birth of the Italian Republic on 2 June, should be substituted with the National Unity and Armed Forces Day on 4 November, which commemorates Italy’s victory in World War I. For her, Liberation Day and Festa della Repubblica are “two controversial celebrations”. 

In February 2016, Meloni stated she would “rather not have a gay child” during an interview given to Le Iene, an Italian television show. Meloni supports the anti-gender movement, a belief born in the mid-1990s in the circles of the Opus Dei in order to condemn any social position other than that approved by the Catholic Church.

Her political career is not only full of fascist flavours, but also of populism.

She used to be in the same party as Silvio Berlusconi, Il Popolo della Libertà, created by the union of Forza Italia and Alleanza Nazionale. She was there until the announcement of Monti’s cabinet in 2012. Then she created Fratelli d”Italia with Guido Crosetto and Ignazio La Russa. Nevertheless, even since then, she has worked with Berlusconi from time to time. 

Her latest electoral history is full of contradictions and bluff. In the 2013 elections her political party won only 2% of support, in 2018 it was 4,3%. At all these points she decided that her party should go alone, not supporting any government, including the so-called “unity” government of Draghi. That resulted in from to 4,7 to nearly 20% of votes in different regions of Italy during 2020 regional elections. Her aggressive narration completely against the austerity policies of Mario Draghi, as well as not being responsible for lockdowns and governance during COVID-19 pandemia, won her nearly 25% popular support right at this moment, not even one month before Italian general elections. But she is not alone in her endeavour of winning power in Italy.

The crisis of technocratic politics

“I always said that this executive would only go forward if there was a clear prospect of implementing a government program on which political forces had given their confidence. This unity was fundamental to meeting the challenges of these months. These conditions no longer exist” Draghi said, announcing the fall of the unity government of the Italian republic in the final weeks of July. 

On 13 July 2022 Giuseppe Conte, leader of M5S, announced that this party would abstain during the confidence vote on the decreto aiuti , a government bill that introduced a €23 billion stimulus to confront the economic and energy crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. Conte said he considered the economic aid package for families and small business proposed by the government “not enough to tackle the cost of living crisis”, positioning his party against austerity policies of Mario Draghi. On 14 July, the decree was approved by the Senate of the Republic with 172 votes in favour, far above the majority threshold. Nonetheless, the move of Conte marked the beginning of the crisis. 

On 20 July, Draghi addressed the Senate, reiterating his support for the European Union, NATO, and Ukraine, and saying it was fully necessary to bring to term the economic and justice reforms his government started. He also stated he was fully committed to investing more in renewable energy and green-friendly projects, and that he intended to keep the citizens’ income, albeit with some modifications. He asked the senators to put aside their differences and ensure his government support and stability. Following a discussion in the Senate, the government asked for a confidence vote. At this moment Salvini’s Lega and Berlusconi’s FI announced that they would vote along with Meloni’s party against the government, while M5S decided to abstain. Draghi resigned again on the following day. President Mattarella accepted his resignation and asked him to remain in position to handle current affairs On 21 July, Mattarella officially dissolved the Parliament and snap elections were called for 25 September 2022.

Triumvirate of power

At this point Berlusconi called a meeting at his “Villa Grande” to unite the right wing parties of Italy. Salvini, Meloni and the old populist prime minister decided to go on together into the elections. The cold days between leaders of the right were over.

Even though Meloni insisted on a more official place to meet, this very meeting cemented the alliance of Lega, Forza Italia and Fratelli d’Italia. From this point the triumvirate has been marching onwards to power, against the “establishment”, but, what is really peculiar, in a way that gives every party some autonomy and allows to vocalise their programme in the autonomous way. It might be also because of the summer season. The electoral campaign will last only 3 weeks. 

But what do we know so far about their united programme? The program announced two weeks ago, called – no surprise – “For Italy ”,  is centred around the so-called national interest and the homeland, on economic growth and the defence of conservatibve values, such as family.

The program calls for defending and promoting “Europe’s classical and Judeo-Christian historical and cultural roots and identity”. There are also some strong anti-immigrant flavours from the old Lega and Meloni’s programme. The coalition wants to stop the migrants who arrive as they say “in their tens of thousands each year on Italy’s shores in boats from north Africa,” proposing EU processing centres outside the bloc for asylum applications.

Amid accusations of being pro-Russian – even though Berlusconi and Salvini have really warm relations with the Russian ambassador and his diplomatic retinue – the leaders pledge to respect Italy’s commitments to the NATO military alliance and keep supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion – but with no specific way outlined – while backing diplomatic efforts for peace, which is the most popular strategy among italians right now. Also, they want to reduce Italy’s reliance on Russian gas and increase renewable energy production while raising the possibility of a return to nuclear power. But we have to keep in mind that they might promise anything in order to get into power. 

What is the main pillar of their inner Italian programme is to review the rules of the EU and also change an already agreed program of reforms, which was meant to be implemented in order to get 200 billion euros in post-pandemic funds. They plan to make Italy competitive with other European states through the modernisation of the infrastructure network and the realisation of major works. Another promise is strengthening of the high-speed network to connect the entire national territory from the North to Sicily, by building the bridge over the Strait (and Berlusconi and other right-wingers have recently gained ground in the Italian South). Also, they promise strengthening and development of digital infrastructure and extension of ultra-wideband throughout Italy and defence of strategic national infrastructure.

The other interesting thing is the civil and criminal trial reform: fair trial and reasonable duration, streamlining of procedures, stopping media trials and the right to a good reputation – this one comes of course from Berlusconi, who has struggled a lot with criminal accusations. 

Berlusconi has made it his main slog to ease the tax burden and complications when it comes to tax regulations. The so-called simplification of obligations and rationalisation of the complex tax system and extension of the flat tax for VAT holders up to 100,000 euro turnover, flat tax on increased income compared to previous years, with the prospect of further extension for households and businesses.

The foundation of their socio-economic programme is support for the family and the birth rate. Bringing public spending on children and families in line with the European average, plan to support the birth rate, including free crèches, company crèches, nurseries, reducing the VAT rate on children’s products and services, and concrete support for families with disabled dependents by increasing essential levels of social assistance. The right-wingers also talk about work-family reconciliation policies for mothers and fathers, support for separated or divorced parents in economic difficulty – accompanied with firm protection of private property and creation of a home protection system and immediate eviction of occupied houses.

The road to power 

In short, it is the programme of the right-wing populist parties who have chosen to go no matter what for the main prize of politics – the power.

They offer a pro-atlantic and pro-European narration, summed up with anti-immigrant flavours and conservative values, with no specific fascist or revolutionary ideas. This might give the delusioned Italian voters a hope for a sustainable and strong coalition that is going to deliver anything. Just unlike the government of Draghi, created from the left to the right, and whose key objective was to implement austerity policies and reforms, in order to get the money from the EU and prevent Italian economy from collapsing.

“‘Do you know why I will vote for Meloni? Because she sends us all home with 41 years of marchette’. “Are you crazy? Have you become a fascist?” “Macché fascist. I voted 5 stars last time.” “I started working in my twenties. Today I would have been retired for two already. Do you know whose fault it is? Fornero’s*. Who forces us to retire with 42 years of contributions and 67 years of age. La Fornero took seven years off my pension and gave me another seven years on the line. Why should I vote for those?” “In fact Salvini is not credible. Meloni is better. She promises quota 41, the PD says she won’t change the Fornero law. Who do you think I should choose?” No, we are not in front of a section of a centre-right party nor in a Melonian stronghold. We are at door 2 of Mirafiori, among the workers interviewed in an interesting reportage in La Stampa. The workers have turned to the right, a not inconsiderable change of pace” – we can read in the article of Secolo d’Italia

This quote sums up the main emotion that is behind the success of Meloni and her riends: a disillusionment with the technocratic policies of the last Italian governments. All of which Meloni has precisely not supported and on which she has built her main political asset.

No matter what her programme is, she is an empty nag, a hope into which Italian workers and the middle class can inscribe their frustrations, without looking to technocratic voices from Brussels. No matter what the new government actually does once in power, it will have a huge mandate to power with which it can do literally anything.

Being just anti-technocrat opens wide paths of opportunity for power-hungry populists. 

*The Fornero Act, introduced in 2011, changed the Italian pension system from paid to contributory. The first one was much more convenient for workers, according to liberals, overburdened the state fund because it calculated the old-age pension on the basis of the last salary (usually the highest salary in the entire career). From 2011, all Italian workers retire using the contributory method.

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