In parliamentary elections, the Italian right-wing bloc, composed of Fratelli d’Italia, Forza Italia and Lega, won 235 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (400 seats) and 112 seats in the Senate (200 seats), the Interior Ministry said after the votes were counted. This means an independent majority for the future government led by Giorgia Meloni in the company of Berlusconi and Salvini. What is ahead for Italy and European politics in the context of the new deal?
A confrontation with the Union? Not likely.
The prime minister from a group born of post-fascist conservatism is an unpleasant novelty in Europe. But Italy’s system of democratic busts (the victorious right does not have the majority needed to change the constitution) constrains the head of government much more severely than, say, the French president.
The Italian judicial system has even experienced several years of permanent confrontation with Prime Minister Berlusconi, who has attacked judges and prosecutors for “communism” in defence of anti-corruption cases. Moreover, the programme of Meloni and the entire right-wing coalition is not as confrontational towards the EU as, for example, the views of Orban or Spanish Vox.
On the relationship with NATO, she promises to strengthen defence cooperation with the US in the light of the new cold war conflict. In the EU, Fratelli d’Italia has been trying for several years to “normalise” themselves, including the strategy of harsh criticism against Putin. In the last days of the electoral campaign this strategy turned also against Hungary and Poland.
Meloni, once a defender of the referendum on the annexation of Crimea, now presents herself as a strong advocate of sanctions and arms supplies to Ukraine. Although coalition partners Salvini and Berlusconi have a soft spot for the Kremlin, Rome does not appear to be putting the brakes on on Russia-related issues.
Giorgi Meloni’s ultraconservatism is evident in her attacks on “gender ideology”, the “LGBT lobby” and alarmism about the “replacement” of European identity by a foreign culture. This foreshadows strong conflicts over immigration, especially Muslim immigration. That aspect puts her in the same place as Kaczyński, Le Pen, Orban and the others. But still it’s not enough for speaking about future coalition with them.
Foreign policy? Loyalty to NATO before anything
Although Giorgia Meloni had already declared before the elections that she had a list of ministers ready, the new government will not be formed for several weeks. In any case, Italy’s pro-Atlantic and pro-Ukrainian approach is not under threat. Fratelli d’Italia, although in opposition, has backed the government on the issue of supporting a country attacked by Putin, although coalition parties, from the 5 Star Movement to Forza Italia to Salvini’s Lega, have expressed doubts, diplomatic or otherwise, on this issue.
Among Fratelli d’Italia’s candidates there is Elisabetta Belloni, secretary general of the foreign ministry in Paolo Gentiloni’s government and head of the department dealing with special services in Draghi’s government. Fratelli d’Italia also enjoys a good reputation on international issues thanks to the following candidates: the professional and pro-Atlantic diplomat Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, who already held the post in Mario Monti’s government; Stefano Pontecorvo, former NATO representative in Afghanistan; and the diplomatic super-expert Giampiero Massolo, a native of Warsaw, former ambassador to the Vatican, Moscow, Italy’s representative to the European Union and former chief of staff of the Foreign Ministry.
Meloni’s senator Ignazio La Russa asked in March: ‘Are we with Ukraine only in words, do we want to do something? We need to help the patriots who defend every inch of their country’. Today La Russa is among the candidates for the leadership of the defence ministry, of which he was already a member in the Berlusconi government in 2008-11.
Another candidate is Adolfo Urso, also from the Brotherhood, who currently heads the parliamentary committee on national security. Alternatively, Urso could become head of the secret service. In any case, his views are also pro-NATO, and shortly before the election Meloni sent him to Kiev and Washington to reassure him of his party’s loyalty to the alliance.
Forza Italia has nominated Antonio Tajani, Silvio Berlusconi’s deputy and former president of the European Parliament, to head the Foreign Ministry. However, given Berlusconi’s pro-Russian statements, which he also made shortly before the election, Tajani’s chances are not very good.
Technocracy in finance? Still in game
It is also hard to expect a revolution in financial policy. The Italian media also reported that Giorgia Meloni had asked Daniele Franco to stay on as economy and finance minister before the elections. Franco, Draghi’s trusted technician, reportedly refused. Meloni is now seeking the approval of Fabio Panetta of the European Central Bank’s Executive Board.
Crosetto, who is Meloni’s main political adviser, has already announced that the new government will want to work with Draghi to define the budget. The Fratelli d’Italia, incidentally, often supported the previous government in decisions concerning the economy and strongly opposed Matteo Salvini’s proposal to increase the national deficit by 30 billion euros to combat the energy crisis.
All the indications are that the path of the new right-wing government will include cuts in social policy and a relatively tough fiscal policy. That is, continuity with Draghi’s policies and the de facto neoliberal reforms imposed on Italy by Brussels.
President Mattarella – the main safeguard of the old order
There is another important factor: according to the Italian constitution, the President of the Republic appoints the ministers proposed by the candidate for Prime Minister. He can also refuse an appointment if he considers it incompatible with Italy’s raison d’être and its historical alliances.
On this basis, in 2018. Sergio Mattarella rejected the nomination of the Eurosceptic Paolo Savona for the post of Minister of Economy in the 5 Star Movement and League government proposed by Matteo Salvini. The president reasoned that Savona’s decision could lead to Italy’s exit from the single currency – euro.
Despite repeating in the election campaign that he wants to return to head the interior ministry to ‘defend the country again from immigrants’, Salvini himself has little chance of becoming a member of the new government. He is seen as a radical and clown of Italian politics, thanks to his actions during the first half of this year, when he wanted to negotiate peace between Ukraine and Russia, in a very uncanny manner, by negotiating only with the Russian ambassador in Italy.
Interestingly, in a recent interview with the daily La Repubblica, Francesco Lollobrigida, president of the Fratelli d’Italia parliamentary circle and privately the husband of Arianna Meloni, Giorgia’s sister, announced that the right would seek to amend the constitution to “review the supremacy of EU law” over national law. However, this idea, like many others on the Italian right, simply cannot be implemented. And, as left-wing commentators say, it is just smoke to cover up the continuity of the technocratic policies of the Draghi government in most of the most important areas of state activity, including the economy and finance.
All the indications are that everything will be new in Italian democracy – only literally nothing will change.