Italy government

Italy’s government set to get first female prime minister and turn to far-right

Italy’s turn to the far right has altered Europe’s geopolitics, placing the Eurosceptic Brethren of Italy in a position to lead a founding member of the EU and its third-largest economy

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ROME — A party with neo-fascist roots won the most votes in Italy’s national elections, paving the way on Monday for talks to create the country’s first far-right government since World War II with Giorgia Meloni at the helm as Italian President. first female prime minister.

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Italy’s far-right turn immediately altered the geopolitics of Europe, placing the far-right, eurosceptic Italian Brotherhood in a position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. The change in Italy follows a similar right-wing victory in Sweden and recent far-right gains in France and Spain.

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Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed the victory of Meloni, 45, as sending a historic and nationalist message to Brussels, while the Italian left warned of “dark days” and is committed to keeping Italy at the heart of Europe.

Near-final results on Monday showed the centre-right coalition winning 44% of the vote in parliament, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy snatching 26% in its biggest win in a decade of meteoric rise. His coalition partners split the rest, with the anti-immigrant League party led by Matteo Salvini winning 9% and the more moderate Forza Italia of ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8% of the vote.

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The centre-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26% support, while the populist 5 Star Movement – ​​which had the biggest vote in the 2018 parliamentary elections – saw its vote share cut in half to 15 % this time.

Turnout hit a historic low of 64%. Pollsters suggested voters stayed home in protest, disenchanted with the backroom deals that had created the last three governments and the mix of parties in Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s outgoing government of national unity.

Meloni, whose party traces its roots to the postwar neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, tried to strike a unifying tone in a victory speech early Monday, noting that Italians had finally been able to determine their leaders.

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“If we are called to rule this nation, we will do it for everyone. We will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people,” Meloni said. “Italy chose us. We will not betray him.

While the centre-right was the clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations between party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, Draghi remains in a caretaker role.

The elections, which took place six months earlier after Draghi’s government collapsed, came at a crucial time for Europe as it grapples with Russia’s war in Ukraine and soaring costs of energy that hit ordinary Italians as well as industry.

A government led by Meloni should largely follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including its pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend against invading Russia. , even if his coalition allies take a different tone.

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Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While the two distanced themselves from his invasion of Ukraine, Salvini warned that EU sanctions against Moscow were hurting Italian industry. Berlusconi even excused Putin’s invasion as an event imposed by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbass.

A larger and more friction-provoking change with other EU countries is likely to occur due to migration. Meloni called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores and offered to screen potential asylum seekers in Africa, not Europe.

Salvini has made it clear he wants the League to return to the post of interior minister, where he once imposed a tough anti-migrant policy. But he could face an internal leadership challenge after the League suffered an abysmal result of less than 10%, with Meloni’s party outperforming the League even in its northeast stronghold.

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Salvini acknowledged the League had been punished for their government alliances with the 5-stars and then Draghi, but said after the vote: “It’s a good day for Italy because they have five years of stability ahead of them.”

On relations with the EU, analysts note that for all his Eurosceptic rhetoric, Meloni has moderated his message during the campaign and has little room to manoeuvre, given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in bailout funds. coronavirus recovery. Italy has secured €191.5 billion, the bulk of the EU’s €750 billion recovery plan, and is bound by certain reform and investment milestones it needs to take to receive everything.

That said, Meloni criticized the EU’s recent recommendation to suspend 7.5 billion euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding, defending autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban as an elected leader in a democratic system.

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Orban’s political director, Balazs Orban, was among the first to congratulate Meloni. “In these difficult times, we need friends more than ever who share a common vision and approach to Europe’s challenges,” he tweeted.

France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen also praised Meloni for “resisting threats from an undemocratic and arrogant European Union”.

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right opposition Vox party, tweeted that Meloni “showed the way to a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of the security and prosperity of all”. .

Meloni is chairwoman of the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, which brings together her brothers from Italy, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice party, Spain’s far-right Vox and Sweden’s right-wing Democrats, who have just won big the low. on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting immigration.

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“The trend that appeared two weeks ago in Sweden has been confirmed in Italy,” acknowledged Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, calling Monday “a sad day for Italy, for Europe”.

“We expect dark days. We fought in every way to avoid this outcome,” Letta told a somber press conference. While acknowledging that the future of the party required reflection, he vowed: “(The Democratic Party) will not allow Italy to leave the heart of Europe”.

Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at Luiss University in Rome and editor of the Journal of European Integration, noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a coherent foreign and European policy that goes beyond the interests of individual parties.

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“Anything Meloni might do will have to be moderated by his coalition partners and in fact with the established consensus of Italian foreign policy,” Christiansen said.

Meloni proudly touts her roots as an activist in the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, or MSI, which was formed in the aftermath of World War II with remnants of Mussolini’s fascist supporters. Meloni joined in 1992 at the age of 15.

During the campaign, Meloni was forced to react after Democrats used her party’s origins to portray Meloni as a danger to democracy.

“The Italian right has been making history of fascism for decades, unequivocally condemning the suppression of democracy and ignominious anti-Jewish laws,” she said in a multilingual campaign video.

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Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.

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