ROME — A party with neo-fascist roots won the most votes in Italy’s national elections, paving the way on Monday for talks to form the country’s first far-right government since World War II, with Giorgia Meloni at the helm in as the first female Prime Minister of Italy.
Italy’s turn to the far right immediately altered Europe’s geopolitics, placing Meloni’s Eurosceptic Brothers of Italy in position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. The Italian left has warned of “dark days” and pledged to keep Italy at the heart of Europe.
Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed the win for Meloni, 45, as sending a historic and nationalist message to Brussels. This follows a right-wing victory in Sweden and recent far-right gains in France and Spain.
Yet turnout in Sunday’s Italian election was a historic low of 64%, and pollsters suggested voters stayed home in protest, disenchanted with the backroom deals that had created the last three governments. of the country and the mix of parties of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi. government of national unity.
By contrast, Meloni was seen as a new face in the Italian government arena and many Italians appeared to be voting for change, analysts said.
The victory of Meloni’s 10-year-old Brothers of Italy had more to do with Italian dissatisfaction with the decades-long status quo than a rise in neo-fascist or extreme sentiment. right, said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of Rome. International affairs.
“I would say the main reason a large portion (of voters) … will vote for this party is simply because it’s the new kid on the block,” she said.
The election’s turn to the right “confirms that the Italian electorate remains unstable”, said London-based political analyst Wolfango Piccoli, noting that around 30% of voters opted for a different party than the one they wanted. had chosen in the 2018 elections.
Meloni, whose party traces its roots to Italy’s postwar neo-fascist social movement, tried to strike a unifying tone, noting that Italians had finally been able to determine their leaders.
“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,” he said. “She chose us. We will not betray him.
The near-final results showed the centre-right coalition winning 44% of the vote in parliament, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy snatching 26% in its biggest victory during its meteoric decade-long rise. His coalition partners split the rest, with Matteo Salvini’s Anti-Immigrant League party winning 9% and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia taking around 8% of the vote.
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 %.
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.
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 it could face an internal leadership challenge, with Meloni’s party outperforming the League even in its northeast stronghold.
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 got 191.5 billion euros, the biggest chunk of the EU’s 750 billion euro stimulus package, and is bound by some reform and investment milestones to receive it all.
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.
France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen praised Meloni for “resisting the threats of 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 conservative and reformist group in the European Parliament, which includes her brothers from Italy, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice party, Spain’s far-right Vox and the right-wing Swedish Democrats, who have just won big there -down. on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting immigration.
“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 result,” Letta said at a gloomy press conference. “(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.
“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.
Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.