ROME — A party with neo-fascist roots, the Brothers of Italy, won the most votes in National elections in Italyseems set to form the country’s first far-right government since World War II and make its leader, Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s first female prime minister, near-final results announced on Monday.
Italy’s far-right turn immediately altered the geopolitics of Europe, placing a Eurosceptic party in a position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed Meloni’s victory and his party’s meteoric rise as sending a historic message to Brussels, while the Italian left warned of ‘dark days’ and stood still. is committed to keeping Italy at the heart of Europe.
The near-final results showed the centre-right coalition winning some 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy grabbing some 26%. His coalition partners split the rest, with Matteo Salvini’s Anti-Immigrant League winning 9% and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s more moderate Forza Italia taking around 8%.
The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26%, while the 5 Star Movement – which had been the biggest vote in the 2018 legislative elections – saw its vote share halved to around 15% this time.
Turnout hit a historic low of 64%. Pollsters suggested voters stayed home in protest, disenchanted with the backroom deals that created the last three governments.
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.
“If we are called to govern 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 won’t betray them like we never have.”
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, outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi remains in a caretaker role.
The elections, which took place some 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 energy costs that hit ordinary Italian wallets as well as industry.
A change in the government’s position on migration
A government led by Meloni would have to largely follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including its pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend against Russian invasion, even if his coalition allies take a slightly different tone.
Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both backed away from his invasion, Salvini warned that sanctions against Moscow were hurting Italian industry, and even Berlusconi excused Putin’s invasion as imposed on him by pro-Moscow separatists in Donbass.
A larger and more friction-provoking change with European powers is likely to occur because of 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 before they set off on smuggler boats to Europe.
Salvini has made it clear he wants the League to return to the Interior Ministry, where as minister he 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 overtaking him in his northeast stronghold.
Salvini acknowledged the League had been punished for their government alliances with the 5-stars and then Draghi, but said: “It’s a good day for Italy because they have five years of stability ahead of them.”
On relations with the European Union, analysts note that for all his Eurosceptic rhetoric, Meloni has moderated his message during the campaign and has little room for maneuver given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in bailout funds. coronavirus recovery. Italy has secured some €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 in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding, defending Viktor Orban as an elected leader in a democratic system.
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 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 group of European Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament, which brings together her brothers from Italy, the Polish Right and Justice Party, Spanish Vox and the Swedish Democrats, which has just won big in the elections there on a cracking platform reduce crime and limit immigration.
“The trend that emerged 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. While acknowledging that the future of the party and his own future required reflection, he vowed: “The PD will not allow Italy to leave the heart of Europe.”
Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at the Luiss University of Rome and editor of the Journal of European Integration, noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a coherent foreign and European policy which is in some respects more important than 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 in an interview.
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.
Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.