Giorgia Meloni, a far-right « Christian mother », is Italy’s new leader. Here’s how it could change Europe and the world
A party with neo-fascist roots, the Brothers of Italy, triumphed in Italy’s snap general election, making Giorgia Meloni the country’s first far-right leader since the fall of Benito Mussolini.
Meloni, 45, now likely to become Italy’s first female prime minister, praised Mussolini early in his career, declaring in 1996 on French television that the fascist dictator « was a good politician, in the insofar as everything he did, he did for Italy ».
The rising star of Europe’s far-right most recently summed up her values in a now-famous chant at a rally in 2019: « I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m Italian, I’m a Christian… No one will take that away from me. »
Italy’s drift towards populism and the far right immediately changed continental politics, putting 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.
The snap election after the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government comes at a crucial time as Europe grapples with energy and cost-of-living crises – mainly triggered by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia – which are expected to intensify this winter.
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 Law and Justice Party and Spain’s Vox, as well as Sweden’s Democrats, who finished top in national elections this month. this. on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting immigration.
During his campaign, Meloni called Italy’s investment deal with China a « big mistake » and said the EU must « press as hard as possible » to stop China from provoking a military conflict in Taiwan.
On Monday, as the final results were counted, the Star asked the pundits what Meloni’s win could mean for Europe and the world.
What happens afterwards?
While Meloni’s conservative coalition was a clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations between party leaders and President Sergio Mattarella. Given Italy’s fractured political makeup, no party ever had much of a chance of winning enough seats to govern alone, but centrists right and right forged a campaign pact that propelled Meloni to power .
The near-final results showed the centre-right coalition winning some 44% of the vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy grabbing 26%. His coalition partners split the rest, with Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant Northern League winning nearly 9% and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s more moderate Forza Italia taking around 8%.
Voter turnout has fallen to a historic low of 64%. Polls suggest voters stayed home in part because they were disappointed with backroom deals that had created three different governments since the previous national elections in 2018.
The Economist Intelligence Unit called Italy a « flawed democracy » in 2019, citing its short-lived coalition governments. Since the end of World War II, the nation has changed governments at the rate of once every 1.14 years.
Meloni’s party traces its roots to Italy’s postwar neo-fascist social movement, but she struck a moderate, unifying tone in a victory speech early Monday.
« If we are called to govern…we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country), » she said. « Italy chose us. »
Having praised Mussolini as a youth, Meloni addressed criticism of her party’s threat to democracy head-on, declaring in a campaign video: « The Italian right has handed fascism back to story for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the egregious anti-Jewish laws.
However, analysts say his party is clearly clashing with overarching EU principles.
« The history of the European Union is rooted in a set of principles that seem distant from the ideology of the Italian far right, especially in terms of civil rights, minorities, migration and refugees, » said Paolo Wulzer, professor of international history. relations at L’Orientale University of Naples.
So far, the rise of populism in Europe has weakened « but not collapsed the European project », Wulzer told the Star, but Italy is far more influential than other countries that have elected far-right leaders .
“The weight and relevance of Italy in the European Union are incomparable to countries like Poland or Hungary. Italy has the potential to influence the future of the European Union in a very significant way.
European Parliament Vice-President Katarina Barley, of Germany’s ruling Social Democrats, said Meloni’s victory was « worrying » given her affiliations with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Donald Trump.
« Her electoral rhetoric towards Europe cannot hide the fact that she poses a danger to constructive coexistence in Europe, » Barley told the German daily Die Welt.
A shift likely to cause friction with European powers regarding migrants. 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 depart.
However, she may have little room to boldly challenge Europe’s migration-friendly policies given the windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in COVID stimulus funds. Italy has secured some 191.5 billion euros, the bulk of the EU’s 750 billion euro recovery plan, and is bound by certain reform and investment milestones it needs to take to receive everything.
Although Meloni’s party has come out against migrants from the Mediterranean, it is unlikely to change Italy’s support for Ukraine and acceptance of Ukrainian refugees.
Hard on China
Meloni pledged to strengthen ties with Taiwan and reverse the trend of her country’s involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In 2019, Italy became the first major European country to join Beijing’s global infrastructure investment plan, but Meloni called the move a « big mistake » and said she would struggle to endorse the plan. renewal, scheduled for 2024, of the Italian memorandum of understanding. with China.
Describing the relationship between her country and Taiwan as a « sincere friendship », Meloni recently said she had « closely followed with unease » events around Taiwan due to escalating Chinese threats.
Last month, the Chinese military completed the largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan, sending warships and planes across the strait boundary line separating Taiwan and mainland Asia. « This is unacceptable conduct by Beijing, conduct that we strongly condemn, » she said.
Meloni’s tough stance toward China could be one of her policies that would bring her closer to Italy’s traditional allies, said Enrico Fardella, visiting scholar at John Cabot University in Rome and director of the ChinaMed project, which tracks China’s role in the Mediterranean.
His criticism of Beijing on issues such as human rights represents a « consistent element of his political career », Fardella said, but he believes the timing of his statements in Taiwan was also meant to send a message to the United States. United, NATO and other parties that Italy would come closer to their criticism of China.
“A critical stance towards China, however, has become quite shared by most political forces in Italy and the EU and it can work as a balancing act to the more controversial positions of other Meloni,” Fardella told the Star.
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