Summary: Giorgia Meloni will probably create a coalition government with Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini. Her party, Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy, received more than a quarter of all the votes cast. Mario Draghi, the outgoing prime minister, could not maintain his governing majority. Fratelli d’Italia’s victory over Silvio Berlusconi was partly due to Marine Le Pen’s pro-Ukrainian stance on Ukraine. Matteo Salvini’s party, Lega, is the one that most closely resembles Le Nardin’s views on foreign policy.
Italy was in an excellent position when Berlusconi took office in the early 1990s. The nation’s capacity to spend its way out of some of these issues is constrained. This government ought to have a sizable majority in the legislature, giving it the political clout to address these issues. Giorgia Meloni’s memoirs were remixed into techno music in Italy to mock her. She was criticising how an E.U.-run society was erasing traditional Italian identifiers. Her party produced a twenty-five-point programme, and the first item on it was to encourage Italian families to have more children.
In Sunday’s national elections, 44% of Italian voters supported right-wing candidates, virtually guaranteeing that Giorgia Meloni would become the country’s next prime minister. Her party, Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy, received more than a quarter of all the votes cast. Meloni, who previously admitted to admiring Mussolini, waged an anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigration campaign while pledging to continue supporting Ukraine. She will probably create a coalition government with Silvio Berlusconi, a former prime minister who admired Vladimir Putin, and Matteo Salvini, a former interior minister who did the same. Mario Draghi, the outgoing prime minister, could not maintain his governing majority. Hence an election was called. Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank, guided Italy through much of the COVID pandemic while bringing together a sizable coalition of the centre-left, the populist Five Star Movement, and even Salvini, whose supporters turned against him after joining the Draghi administration in favour of Meloni.
Alexander Stille, a professor at Columbia Journalism School and the author of several books about Italian politics and history, and I recently had a phone conversation. We talked about where Meloni is most likely to concentrate her governing efforts during our discussion, which has been condensed and edited for clarity and length, as well as why a political system frequently perceived as dysfunctional is well suited to prevent the far right from enacting a broad agenda.
You’ve also written a lot about France, and it seems like there is always a popular front to use a loaded term against the extreme right in French elections, even though this popular front has weakened over the previous 20 years. Why didn’t we observe a popular show in Italy’s most recent election, given that country’s unique voting system?
There are a few explanations. The nature of the electoral system is number one, as you already indicated. You are left with a clear choice between one candidate and another in France because of their two-round system. Additionally, the long history of close relations between Marine Le Pen’s party and Vladimir Putin and Russia made it seem like a much riskier option, especially given the current political atmosphere. Giorgia Meloni stopped that by taking a very savvy middle-of-the-road stance vehemently pro-Ukraine and anti-Putin.
In actuality, the Lega party in Italy, which had a genuine electoral collapse, is the one that most closely resembles Marine Le Pen’s views on foreign policy. Its leader, Matteo Salvini, made the foolish suggestion that they travel to Moscow on a trip funded by the Russian government to mediate a peace deal. He was forced to cancel it as the public expressed outrage over that possibility. He made a humiliating error in judgement. He also disapproved of the penalties.
Regarding the Russia-Ukraine issue, Silvio Berlusconi made some pretty reckless statements, implying that Putin had been coerced into the invasion and that he sought to impose what Berlusconi called a governor per bene on Ukraine, which is Italian for a pleasant, respectable government. Of course, that worked against him. Meloni was rewarded for taking a position that was unmistakably pro-Zelensky and pro-Ukraine.
Even before the invasion of Ukraine, Meloni’s party had been making gains in the polls. Do you believe Ukraine played a more significant role in her triumph than her refusal to join the previous administration, which appeared to irk Salvini?
It’s getting warmer because the opposition parties to Mario Draghi’s administration performed well. Meloni gained popularity since she was always in the opposing camp. The Five Star Movement, which astonished many and may come out on top in this election, was, rewarded for Giuseppe Conte’s choice to topple the Draghi administration. Even though they were the cornerstones of the Draghi administration, Salvini, Berlusconi, and the [centre-left] Democratic Party all fared poorly in the polls. This vote can be interpreted as a protest vote favouring the opposition parties.
Although I believe that Americans perceive this as a sort of political earthquake, I don’t necessarily feel that way. Remember that Alleanza Nazionale, the Brothers of Italy’s predecessor party, was in power for many of the Berlusconi years. Berlusconi led further-right governments, such as the Alleanza Nazionale and the Lega, which are not very different from what we are experiencing presently. Salvini served as Interior Minister in the first Conte administration, which was largely right-wing and populist. Therefore, this appears less extreme to me than it may to someone who hears about the Fratelli d’Italia’s pedigree and believes that the Fascists have retaken control. That’s not quite how I see it.
How, in your opinion, might this administration be different from Berlusconi’s?
The fundamental issues that Italy is dealing with are not new. Italy was in an excellent position in many aspects when Berlusconi took office in the early 1990s. Even if the nation had a very high national debt, it would be close to equaling the U.K. in terms of GDP per capita or GDP overall. Italy’s economy has since experienced one of the lowest growth rates worldwide. The nation’s capacity to spend its way out of some of these issues is constrained by the high unemployment rate and continued high level of the national debt. These issues are still present. In particular, the Berlusconi administration struggled to handle them. Only slightly better than average were the governments of the centre-left.
It’s unclear how this government plans to handle [these issues]. Additionally, given the situation in Ukraine and Russia, they inherit a challenging scenario with high inflation and rising energy prices that could worsen significantly throughout the winter. And once you are in office, what happens is that you begin to bear the expense of the public’s discontent. This government ought to have a sizable majority in the legislature, giving it the political clout to address these issues. However, these are challenging challenges, and despite all the votes, it is still not entirely obvious how to implement laws that deal with some of these concerns. They have challenging tasks to complete. Since they were in the opposition, resentment naturally gravitated toward them. Then it will start to work the other way.
What do you believe motivates Meloni? What do you suppose her interests are?
She hasn’t made a big deal by promoting a specific economic plan. Her public statements have more to do with identity politics than economic politics. “I Am Giorgia” is the title of her memoirs. A speech section in which she declared, “I am Giorgia, I’m a woman, a mother, and I’m Christian,” was remixed into techno music in Italy to mock her but made her very well-known. These are all definitions of who you are. She was criticising how an E.U.-run society was erasing the traditional Italian identifiers and creating a bland, unisex identity, a global cosmopolitan type of identity, devoid of any Italian specificity—the L.G.B.T.Q. The movement has been attacked, and she has emphasised traditional forms of identity, which I believe is the most radical thing she has done. She seems to be most passionate about that.
But it’s unclear to me what you can do about that politically. Her party produced a twenty-five-point programme, and the first item on it was to encourage Italian families to have more children. Like most developed nations, Italy has a meagre fertility rate of about 1.3 children per woman. Very few countries have been able to change those numbers significantly. Oddly enough, France is one of the nations that has experienced some success in that area despite not leaning to the right. Programs offered by Meloni reward families with children.
I’ll make the positive case that she won’t cause too much harm: She already adopted a moderate stance on Ukraine, she can’t make much of an impact on social policy, and she is somewhat constrained on economic policy due to her membership in the EU and her need for pandemic recovery money. This implies a person who, with the possible exception of immigration, is either unable or unwilling to go to extremes. When Salvini served as Interior Minister, the attitude toward refugees was frequently revolting. You mentioned Salvini.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network