Giorgia Meloni is about to become the Prime Minister of Italy

ITaly is about to make history this weekend. If opinion polls are correct, Italian voters on Sunday will pave the way for Georgia Meloni to become Italy’s first female prime minister, and for her party, Brothers of Italy, to lead the country’s most far-right government since World War II.

But the Italian election is important for reasons that extend far beyond Italy. After years of failing to hack a program Cordon Sanitary On the far right – whose ilk has prevented the far right from taking power in other major EU countries, including Germany and France – some far-right parties like Meloni have renamed it to soften their image and broaden their appeal despite adopting many of the same policies. If Meloni’s Brothers of Italy emerges as the largest party in the September 25 contest – an outcome that will likely lead Meloni to lead a coalition government alongside far-right leader Matteo Salvini’s Northern League party and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, centre-right forward Italy. The Party – Not only will it provide a guide for like-minded parties to follow, but it presents a new face of the European far-right: a face more polished and electorally savvy than ever before.

When you ask Italian politicians and analysts the reason for the sudden rise of the Brothers of Italy, a party with neo-fascist roots that received barely more than 4% of the vote during the last Italian elections in 2018, the most common answer is that it is the only opposition party on the ballot. . Of all the country’s major political parties, only he chose to remain outside the rare unity government led by independent technocrat Mario Draghi until its collapse earlier this summer after weeks of infighting, making it the likely beneficiary of the protest vote.

“[Meloni] It gets the support of a lot of people for one reason or another: inflation, energy cost, whoever is unhappy with the current situation,” says Piero Ignazi, a political scientist at the University of Bologna and an expert on the Brothers of Italy. “These people will vote for an opposition party.”

But Meloni’s background worries many. The 45-year-old politician’s interest in politics dates back to at least 1992 when she was 15 years old. She grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Rome, and joined the Italian social movement. The neo-fascist party was formed in 1946 by supporters of ousted dictator Benito Mussolini – who hailed the teenage Meloni as “good politician—and is considered the ancestor of the Brothers of Italy, which Meloni co-founded a decade ago. Meloni has since renounced her praise of Mussolini, but remnants of the party’s nostalgia for neo-fascism remain. Her party’s motto, a tricolor flame, is a symbol of the social movement Italian; some of Mussolini’s descendants even ran under her banner.

Ignazi says the idea that Meloni’s party seeks to restore the fascist regime in Italy is “ridiculous”. However, her political style has all the semblance of a far-right politician. She has warned of the dangers of “racial replacement” stimulated by immigration (an undisguised reference to the “Great Alternative” conspiracy theory) and criticized “Brussels bureaucrats,” “the gay lobby,” “climate fundamentalism,” and left “globalization.” In a speech earlier this summer to drum up support for Spain’s far-right Vox party, Meloni told party supporters “They will say we are dangerous, extremists, racists, fascists, deniers and homosexuals.” The comments echoed similar statements made by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former White House chief strategist, who in 2018 encouraged supporters of French far-right politician Marine Le Pen to “let them call you xenophobic, let them call you patriots. Wear it as a badge of honor.”

However, what makes Meloni different is that it has apparently learned from the mistakes of its far-right allies across Europe – many, if not all, have been sidelined by voters and political parties for being seen as too fat to vote with or control. . Throughout the campaign, Meloni tried to modify her party’s image and promote herself not as an advocate of an ethnic or Eurosceptic like Salvini, but as an advocate of family values, a staunch supporter of Ukraine and NATO, as well as a woman, mother and Christian. In doing so, Meloni is “trying to transform.” [Brothers of Italy] To a broad conservative party”, says Luigi Di Gregorio, Professor of Political Science at the University of Tussia. “In Italy, we have many political parties, but aspire to be the leader of the most important right-wing party in Italy. The most important right-wing party in Italy cannot be a far-right party.”

Read more: What does political chaos in Italy mean for Europe

This strategy has been tested elsewhere, with varying degrees of success. In Sweden, the far-right Swedish Democrats, despite their neo-Nazi roots, are preparing to play a major role in the next government after winning the second largest share of the vote during elections earlier this month. In France, Le Pen delivered her best electoral performance to date, though she failed to win a rematch against Emmanuel Macron earlier this year.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party is expected to come out on top, unlike the Swedish Democrats and the National Rally, in part because it has convinced enough Italian moderates that it is worth the risk. As one voter told FRANCE 24, “It’s the only one we haven’t tried yet – which means it’s the only one that hasn’t failed yet.”

Meloni is keen to win over the moderates by emphasizing her respect for parliamentary democracy. In a letter to the international press last month, she dismissed warnings that her rise to power was a harbinger of authoritarianism in Italy, noting that she and her coalition partners “strongly oppose any anti-democratic aberration” and traditionally share the values ​​of others. Center-right parties around the world. She also cited her strong support for Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion as evidence of her Atlantacist credentials.

However, not everyone was convinced by these initiatives. Meloni’s opponents argue that her international allies – among them Spain’s Vox, Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s PiS – should tell Italian voters everything they need to know about what kind of Italy it will lead.

“You really see the kind of policies that they have in their countries,” Eli Schlein, an independent candidate for the Progressive Democratic Party of Italy slate, told supportessays com magazine about the far-right governments in Hungary and Poland. Both countries have undermined the rule of law and introduced legislation that restricts the rights of women, immigrants, and the LGBT community. Indeed, the European Parliament recently voted to describe Hungary as an “electoral autocracy” over its retreat from democracy. (The Brothers of Italy, led by Meloni, voted against this decision.) “How could it be clearer than that?” Shalene asks.

European lawmakers are not convinced either. A far-right government in Rome in which two of its key players are seen as sympathetic to the Kremlin could undermine Western cohesion when it comes to supporting Ukraine. Moreover, Brussels’ continued efforts to defend the rule of law within its borders could be negated if Meloni becomes an ally of the Hungarian Viktor Orban, whom it had previously defended. For example, to reduce EU funding for Budapest, which is currently under consideration, the eligible majority of 15 member states representing 65% of the EU population would need to agree. “This is a tough bar [clear]Daniel Freund, a Green Party member of the European Parliament from Germany and one of the negotiators behind the rule of law mechanism used by European lawmakers to withhold EU funds, says. “If Italy is not part of that coalition that supports the protection of the rule of law, it will become impossible to achieve a truly qualified majority.”

It remains to be seen whether Meloni will continue her moderation efforts if she takes office. But that decision may not be entirely up to her. Meloni will have to contend with her (not as united as it seems) coalition partners and her party’s core base of supporters, many of whom could choose to defect to Salvini or Berlusconi if ​​they are deemed too weak.

“Even if she is trying to change, there is nothing she can do with her constituents and, above all, with her party members,” says Teresa Coratella, program director at the Rome office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. The biggest test for her will be whether she will be able to use the electoral victory as a means to completely remake her party. But, as of today, I don’t think there’s much she can do.”

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write to Yasmine Sarhan at [email protected]

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