Op/Ed #2 – What to expect from Meloni and the Brothers of Italy

By Jim Dagg

Italians have elected a government led by the FdI (Brothers of Italy) party. Opponents call it neo-fascist, though its leader – and now Prime Minister – Giorgia Meloni calls it post-fascist. What should we expect from Meloni’s government?

FdI is definitely on the far right. The Thesis of Trieste, passed at a party congress in 2017 is the party’s ideological platform. Using a model of R.R.P (radical right party) characteristics, one analyst establishes the importance of “nativism, nationalism and authoritarianism” as well as “euro-skepticism” in this platform. Having said that, the platform is one thing; implementation when in power is another. History shows that situational parameters (social, political, economic) and the abilities of the leader have a huge impact on the ability to implement a program.

Meloni is an excellent politician. She has a reputation within the Italian establishment for “pragmatism and sharp intelligence”. And as a woman who has made it to the top of Italian politics… she is tough. In 2012, she led a split from Berlusconi’s mainstream center-right “People of Freedom” alliance, creating the FdI and became its first (and only) leader. She is a fiery and captivating speaker. She is charismatic: even the attempt to mock her in a video “Io sono Giorgia” worked in her favour. When the national unity government of Mario Draghi took power in 2021, she kept her small party in opposition, aware that Italians tend to vote for change. During the snap election which followed Draghi’s resignation, as it became clear that Meloni might win, she began to moderate her positions – including on supporting the euro. In the end, her party won 26% of the vote, up from 4% in 2018. Her coalition partners each won under 9%, putting Meloni in the driving seat of a strong majority government.

Pragmatic, smart and tough, Meloni will play the cards she has been dealt and look for opportunities to implement her party’s program. She has already said that she is leading a center-right government, not a far-right one. She tried hard to recruit a non-political technocrat as finance minister, though she was unsuccessful. She has fully stepped away from euro-skepticism: €200B from the EU – in COVID recovery grants and loans – is immediately at stake. She knows that Europe makes it easier for Italy to manage its huge debt, and that 71% of Italians support use of the euro. She is a full-throated supporter of Ukraine, in complete alignment with EU policy – and against the policy of far-right fellow-traveller Viktor Orban in Hungary. In affirming this recently, ‘she said that Italy was fully, and “with its head held high, part of Europe and the Atlantic alliance.”’  She has no interest in changing the abortion law nor laws that permit same-sex civil unions, as these have proven popular to the population at large. Smart politicians – even true believers – know when the time is not right.

Meloni will pursue her far-right policies where she can: most likely under the categories of nativism and nationalism. This may include new legislation around perceived “illegal” immigration and all aspects of “welfare chauvinism”. Both initiatives are likely to target Islamic immigrants especially. An amplification effect is likely: when the government discusses and passes laws which move to the right in this way, they shift the understanding in the community. This may lead to self-justification for additional official (police) and unofficial (vigilante) action against the identified communities. This is what the world should watch out for.

Talented and determined though she is, Meloni faces daunting challenges. The economy is projected to contract by 0.7% in 2023 and inflation is at 9.4%. She couldn’t recruit as she wanted for some cabinet posts, including for the Minister of Economy and Finance: Giancarlo Giorgetti, who got the appointment and was in Draghi’s unity government as Minister of Economic Development, actually said that he was not confident he could do the job. Meloni’s coalition partners Salvini (The League) and Berlusconi (Forza Italia) have made a habit of expressing approval for Putin and his war in Ukraine. They may choose to make trouble for her for their own reasons. And EU human rights rules as well as economic factors may make it difficult for her to implement some of her agenda.

Meloni’s government, like any democratically elected government in history, will need to be pragmatic about implementing her party’s program. Meloni will likely prioritize some high-profile policies which advance the nativist and nationalist aspects of her platform. But anything more will be limited by situational considerations including an inflationary yet shrinking economy, Italy’s immediate dependency on the EU, and Meloni’s own dependency on mercurial partners Salvini and Berlusconi.

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