What Giorgia Meloni’s election might mean for Italy — and Europe

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What Giorgia Meloni’s election might mean for Rome and for Brussels — as Italy takes a hard right turn

Italy’s elections this weekend look set to deliver a set of firsts: the country’s first female leader, as well as its first far-right one since the fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Too extreme a comparison? Giorgia Meloni, who is now poised to take the reins of Europe’s third-largest economy, certainly thinks so, despite her worrying political history and the history of her Brothers of Italy party, which won an estimated 26 percent of the vote Sunday. Together with the Brothers of Italy’s political partners, the Meloni-led coalition is projected to have won a majority. That means Meloni will likely be Italy’s next Prime Minister.

In a victory speech early Monday, she pledged to govern for “everyone,” and said her coalition would rule with the “aim of uniting the people [of this country].”

“Italy chose us,” she added. “We will not betray [the country], as we never have.”

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The concerns about Meloni have arisen because of her party’s history, its current positions and because of its close political links with the likes of Hungary’s dictator Viktor Orban, France’s right-wing leader Marine Le Pen and even with Donald Trump. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy is a direct descendant of the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), which was founded by Mussolini’s allies. Meloni herself has praised Mussolini and has spoken regularly of an assault on Italian “identity” that many have seen as thinly-veiled racism.

For her opponents, those views and past statements are reason to fear a period of “danger for the future of Italy.”

What a Prime Minister Meloni might mean for Europe

The concerns extend beyond Rome: as Europe contends with a war on its doorstep, Meloni, who has called for Italy to ditch the euro, could threaten European unity as the continent faces a war on its doorstep.

While Meloni was full-throated during the campaign in her support for the Ukrainian resistance, her coalition partners were not. Meloni made her pitch for office in concert with two other right-wing parties: the League, led by Matteo Salvini; and former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Salvini has called for Europe to reconsider its sanctions against Moscow, and Berlusconi has hewed close to the Kremlin’s line on the Ukraine War, calling the invasion a “special operation,” (Russian President Vladimir Putin’s phrase), and suggesting that Putin was simply seeking to put “decent people” in charge in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Meloni struck a different tone when she recently said, “Italy cannot risk being the weak link in the Western alliance.” How she will square that with the views of her partners remains to be seen — and is a central source of concern for Italy’s international partners.

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As for the European Union, Meloni said all she is seeking is a “different Italian attitude on the international stage.” The idea, she explained, wasn’t to “destroy Europe” but to reorient the way Rome deals with the bloc. And yet she has also warned that, “If I win, for Europe, the fun is over.” She said she didn’t want Brussels to interfere in matters that “Rome can best take care of.”

Meloni, Orban, Le Pen and … Steve Bannon?

Meloni has also raised eyebrows — and concerns — because of the company she keeps. By her own admission, Meloni counts among her political soulmates Hungary’s Orban, a pro-Putin leader and another proponent of lifting of sanctions against Russia; and Steve Bannon, the recently indicted former Donald Trump aide who views the EU as a “vampire.” Meloni calls Bannon “an ally.”

On Orban, the general EU view is that he has created an “electoral autocracy,” one that undermines European values. Meloni, however, said recently that she didn’t “understand why there’s this fury” against her friend. And her party voted against a recent European Parliament measure to sanction Hungary.

Unsurprisingly, Orban was among the first European leaders to congratulate Meloni on her “more than deserved victory,” as he put it in a Facebook post. From France, Le Pen congratulated Meloni and Salvini for resisting “the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union.” Similar messages were also forthcoming from right-wing figures in Spain and Germany, and even from Brazil, where Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro, tweeted that Meloni stood for “God, fatherland and family” — a slogan used by his father. Meloni has made use of a similar phrase, which commentators point out has echoes of fascist dogma from the Mussolini era.

Starting young

Although little known outside Italy until this summer, Meloni is a veteran of the country’s right. As Grid has reported, she got her start as a teenage activist for the MSI, and held a junior ministerial post during a Berlusconi administration.

She established herself as a political force in her own right after co-founding the Brothers of Italy in 2012 with other veterans of the Italian neofascist movement. They chose as their logo the same flame symbol as the one used by the fascist MSI.

The Brothers of Italy’s agenda is deeply divisive: They have positioned themselves against LGBTQ rights and against immigration, proposing among other things a naval blockade of the African continent to stop migrants from crossing into Italy. Reports indicate that Salvini, her coalition partner, wants a second turn as Italy’s interior minister. His last term in the job resulted in him facing trial for allegedly blocking 147 migrants from landing in Italy after they were saved by a rescue ship. Salvini still stands accused of kidnapping and abuse of office for detaining the migrants at sea in 2019.

Meloni herself said in an interview with the Washington Post earlier this month that “nations only exist if there are borders, and if those are defended.” She has blasted left-wing politicians for financing “an invasion” to “replace Italians with immigrants.” That invasion, she claims, has left Italy facing “demographic emergency.” Such rhetoric is a staple of far-right politicians in the U.S. and Europe, and of the racist “Great Replacement Theory” that has animated them.

For Meloni’s opponents, there was at least one silver lining in the vote. As the right-wing alliance surged in the polls, commentators worried about another item on the ballot: the possibility of constitutional changes that would give Meloni and her allies greater control over the levers of government in Italy — something that would require a two-thirds majority for the coalition. Current projections suggest these proposed measures will fall well short of that goal.

Now the hard part

Perhaps Meloni’s biggest challenge as prime minister will be managing her coalition, as she deals with a dire economic situation at home. Many analysts have said her party has been propelled forward less by ideology and more because it has been out of power; in this analysis, Sunday’s vote was a referendum on those who have led prior governments. Italy, like other places in Europe and beyond, is facing an increasingly serious cost of living challenge, as the war in Ukraine drives up food and fuel inflation.


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And while Meloni’s allies are unabashedly anti-Europe, her country relies on EU institutions to stay afloat. One European aid program currently underpinning Italy’s economy is estimated to be worth around 11 to 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product over the next five years. That support is conditional: Italy gets help, as long as it sticks by EU treaties and norms.

Yet as she prepares to take the oath of office as Italy’s next prime minister, her record, the record of her allies and their incendiary rhetoric still has many worried in Italy and beyond.

“Giorgia Meloni will be a prime minister whose political role models are Viktor Orban and Donald Trump,” the vice president of the European Parliament, Katarina Barley of the Social Democratic party of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, was quoted as saying in response to Meloni’s victory, adding: “Her electoral lip service to Europe cannot hide the fact that she represents a danger to constructive co-existence in Europe.”

Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for copy editing this article.

  • Nikhil Kumar
    Nikhil Kumar

    Deputy Global Editor

    Nikhil Kumar is the deputy global editor at Grid, reporting on global affairs.