A New Italian Hard-Right Coalition

A New Italian Hard-Right Coalition

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Italian hard-right Brothers of Italy party, is successfully presenting herself as a viable, palatable and credible coalition candidate for the rightwing Northern League party, whose leader’s current reputation as an unreliable careerist is costing the League crucial votes.

In just two years, support for Giorgia Meloni’s far-right ‘Brothers of Italy’ political party has quadrupled, going from winning 3-4% of the national vote to becoming the country’s third most popular party, currently polling at 16%.

Since assuming her leadership position in 2014, Meloni has catapulted the Brothers of Italy from sitting in the post-fascist fringes to influencing the Italian political mainstream: she has overtaken the ruling ‘5Star Movement’ party — which currently polls at 15% and is Italy’s fourth most popular party — and has become the first woman in Italian history to lead a major political party.

She is also the country’s second most popular politician, with an impressive approval rating of 46%, just behind Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and comfortably ahead of Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right ‘Northern League’ party.

Her rise to political dominance, in short, seems unstoppable.

Recently, she is also emerging as a more credible and consistent tone-setter for the Right, a role long held by Salvini. While his response to the pandemic has been perceived as brash and self-serving, her reaction has been seen as serious, respectful and institutional.

Crucially, both Meloni and Salvini need each other if they want a strong, far-right majority government; and analysts are pointing to signs of a highly likely alliance between their parties.

What consequences would a Salvini-Meloni coalition have for the Italian socio-political and economic landscape?

Sister of Italy

The reasons for Meloni’s political success are twofold: first, the Italian electorate appears to be growing more open to radical leaders and frustrated with centrists who have dominated Italian politics for decades and are now held responsible for the country’s long stagnation.

Second, it is widely believed that her success is due in no small part to her astute messaging discipline, ideological consistency, and shrewdness of communication. Meloni has emerged as a skilled “political animal” who stands out in the Italian political landscape precisely because of her dutifully unwavering stance on policy issues —a rare phenomenon among Italy’s notoriously volatile, flip-flopping politicians.

The Brothers of Italy’s fiercely national-conservative agenda includes hard-line positions against immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and reproductive freedom. Their conservative economic plan involves low taxes, investment in Italian infrastructure, and a hawkish stance against Chinese expansionism in trade and finance.

Meloni also plans to increase economic support for so-called ‘traditional families’ in order to boost Italy’s sluggish birth rate, thus minimizing the need for immigrant workers.

Lastly, her ambivalent stance on the EU also explains why her rhetoric resonates with many Italian voters: like Meloni, they too believe in the European project in theory but are critical of Brussels’ alleged overreach, particularly regarding austerity measures.

Salvini’s Downfall

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, rising support for the Brothers of Italy has made up for the Northern League’s declining popularity.

Their fall from grace is twofold: first, the League has recently suffered internal infighting and intra-party backstabbing.

Second, Salvini’s recent faux pas, raucous showmanship, political gaffes, and what some are calling unhinged television appearances have jarred with an electoral base facing an unprecedented pandemic and its severe economic repercussions.

For instance, since the outbreak of Covid-19 — which was deadliest across Italy’s northern regions, the stronghold of the Northern League — Salvini has led and participated in widely criticized “gimmicky protests” and press conferences against the government’s lockdown restrictions, in which he famously ignored social distancing rules, taking mask-less selfies and sharing food with large groups of supporters.

As such, Salvini’s pre-pandemic reputation as an unreliable careerist whose policy stances are often contradictory has only been worsened by the electorate’s current frustration with his perceived tactlessness and incoherence during a global health and financial crisis.

On the other hand, Meloni has successfully presented herself as a more poised and consistent leader offering a sober and patriotic message to the Italian people in times of emergency and uncertainty.

As such, she has masterfully capitalized on Salvini’s hotheadedness and recent political errors, coming out of the Covid-19 crisis as a more capable, balanced and credible alternative for the Right.

A Right-Wing Coalition on the Horizon

Not all is lost for Salvini, however. Albeit weakened, the Northern League is still Italy’s most popular party, currently polling at 24%, followed by the Centre-Left Partito Democratico and then by the Brothers of Italy.

Though Italy’s next national election is not until 2023, the country is infamous for its frequent no confidence motions, government collapses and snap elections. If the current government — which is growing fragile and fractured — were to collapse in the near future and premature elections were to be held, analysts believe a Salvini-Meloni ticket would likely be a victorious coalition.

Together, they resonate with an Italian electorate that is increasingly willing to depart from centrist politics to embrace populist, nativist sentiments embodied by national-conservative politicians. In fact, the League and the Brothers already campaigned together during summer 2020’s provincial and regional elections.

Crucially, the likelihood of a Northern League-Brothers of Italy coalition victory is bolstered by the 5Star Movement’s declining popularity and the Centre-Left’s frequent infighting and inconsistent messaging.

Moreover, the two parties cover large parts of Italy’s territory: generally, the League wins a larger share of the vote in northern Italy, whereas Meloni’s stronghold is in central and southern regions.

If they become a ruling majority, we can expect frequent clashes with Brussels: though neither Salvini nor Meloni support ‘Italexit’, they are the EU’s harshest critics in the Italian Parliament, whilst the Centre-Left remains dutifully loyal to Brussels.

A significant portion of Italy’s hard-right electorate is indeed staunchly eurosceptic; and Salvini and Meloni often capitalize on anti-EU sentiments to blame Brussels for the country’s domestic problems. For instance, they have been vocal about the fact that Italy’s cry for help at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic fell on deaf ears in the European Parliament until it was too late, and that the subsequent emergency response and relief were insufficient.

Moreover, it is not unthinkable that a Salvini-Meloni majority government would enforce tighter border controls, deportations, naval blockades, and changes in Italian asylum policies if they win the next national election as a coalition.

In fact, in light of this year’s Tunisian economic crisis, the number of migrant ships docking in Italian ports has nearly doubled. Unsurprisingly, Meloni and Salvini were quick to capitalize on the issue, associating illegal immigration with the spread of Covid-19 and blaming immigrants for Italy’s rising unemployment rate during the crisis.

Lastly, they would be likely to cooperate on fiscal policies and confront Brussels in order to introduce, among other measures, a €50bn flat tax they have long advocated for.

Italy’s Most Hard-Right Coalition Since WW2?

To conclude, it now seems increasingly likely that if Italy were to hold premature snap elections, Salvini and Meloni would be each other’s best option on the Right in order to reach a majority government.

Together, they are quickly veering Italian politics away from the centre and towards the hard-right, whilst damaging relations with Brussels and advancing an unprecedented agenda against civil liberties.

Crucially, the formation of such a coalition would be Italy’s most far-right government since Mussolini.

In fact, as much as Meloni tries to present herself as a mainstream politician, her stance on social issues places her on the radical fringes. Though she is aligned with Salvini on the defense of Italian national identity and the fight against immigration and so-called ‘leftist’ globalism, she is more openly opposed to euthanasia, the alleged ‘Islamization’ of Italy, and LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.

As such, if the Northern League continues to lose influence on Italy’s political mainstream while the Brothers of Italy continue to gain traction, Meloni would have enough political capital to advance an unprecedented, radically conservative agenda and deeply change the Italian socio-political landscape.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author