By Cooper Dutton
ROME, ITALY—Giorgia Meloni appears set to become the first Italian prime minister from the far right since World War II after her Brothers of Italy party led a right-wing coalition to an absolute majority in the September 25th elections.
Meloni’s victory comes amid a string of far-right gains across Europe this year, sowing fears that her premiership could threaten the stability of the European Union and Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion.
Although it will be several weeks until the newly elected Parliament is seated, Meloni’s party attracted a plurality of both the popular vote and seats in Parliament and her right-wing coalition with the Lega and Forza Italia parties won a majority of seats, putting her on track to become the first female prime minister of Italy. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy won 26 percent of the vote and 119 seats, making it the largest party in Italy.
Meloni’s success is groundbreaking on multiple fronts; not only will she be the first female prime minister, but Brothers of Italy is descended from the neofascist parties which arose after the fall of Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship at the end of World War II, making her the first far-right leader of Italy since Mussolini. Meloni also will be the first far-right head of government of a major Eurozone country.
The strong showing by the Italian far-right group caps off a year of far-right gains across Europe. In early September, the Swedish general election saw a party founded by neo-Nazis become the largest party in its likely governing coalition. Earlier this year, the hard-right Marine Le Pen came second in the French presidential election and her ultranationalist National Rally became the largest opposition party in France’s National Assembly. In Spain too, the far-right Vox party also saw gains in regional elections.
The success of Brothers of Italy is widely seen as a blow to the stability of the European Union by the European establishment. For many, there are questions over the new government’s commitment to supporting Ukraine as it continues to fight back the Russian invasion which has now stretched into its eighth month.
Although Meloni herself is an avowed supporter of Ukraine, her coalition partners have voiced some support for Putin, questioning sanctions against Russia and uncritically repeating his propaganda. However, the sanctions are unpopular in Italy, causing concern that Meloni could soften her support for Ukraine and threaten the united front the European Union has managed to hold so far against Russia.
There is also some concern that Meloni and her party’s lack of governing experience and technical expertise could be problematic economically as Italy and the European Union navigate themselves through global economic crisis and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The outgoing prime minister Mario Draghi has kept in close contact after the election in an attempt to ensure some level of economic continuity.
There is also concern coming from within liberal and leftist Italian factions that the success of the right-wing coalition could cause an erosion of the country’s norms.
Meloni has attacked “the LGBT lobby”, decrying it as an attack on traditional family values, and has voiced support for the racist Great Replacement theory, which holds that wealthy figures on the left such as George Soros are engineering a mass campaign of immigration in order to replace white, native-born, Italians. To this end, she in the past called for a naval blockade against migrants.
There are also concerns that a Meloni government will enact a rollback of certain civil rights, especially LGBT and women’s rights. In particular, many are worried that women’s access to abortion will be threatened. Although abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978, the Brothers of Italy have restricted access in localities where they govern.
Although the results of the election were a substantial blow to the left, for some, the final results were a sigh of relief. There was concern leading up to the election that Meloni’s coalition could achieve the two-thirds majority in Parliament necessary to amend the constitution. The Italian Constitution was written as explicitly anti-fascist and designed to prevent the rise of another Mussolini.
During the electoral campaign, Meloni expressed an openness to amending the constitution if her coalition had the numbers, creating concern that she would eliminate those anti-fascist safeguards.
But her failure to achieve that supermajority is small consolation for the Italian left, which lost significant support and now control barely one fifth of the seats in Parliament.
The new legislature will be seated on October 13 and talks between party leaders and President Sergio Mattarella will start soon after.