With a commitment to move the Italian embassy to Jerusalem, abet the war effort in Ukraine and clamp down on illegal migration, Fratelli d’Italia romped home comfortably in this month’s Italian general election.
Displacing Brussels favourite and arch-technocrat Mario Draghi, party leader Giorgia Meloni now enters a coalition deal with the electorally hobbled Matteo Salvini and his Lega Nord Party, in what is by any measure a shot in the arm for European populism.
Gaining electorally by bleeding its now coalition partners it follows in a 30 year long tradition of the populist right in Italy occupying space once held by post-war Christain Democrats.
After having his fingers burnt for Rusophilia and a botched coalition with the Five Star Movement, Salvini and his party are the big losers of the elections which saw him return as a junior partner and as a shadow of Lega’s former glory.
Governing as part of a political triumvirate, which includes a fossilised but not yet vanquished Silvio Berlusconi as well as Salvini, the Fratelli triumph, while nominally accepted, has been a hard pill to swallow for Europe’s political centre.
The geopolitics of war has made it harder for Brussels or Washington to displace or undermine conservative governments without blowing a hole in their grand strategy of fending off Russia. Even two years ago a result as was seen in Rome would have been met with a quickfire human rights outcry and a variety of NGOs deployed to decry, obstruct, and potentially take down the newly elected government.
With the eye of Washington focused elsewhere, all globalists can do for now is whimper, helped by the prudent decision by Meloni to bury the hatchet with NATO and Europe for now, and focus on real reforms around migration and demographics. Running up against Macronist geostrategy in Libya over which faction to back, expect North Africa to make or break Italian foreign policy for Meloni’s tenure.
Avoiding the political kiss of death by not partaking in Draghi’s national unity government or taking Kremlin gold, Fratelli’s primary selling point on the street has been welfare reformism, tax cuts and ending the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
Similar to Fidesz, it would appear Fratelli is trying to cover its American flank with outreach towards US conservatism with a speaking slot for Meloni at CPAC. Quoting Chesterton and decrying woke culture, this meeting of the waters between US conservatism and European nationalism remains a curious transatlantic coalition of our era.
A former youth militant with the neofascist MSI movement, Meloni has done well with the balancing act of idealism and pragmatism, which traditional radical right parties wrestle with —at least electorally.
The story of Fratelli is one of mastering Italy’s centre right and a placation of the nation’s indefatigable media-financial power structure, best embodied by the serpentine character of Silvio Berlusconi, once a Eurofederalist, but who now throws in his lot with the populists.
With a thick working-class accent, Meloni is the social and political product of multigenerational fascist social engineering started by Mussolini, one which survived the collapse of his regime and that has informed her upbringing and political pedigree. A century on from his death and Il Duce is still impacting Italian politics.
Bouncing from 4% in 2018 to 26% in 2022, it awaits to be seen if Meloni can fulfil her mandate and negotiate the geopolitics and horse treading of the office which she has been called to.
The rotating dessert tray of Italian populism has already seen the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini come and go within a ten year period, with observers right to be cynical 6 years after Trump and Brexit.
If Meloni and Fratelli manage the Orbanification of Italian politics, vindicate the fact that national conservative governments are the way forward and can properly manage a major European country, her role is fulfilled.
Fratelli is the beginning not the end of the road for European renewal and we should absolutely not write any blank cheques for future mishaps. Similarly, for Italians of the Right a major task will be forming an anti-Fratelli opposition so as to criticise the new government from the Right when it falls short of its goals. Such a task is being completed in Hungary through the nationalist group Mi Hazánk Mozgalom formed from the remnants of Jobbik and which commands 6% of the vote share.
On Russia, unlike Lega Nord or Le Pen in France, Fratelli were prudent not to taint themselves by tethering their platform to the success of the Kremlin war effort. Whatever about jaunts to CPAC, the Kremlin are not viable long-term partners for an aspiring Western European government for security concerns alone. Bearing the institutional hallmarks of the Allied conquest the simple fact is an anti-NATO government would not be tolerated or even allowed to take power.
More broadly, as with Orbán, Meloni represents a type of hard-right Atlanticism allowed to fly under the radar so long as it doesn’t disrupt anti-Russian war efforts or cross certain ideological lines. While some may decry the political cynicism, remember that Meloni’s task is Italy and nothing else with the immediate demographic question the most pressing to solve.
For Europe at large, it now becomes harder and harder to ignore the nationalist alternative as hard-right governments begin not just to fill up cabinet rooms across the Continent but succeed.
Italy is not small change when it comes to international power brokers, existing as the 4th largest economy in Europe, with considerable foreign policy muscle in North Africa.
Dispensing on much of the party’s Euroscepticism (namely due to the populace’s desire to get their mitts on EU post-covid recovery funds), one aspect of the policy platform Meloni and co. is intent on is the end of illegal migration.
It is this issue which will define her premiership as the primary factor to qualify it as failure or victory.
The real longevity of her administration rests beyond daily politics on the institutions and quiet oligarchies which run Italy in the background and which Fratelli must come to terms with.
Europe despite all claims to the contrary, is not yet in revolutionary ferment. Until then, slow and steady progress by nationalist parties electorally and within the state infrastructure is to be expected, bidding time for leaner years ahead under the umbrella of post-American multipolarity.
Reformism and radicalism has always been the crossroads outsider movements have faced. Italy is in a better position to prosper the next century under Meloni, but this is not the totality of the mission at hand.
Judge Fratelli by their actions not just Meloni’s oratory, confident in the fact that the tide is now firmly in our favour and the cat is out of the bag in regards to demographic change.
Italy’s revival begins with Fratelli but should not end there.