Italian Election May Preview Europe’s Rightward Shift

  • Giorgia Meloni, head of the right-leaning Brothers of Italy party and favorite to win the upcoming Italian election, has promised to be tough on China and Russia while balancing economic problems and EU dependence.
  • Her likely election reflects a wider conservative, but not necessarily populist, concern in Europe, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • “The divide between [Europe’s] eastern and western nations is growing — this, a product of both security and ideological considerations — and Italy’s election could influence those dynamics,” Vandenberg Coalition Advisory Board member Aleksandra Tirziu said.

The upcoming Italian election highlights a broader shift in Europe away from left-leaning governments as conservative policies, not populist sentiments, gain popularity, according to experts.

Giorgia Meloni, leading the right-leaning Brothers of Italy (FdI) party with the slogan “God, family, fatherland,” is the heavy favorite to become Italy’s first female prime minister after the Sept. 25 election. If she wins, she must balance her tough stance against Russia, in line with mainstream European policy, with support for handouts and domestic social reforms in alignment with voter concerns, a problem many European governments are likewise struggling to manage, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The divide between [Europe’s] eastern and western nations is growing — this, a product of both security and ideological considerations — and Italy’s election could influence those dynamics,” Aleksandra Tirziu, a Vandenberg Coalition Advisory Board member and expert on authoritarian systems and commercial growth, told the DCNF.

FdI stayed out of former Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s technocratic government, ushered in to help Italy manage economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Meloni’s popularity appears to be a reaction to the failures of the prior government after Draghi lost support of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, collapsing his wide-ranging coalition, Hedwig Giusto, a senior research fellow at the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, told the DCNF.

Meloni as leader will have her own economic crisis to manage, as EU-driven policies and Russia’s squeeze on gas exports sends Europe reeling.

“We must avoid the mistakes made after 2008, the energy crisis must not produce a return of populism,” Draghi had warned at the G7 summit in June, advocating for a price cap on Russian oil, The Guardian reported.

Meloni, however, is not a populist — a word Giusto said is too ill-defined to be of much use.

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“She is much more conservative in her approach,” although she does include some populist policy items, such as subsidies and pensions, in her agenda, Daniel Kochis, senior policy analyst for European affairs at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF.

Meloni backed Western sanctions against Russia and has vocally committed to supporting the financial and political efforts of the transatlantic alliance to hamper the Russian military, Giusto explained to the DCNF. Italians support Ukraine and condemned Russia’s invasion, but for historical, cultural and political reasons tend to take a more reserved approach to Putin’s autocratic regime.

“Italians are increasingly worried about the social and economic consequences of the war, which come after a long economic crisis and a pandemic,” Giusto said. “A new right-wing government may give in to the temptation to drag its feet against further commitments to support the Ukrainian war effort and the sanctions.”

Meloni has tempered her prior antagonism toward the EU in favor of “less Europe, but a better Europe” amid a steep risein popularity of the EU among Italians over COVID-19 aid, Giusto said. She is dependent on the Draghi-devised and EU-sponsored Recovery and Resilience Plan, which promises €68.9 billion in grants and €122.6 billion in loans for Italy.

Italy is the EU’s third-largest economy and Europe’s fourth, meaning Meloni’s decisions will have significant ramifications for the economic landscape of the continent as a whole, according to Politico.

The shift has already taken place in Meloni’s campaign rhetoric, according to Kochis. FdI is “not going to rock the boat,” said Kochis. “They are a ‘Euroskeptic’ party, but they’re not a party that is going to come in and scramble everything.”

Domestically, however, she will court eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland who have championedpolicies that support traditional family structures, increased social spending and birthrates and restrictions on immigration.

Italy’s proximity to the North African coast has put it at the forefront of the immigration battle, but immigration controls have gained traction across Europe, Kochis told the DCNF. “Governments like Viktor Orban’s have basically won the day” on the immigration front, as European countries deal with rising migrant crime and problems with assimilation, according to Kochis.

FdI describes itself as “post-fascist,” having broken from its far-right heritage and “handed fascism over to history,” according to Meloni, but skeptics note that the tricolor flame representing the post-WWII fascist party still features in the Brothers’ symbol.

Italy isn’t the only country trending away from left-leaning governments. The United Kingdom’s Conservative Party recently elected a “Thatcherite” candidate for prime minister, Liz Truss, while the latest polling shows that the nationalist Sweden Democrats for the first time may emerge on top of Sweden’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, according to Reuters.

Even the EU is feeling the pressure as voters push the leaders of member states to curb inflation and stave off a deepening energy deficit, settling Friday on a measure to cap profits of non-gas energy producers, Reuters reported. Germany and France, for instance, have found themselves at the mercy of the Russian oil supply and are steeling for a desolate winter, while Bulgaria has opted to tone down support for Ukraine in order to keep gas lines open, according to Politico.

Tirziu said Europe may be experiencing a “quiet, yet burgeoning” understanding that left-leaning governments have “left it weakened, and that a course correction is needed.”

Meloni’s office did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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