By Pedro Pacheco
On Friday 22 October, Giorgia Meloni was sworn into office as the first female Italian prime minister. On Sunday 25 September, the Italian population headed to the polling stations to cast their vote for the 2022 Italian general elections. Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party (Italian: Fratelli d’Italia, FdI) won the elections—a victory that was predictable with exit polls estimating a 26% win, yet still shocking for the majority of the Italian population.
Election outcomes resulted in a staggering 26% win, a huge leap compared to the previous elections where the FdI obtained only 4.4% of the national vote. The win of the FdI sufficed in consolidating a great right-wing majority coalition, making up almost 44% of the total votes. The Italian president Sergio Mattarella is obliged to put in place the first far-right government of the post-WW2 era in Italy.
Meloni will be the first woman to become prime minister of Italy, however, she will not govern alone. Her coalition, the centre-right coalition, will be composed of Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration party Lega, alongside Forza Italia, led by experienced ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi as well as the recently established centrist party, Noi Moderati, led by Maurizio Lupi.
Silvio Berlusconi has had his fair share of controversies throughout his political career. He is the founder and owner of the largest media company in Italy, which controls more than 30% of viewership. This intertwinement of media ownership and political activity has sparked opposition against Berlusconi, specifically in light of its influence on the elections. The suspicion is rooted in the many alleged incidents of Berlusconi trying to regulate the media while he was in office.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Enrico Letta’s centre-left coalition won 26% of the votes. A crushing defeat for the left, which will have to settle on being the main opposition within parliament. Letta has made final remarks on the elections saying it was “a sad day for Italy and Europe”. Following the election results, he also said he would be stepping down as secretary of the democratic party.
A mix of reactions have been expressed around the world. Rolf Müntzenich, a lawmaker and member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic party, has expressed apprehension, manifesting his worries by saying “that a founding member of the EU is in such a situation. It is a threat to the EU and Italy”.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares also made some strong remarks about the new Italian government, touching on the fact that “populist movements always grow, but it always ends in the same way – in catastrophe because they offer simple short-term answers to problems which are very complex.”
Politicians aligned with Meloni’s beliefs and values, however, were quick to congratulate her. Far-right Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, described Meloni’s success as a “well deserved victory”.
The future prime minister will not have an easy task in the upcoming years. Diverging opinions on issues including Italy’s positioning within the EU, climate change, and foreign policies are a cause for division within the coalition. The FdI has a strong position against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is in favour of sanctions against Russia. Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini has explicitly shown his anti-sanction stance, tweeting: “It’s evident that someone in Europe has made a bad calculation. It is essential to rethink the (sanction) strategy”.
There have been many controversies surrounding the origins of the Brothers of Italy party. The party was created in 2012 after a split from Berlusconi’s “The People of Freedom” party. Its roots, however, can be traced to 1946, when a group of Mussolini sympathisers founded the Italian Social Movement. This party later became known as “The National Alliance” which was then merged into “The People of Freedom” party in 2009. Meloni has openly admired Mussolini in the past, one time saying: “I think Mussolini is a good politician. Whatever he did, he did for Italy”.
In the past few years, she has adopted a rhetoric style that has a close resemblance to that of the fascist dictator, repeatedly referring to “god, country, and family” in her speeches.
Meloni’s election campaign was also struck with backlash after her party used a fascist symbol within their marketing campaign, namely the symbol of a green, white, and red flame on their flags. This flame is seen in Mussolini’s tomb, representing “the eternal flame on the tomb of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini”.
With a plummeting European economy on the brink of a recession, and Italy being its third-largest economy, Meloni has many policies in mind to tackle these economic hardships.
Her party’s programme calls for a flat income tax for self-employed individuals, the idea of everyone paying the same income tax may seem promising however it usually leads to an increase in tax for low-income individuals and a tax break for high-income individuals, leading to even greater levels of inequality.
While Meloni is a ‘die-hard eurosceptic’ she has demonstrated a cautious outlook on the European Union’s stimulus package, wanting to renegotiate the deal with the EU so it includes the electricity crisis going on at the moment, as well as promising to stick to EU deficit rules.
The new government, which took office only this Friday, has already been through some internal quarrels. This time, Berlusconi’s alignment with Vladimir Putin is to blame. Leaked audio shows the ex-prime minister boasting about how he “sent him [Putin] bottles of Lambrusco” after he received a “very sweet letter” from the Russian president.
This clash within the coalition happened just a few weeks after they were elected, showing their instability to govern a country. Italy has been through 69 governments since the end of WW2. Only time can tell how long Meloni’s rule will last.