The far right in Italy, known as destra sovranista, as it prefers itself to be labelled, along with centre-right parties such as Brothers of Italy, League and Forza Italia, account for most of the polling preferences today. They have many overlapping features and comparable political programs. That’s why the political case of Italy is unique in Europe, perhaps at a global level, too.
Former prime minister and founder of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, has recently floated the idea of partito unico, a single party that would unite all spectrums of rightist parties. However, this proposal has left Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, indifferent. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, seems more cautious, leaving the door open for a ‘federation’ of the Italian centre-right.
The possibility of a federation between League and Forza Italia will give some advantages to Salvini. It will make him the de-facto leader of the federation. The Brothers of Italy will also benefit from this agreement, with many frustrated leaders from Forza Italia willing to join the party.
When it comes to M5S, also called as Five Star Movement, it is undergoing a deep leadership crisis, and it might even dissolve itself before the next 2023 election. There have been a spate of agreements between the movement’s founder Beppe Grillo and former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. There is also a likely chance of factions amid M5S, if Conte goes ahead and forms his own party.
The other important factor that comes into play is that the centre-right parties are trying to affirm strong sympathies for the extreme right movements in Italy, in order to gain votes. These neo-fascist movements are not represented in the Italian parliament, and mostly function in the dark. Forza Nuova and Casa Pound are among them.
The political attitude of these organisations is often alarming. Casa Pound, for example, did not miss the chance to portray the much discussed ‘taking the knee’ by the Italian team at the Euro 2020 as a disgrace. They vandalised street art murals, inviting Italian players to join a fascist “Resta in piedi Italia!” — “Stay up, Italy!” — with the image of an Italian football player from the 1930s doing in the Roman salute.
Now, due to these developments, the tout court of Italian politics is becoming more transparent than usual. The non-rightist spectrums have also failed to perform. When Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party from Italy’s then ruling centre left coalition, it resulted in a political meltdown as former prime minister Giuseppe Conte was left without a majority. Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Rome’s Sapienza University, called his quitting strategy as a ‘loose strategy’.
Italy currently is plagued with ‘seven deadly sins’, as Italian economist Carlo Cottarelli called them. They are tax evasion, corruption, excessive bureaucracy, an inefficient judicial system, demographic problems, the north-south divide and difficulty in functioning within the eurozone. In 2020 alone, GDP fell by nine percent, and around four-hundred thousand jobs were lost. This inability of the traditional parties to find solutions for the economic problems keeps support for the right-wing populist coalition intact.
The first push towards rightist populism came in August 2016, when central Italy, including parts of the Marche region, was struck by an earthquake that killed almost 300 people. At the time, Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister and ex-leader of the Democratic Party, had promised to immediately rebuild the shattered towns. But, many of the affected places still lie abandoned.
As for the voter base that the Italian right has, Salvini has a strong base in the north and north east. Brothers of Italy, on the other hand, has been collecting dividends by being in opposition, with refusal to compromise. One of its postures is refusing to support Italy’s Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), which was drafted in February 2021, and called by Prime Minister Mario Draghi as a ‘good debt’. The PNRR, called as the ‘New Marshall Plan’ is a $263 billion fund based mostly on the Next Generation EU (a joint recovery plan worth €750 billion) with the addition of an extra budget deficit — €30 billion from a budgetary fiscal deviation.
What might work for Brothers of Italy is that it could easily build narratives based around blaming the incapacity of the current executive to efficiently utilise the EU funds. It has enough political space to denounce the technocratic agenda dictated by the European “bureaucrats” in Brussels, or by “foreign” policymakers in Berlin and Paris. The scenario could also make them criticise the opportunistic and inconsistent attitudes of the League.
Brothers of Italy can be able to get more support by reverting to social policies that rest on the pillars of “traditional” family. The party was formed in late 2012 following the open disagreement with the center-right People of Freedom party launched by Silvio Berlusconi, and since then, Meloni has been clearly outlining social and family policies she wants to adopt in Italy. Those policies are based on the principles of conservativism and nationalism, and on intelligent, soft Euroskepticism in the name of sovereignty. The policies are the focus of a grand strategy to increase birth rates and protect the traditional family, with generous incentives for both parents and children alongside investment in social housing. In comparison, League’s economic policies, are based more on a syncretic and opportunistic mix of both neoliberal and autarchic worldviews protecting small and medium enterprises. However, the supporters of Brothers of Italy believe that it has a better, clearer and an organic vision.
As Mitchell Orenstein, among others, have brilliantly demonstrated in the case of Hungary and Poland, the types of policies Brothers of Italy wants to implement can be particularly effective in buying many voters into the nationalist right’s vision of a social state. They, in many ways, reflect the case of a radical rightist Italy.
The critics of right-wing populist governments, however, believe that these policies can have a detrimental effect on the financial markets. With Italy being one of most industrialised countries in Europe, and the second largest exporter after Germany, economists argue that if some obstacles to growth are removed and credit is released by the Italian banking sector, the pace of recovery could increase. With a massive support for rightists, they could pick up the economic trail of recovery.
—The writer is an author of seven books, and editor of Globe Upfront. [email protected]