Italy Elections: A right move?

The new Italian government will be scrutinised for its position on Ukraine and opposition to the Russian invasion

Gurjit Singh September 29, 2022 16:23:15 IST
Italy Elections: A right move?

Far-Right party Brothers of Italy's leader Giorgia Meloni shows a placard reading in Italian "Thank you Italy" at her party's electoral headquarters in Rome. AP

Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy right-wing party has won a clear majority in the Italian Parliament. Her bloc not only won a majority in both houses of parliament but is giving Italy its most conservative government since the end of World War Two.

Giorgia Meloni as the leader of the coalition will be Italy’s first woman prime minister. At 45, she downplays her coalition’s Neo-fascist base and instead manifests it as a mainstream conservative group. She announced support for Western policy on Ukraine and a conservative economic policy that will try not to risk Italy’s position within the Eurozone.

This is the second European government to fall in an irregular manner since the Ukraine crisis of February 2022: The UK change of party leadership and PM and now the snap election in Italy. A regular election in Sweden also threw up larger support for the right wing.

While the European Union looks at curbing expansive right-wing action by Hungary, for instance, voters are progressively voting for the right in mainstream European countries. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party is supported by other right-wing groups like Matteo Salvini’s League and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. Berlusconi is the only Italian prime minister to have completed a five-year term in a post-war Italian government though he was PM three times, The average life of an Italian government is 13 months with about 70 governments since WWII.

The snap general election of 25 September 2022 came about due to the resignation of Premier Mario Draghi. President Mattarella dissolved the parliament on 21 July, eight months before the end of its term.

COVID hit Italy hard, leading to it being the first country to impose a lockdown during which the Italian people suffered greatly. Despite the pandemic, political gamesmanship within the multiple parties continued leading to several resignations from the Five Star Movement (M5S) Conte cabinet.

However, the haemorrhaging of the political system continued. Mario Draghi, a former president of the ECB, was drafted as prime minister on 13 February 2021, to lead a national unity government, which included independent technocrats and politicians from the League, the M5S, and other parties. The only main party in Opposition was Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, who has now effectively turned the tables

In January 2022, a reluctant Mattarella was re-elected as president largely on the grounds that between the government and the presidency at least one should be a stable institution.

Since the Ukraine crisis, the internal bickering of the national government was accentuated by personality clashes, leadership tensions within the smaller parties, and challenges to the government’s economic and environmental decisions. The Ukraine crisis split several parties and when the differences became too much, the national government could not survive.

On 14 July, the M5S pulled out of the government of National Unity due to the economic stimulus package and the energy crisis, leading to Draghi’s resignation. This opened the doors for an early election, a swing to the right and a consolidation of forces

However, this time, a record low voter turnout seems to have impacted the results. Only 64.67 per cent of the electorate reportedly voted in this election, making it a dramatically low figure in a country where normally a higher level of political participation prevails.

Meloni’s far-right party, Brothers of Italy, has overtaken Matteo Salvini’s League as the strongest power on the Italian right. The coalition has about 44 per cent in both Houses. Brothers have 26 per cent and the League has 8.9 per cent. Forza has 8 per cent+ with Neo Moderati at 0.9 per cent. Her party’s motto is “God, family, country”  and she says it is a priority to stop illegal migration. Her assorted positions and that of the League are considered wary of immigrants, of newer EU priorities and support of traditional Italian way of life. Globalisation supporters see a setback as Italy may become more nationalistic and introverted. The immigration flows will be impacted and the illegal immigrants integrated into the Italian economy may face hardship.

The Five Star Movement of Giuseppe Conte contested alone, having engineered the snap election by withdrawing from Draghi’s technocratic national government. They secured 15 per cent but will not be in government unless the coalition splits. They did not ally with the left centre leading to their individual losses.

The Left alliance led by Enrico Letta is the centre-left force, led by the Democratic party, in an electoral understanding including smaller left, green and centrist parties. They secured 26 per cent with the Democrats alone securing 19 per cent. The Centre alliance of Carlo Calenda is of two centrist parties which left the Democratic party. They are led by Carlo Calenda whose grandfather was Ambassador in India and former PM Matteo Renzi. They secured 7.8 per cent of the vote. The Right did not score more than earlier except it consolidated better and the center-left dissipated. The Brothers took electoral advantage of having been in opposition and drawing against ant incumbency of the national unity government.

The EU looks at Italy as the biggest recipient of funding from the Next Generation EU. The commitment of the new government to attaining the reforms required to qualify for EU support and expenditure in an efficient manner will be under scrutiny. The first tranche of the Next Generation EU fund, for Italy is €21 billion of the €191 billion total and was released in April 2022. Italy obtained €24.9 billion in pre-financing from the EU in August 2021.

How adeptly the Italian government manages its finances in face of inflation and rising interest rates are of interest to the bond markets. Italy is the base of a big and liquid sovereign debt market.

The Draghi government of national unity played a major role within the European Union and in NATO. The new Italian government will be scrutinised for its consistent position on Ukraine and opposition to the Russian invasion.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Germany, Indonesia & ASEAN, Ethiopia & the African Union. Views expressed are personal.

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