Who is Giorgia Meloni? She could be the next Italian Prime Minister.

Just a few weeks ago, for those unfamiliar with Italian politics, the question was: Giorgia who? But as the country nears a vote to install a new government — its 70th since the end of World War II — it’s becoming more and more: Really? Georgia Meloni?

Polls suggest the 45-year-old leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, a political descendant of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) founded by Benito Mussolini’s allies, is likely to be the country’s first female prime minister. Meloni’s party dominates a coalition that looks poised to win the September 25 vote.

A century after Mussolini’s infamous march on Rome and the start of fascist rule in Italy, the possibility has shone the international spotlight on Meloni and what she stands for – and what choosing this self-proclaimed Steve Bannon fan could mean. not only for Italy, but for Europe at large.

“He’s an ally,” Meloni said of the recently indicted former Trump adviser, adding, in an interview with The Daily Beast, that she hosted Bannon at a far-right political event in Rome. “because we share ideals. We need to hear what he says.

What are Meloni’s ideals? She spoke out against LGBTQ rights and called for a naval blockade of the African continent to prevent migrants from heading for Europe.

She lambasted left-leaning politicians for funding “an invasion” to “replace Italians with immigrants”. This invasion, she claims, left Italy facing a “demographic emergency”. Such rhetoric is a staple of far-right politicians in the United States and Europe, and the racist Great Replacement theory that has driven them.

Meloni says she is for the European Union – but against the idea of ​​Europe-wide bureaucracy, a position that many fear threatens European unity. Above all, she positions herself – in another favorite trope of right-wing reactionaries in Europe, the United States and beyond – as an anti-reawakening. At a rally in 2019, she complained about pressures from the other end of the political spectrum “to call us parent 1, parent 2, gender LGBT, citizen X, with code numbers. But we are not code numbers… and we will defend our identity.

Given her political party roots, criticism of Meloni has mostly focused on the F-word – “fascist” – a label that Meloni has worked overtime to refute as she becomes the center of campaign attention. . So much so that last month she posted a video message – in Spanish, French and English – telling the new legion of outside experts (and journalists) following her career that, no, she’s not a fascist.

“For days I have been reading articles in the international press about the upcoming elections that will give Italy a new government, in which I am described as a danger to democracy, to Italian, European and international stability,” he said. she declared. “None of this is true.”

But Meloni’s past statements haven’t helped, including the emergence on social media of a video from her teenage years, when she was already an activist on Italy’s far-right. Asked about Mussolini, Meloni told a French TV crew that “everything he did, he did for Italy”, according to a Financial Times translation. “And there haven’t been politicians like him for 50 years.”

Her history and current rhetoric – which places her firmly on the right wing of the European political spectrum, along with allies like Hungary’s Viktor Orban – have raised questions about how she might govern in the midst of a European war and… an aggravation of the cost of living through the crisis on the home front.

“No one should have any doubts about the threat she poses to what Europe is supposed to stand for,” British newspaper The Guardian warned in an August editorial.

Meloni’s main election rival, former prime minister and leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, has made this clearer.

A victory for Meloni, he said in an interview with The Associated Press, would mean “a danger to the future of Italy”.

Meloni and the brothers from Italy

Meloni has a long history on the right flank of Italian politics. Raised by a single mother in a working-class district of Rome, she was a teenage activist in the youth wing of the MSI, the former pro-Mussolini party. She won her first local election at the age of 21.

As for Meloni’s political party, it was created in 2012. Until the previous year, Meloni was deputy minister in the outrageous government led by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. She left with a group of other right-wing politicians to found the Brothers of Italy; the name is taken from the opening lines of the national anthem. Their badges? The same flame symbol as the fascist MSI.

“The background [of her party] is one that has its roots in post-war fascist nostalgia,” Carlo Bastasin, a leading Rome-based Italian commentator and non-resident scholar at the Brookings Institution, told Grid. “What’s new with Meloni and his party is that it would be the first time a party reflecting those views would come to have such political responsibilities. Some members of parties that have those kind of roots have been ministers, but they were really fringe characters.

A Prime Minister Meloni

So what could it mean for Italy – and for Europe – if Meloni passes margins at the head of a new Italian government?

Throughout the campaign, Meloni has repeatedly said she stands behind supporting Ukraine as it resists Russia’s invasion, telling Reuters news agency in a recent interview that the war was “the point of a conflict whose objective is the revision of the world order”. .” Unlike Orban – or Steve Bannon for that matter – Meloni has shown no sympathy for the Kremlin.

But things are not so clear within the coalition she leads. Among its main partners is the right-wing League party, led by Matteo Salvini, which questions the usefulness of European sanctions against Moscow. “If we adopt an instrument to injure the aggressor and after seven months of war he has not been injured,” Salvini said at a recent political conference in Italy, “at least considering that a change seems legitimate to me”.

The remarks came amid growing concerns about rising energy prices in Europe. As Grid reported, concerns over Russian energy imports have driven up natural gas prices in Europe; In early September, already high prices rose by about a third as part of the closure of a key pipeline linking Russia and Europe. Italy feels the pain; the country depends on Moscow for about a quarter of its gas needs, and ordinary Italians have seen their energy bills rise. In Naples, the growing load has already sparked protests.

Analysts point out that Meloni herself, though pro-Ukraine in her statements, is close to Hungarian Orban, perhaps the most brazen pro-Putin in the European anti-Kremlin arena. In a letter to Meloni last year, Orban stressed the need for what he called “reliable combat companions who have a common vision of the world and provide similar answers to the challenges of our time”.

His closeness to Orban and other European right-wing figures touches on another contentious political issue: Meloni wants a weaker European Union, arguing for national capitals to retain more political power, instead of transferring authority over issues. keys in Brussels.

“Don’t let Brussels do what Rome can do best,” Meloni said recently in Milan, adding that “if I win, for Europe, the party is over.”

For its critics, this attitude endangers European unity at a critical moment, when Russia continues its brutal assault on Ukraine.

At the national level, there are concerns about what Meloni’s premiership would mean for the migrant population and for women’s rights. Although Meloni herself has said she will not abolish an existing law that legalizes abortion, many are concerned about her public statements on the matter.

“Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death,” she said at a right-wing rally earlier this summer. The concerns don’t just stem from its own words: Italy’s Brethren party has a history of pushing to erode abortion rights, including putting forward a proposal to designate Rome a “city for life.” and to allow anti-abortion groups to participate in family planning. clinics, according to Politico Europe.

Last Woman Standing

Meloni’s popularity has skyrocketed recently – and the fact that she and the Brothers of Italy are now so close to power raises another question: what brought them here?

Ten years ago, the party’s vote share in Italian elections was less than 2%. As recently as 2018, it was just 4%. An August survey showed just how drastically his fortunes had changed: Brothers of Italy alone got about 24%, according to a Bloomberg report. The broader right-wing coalition she leads, which includes Salvini’s party as well as Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, had almost 50% support among Italian voters.

So what happened? One answer is an Italian version of an old political maxim: throw them all out.

“Italians are just in a protest mood, and have been for decades,” Bastasin said. “And they are prepared to disbar politicians who take responsibility in government and do not deliver.”

Italy’s Brothers were the only major party to sit outside the sweeping unity government led by technocrat Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who resigned over the summer, setting the stage for the next election. Meloni’s party had the distinction of distance – an underdog status that could prove its greatest strength, according to Bastasin, especially at a time of mounting economic hardship.

To be sure, Meloni’s nationalist rhetoric also fits into a larger public narrative on key topics such as immigration. A study published last year by the London-based Overseas Development Institute showed that while Italy, with an aging population and low birth rate, faces a “growing need for migrants”, attitudes of the public towards immigration were often hostile in the context of a biased understanding of the issue. In a 2017 survey, for example, most Italians said the proportion of non-EU migrants in their country was just under 25%. The actual number was 7%. On the issue of LGBT rights, a 2019 survey showed that while the majority of Italians – around 68% – support equal rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, a significant minority – around 27% – n didn’t agree.

This backdrop, combined with economic malaise and a growing sense of disenchantment with the political establishment, could propel Meloni to power.

“Italians support, for the moment, the only political party that has had no political responsibility in the governance of the country over the past decades,” Bastasin told Grid. “They are looking for the next possible option to express their criticism of the way the country has been run. Brothers from Eastern Italy [at this moment] the last possible option available to them.

Thanks to Dave Tepps for writing this article.

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