Explained | The rise of the far-right in Italy

How did the Brothers of Italy, a party formed only in 2012, gain such popular support? What are the factors which led to its rise to power? How is the European Union looking at the developments in the country, known for its political volatility?

October 02, 2022 10:55 pm | Updated 10:55 pm IST

The leader of the Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni speaks at the party’s headquarters in Rome, Italy on September 26.

The leader of the Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni speaks at the party’s headquarters in Rome, Italy on September 26. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The story so far: On September 25, the right alliance, the left alliance, the Five-Star Movement and other traditional autonomous parties competed in Italy’s snap elections. Among the four coalitions, the right alliance headed by Giorgia Meloni from Brothers of Italy with the League, Forza-Italia, and Nio Moderati emerged as the clear winner. It won with a majority of 237 seats in the Chamber of Duties (lower house) and 115 seats in the Deputies of the Senate (upper house). The left alliance led by Enrico Letta from the Democratic Party including the Green/left alliance, Più Europa, and Impegno Civico were able to secure only 85 and 44 seats in both houses.

Who are the Brothers of Italy?

The Brothers of Italy was founded in 2012 by Giorgia Meloni after her exit from the Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party. It included members from the Italian Social Movement (MSI), which was created by the supporters of Benito Mussolini. Starting from 2% in the 2013 elections, the Brothers of Italy gained a quick margin of 26% by 2022, surprising other traditional parties of Italy.

The main reason behind the rise of the party was the failure of other political parties. Mr. Berlusconi’s threat to dissolve the government to pass the 2005 electoral reform, the shift of the League party to the Five Star Movement from the right alliance after the 2018 elections and a break in the coalition between Italia Viva, the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement in 2021, damaged the credibility of these parties.

On the other hand, the Brothers of Italy, neither changed its partnership nor its identity and used the failure of other parties to its benefit. The party’s main focus includes stabilising financial markets, keeping debt in check and meeting Italy’s energy crisis without regional dependency. It has managed to keep true to its fascist roots even when it entered mainstream politics. Externally, the party focusses on transatlantic relations, siding with Europe in standing against Russia.

In power, the Brothers of Italy will now have to address two major challenges. First is Italy’s economy which is heading towards contraction, besides COVID-19 induced debt, and energy crises, while the second challenge comes from within the coalition.

What does Italy’s new coalition mean for Europe?

The region as a whole is alarmed by the majority won by the Brothers of Italy party. This is mainly due to two factors, one being the party’s history of being evolved from Mussolini and containing members who are known for neo-fascist origins. Although Ms. Meloni’s stance on EU’s policies in terms of energy price cap, sanctions on Russia seem to be in line with the EU, Italian nationalism has always been the underlining priority. Ms. Meloni shares similar views with Hungarian leader Victor Orban with respect to the economy and issues regarding abortion, LGBTQ rights and migration, sending mixed signals for regional cooperation.

Secondly, Italy is one of the most volatile countries in the region in terms of political stability, with more than 65 governments coming to power since the end of the Second World War. The frequent breaking and making of coalition due to the misrule of Mr. Berlusconi, the shifting of the League party between coalitions, and the rain of reforms under each government has pushed Italy into a prolonged political crisis. Europe does not wish to see yet another government coalition break nor does it want Italy becoming another Hungary. Therefore, dilemma over stability and cooperation hangs in the air for the EU.

What is next for Italy?

In the past, most parties have concentrated more towards sustaining themselves in power by campaigning for electoral reform. They kept issues of identity, economy, and security in the backstage. The Brothers of Italy have shown that they intend to put Italy first and regional issues on the backburner. This indicates that the upcoming government will be more Italy-centric than Euro-centric.

Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore

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