Analysis: Who is the candidate who reshaped Italy’s far-right

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I am often asked what goes on in my head. Giorgia Meloni the leader of the national conservative Brothers of Italy and probably the country’s next prime minister.

With whom can we compare it? Hungary, Poland, Brazil and even the United Kingdom (not to mention the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump) are countries where the “right-handed” or “right-wing” seized power, at least in part, taking power. ride on nationalist sentiment.

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But Meloni, 45, who is the favorite to become Italy’s first female prime minister and the youngest person in office in Sunday’s elections, doesn’t fit neat definitions. Her meteoric rise is perhaps best described as a stance of bold balance.

On the one hand, Meloni tried to ward off the post-fascist aura of his party, whose past includes political actors who were admittedly fascist or nostalgic for Benito Mussolini. On the other hand, she has been sending kisses to the financial markets, pledging to maintain fiscal discipline and EU budget rules from outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a pro-Europe and Atlanticist.

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Despite his youth, Meloni has been in politics for some time. In 2008, she received the baptism of fire while serving as a youth minister under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. It was a relatively minor ministry, but the consensus was that Meloni was being groomed for power.

At the time, I was a young consigliere (adviser) at the Italian Treasury, and I felt that perhaps Meloni had more to show. It seemed that she had literally devoted her life to politics; it felt more like a vocation to her, a calling, than a profession. Because of that, she didn’t strike me as any other figure, protected from a party leader, trying to get a foothold in government.

Years later, in 2021, Meloni’s autobiography came out. I hurried to buy a copy. In vivid detail, the book explains how painful Meloni’s youth was, and how important it was for her to become a partisan activist. Meloni’s father abandoned both her and her sister Arianna as children, and the right-wing Italian social movement filled this gap. She would later help found the separatist political movement Brothers of Italy.

Upon learning about Meloni’s upbringing, I thought my earlier impressions were mildly confirmed: the trauma of an absent father set Meloni on a purpose-finding mission. Suddenly, Meloni was reminiscent of Bruce Wayne, who had embarked on a journey to become Batman after the murder of his parents. However, Batman is an avenger who sets out to cleanse the streets of Gotham City of its many villains, while Meloni has flirted several times with the idea of ​​becoming mayor of her city, Rome, but never quite ran.

Trauma from an absent father has put Meloni on a purposeful search mission

In 2016, Italian politicians made their first attempt at the polls, but ended up dropping out of the mayoral race early on. Five years later, in 2021, she again did not run, and ended up supporting right-wing candidate Enrico Michetti, who lost to Roberto Gualtieri of the center-left Democratic Party. It was believed that if Meloni had launched in 2021, the right’s chances of success would have been very high. So why wasn’t she the candidate? After all, Rome is not like any other Italian city and enjoys global visibility like few others in the world. Did she deliberately decide to “sacrifice” Rome to play the bigger game, the national one?

There is little doubt that Meloni’s rise in the polls reflects a widespread weakening of politics and the use of the protest vote, which has been surfacing in Italy since at least 2013. Indeed, it was so with anti-establishment parties such as the Five Star Movement. and the League of Matteo Salvini, in recent years. Like them, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party rose very quickly in the polls, going from single digits to about 25%.

Meloni’s momentum looks better than similar moves in previous elections. In fact, given the general conditions on the Italian right today, Berlusconi, who turns 86 next week, is unlikely to remain in the arena much longer. Furthermore, Salvini’s boundaries are clear and his pro-Russian stance has made him politically radioactive after President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This means that Meloni cannot only dream of becoming Italy’s first female prime minister, but also of consolidating Italy’s conservative bloc.

Both tasks will likely require keeping moderates on board and bringing in other positions. How seriously does Meloni take all of this? She still uses a lot of the nativist and anti-progressive political repertoire in her repertoire.

It also sided with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban earlier this month when the European Parliament voted in favor of denouncing Hungary’s “clear risk of serious breach” of fundamental EU values.

But Meloni isn’t afraid to normalize her party either, and she could follow the example of her former boss and mentor Gianfranco Fini. In 2003, Fini chose to normalize his party’s relations with Israel and paid a highly symbolic visit to the country. Probably, at the time, the measure was not well received by some of Fini’s supporters. Even so, he managed to change the party’s perception for the better.

Today, Meloni always describes the Russian invasion as an “unacceptable large-scale act of war on the part of Putin’s Russia against Ukraine”, and advocates sending arms to the Kiev government. In fact, with the wind in his favor, Meloni is signaling to a wider audience, both to potential voters and to appease potential critics. She knows that, without a strong Atlanticist stance, it would be impossible for her party to manage the country these days. Furthermore, Meloni appears to have a fluent dialogue with the current prime minister and the highly respected former president of the European Central Bank, to the point where we’ve already seen insinuations that Draghi has become the very “leadership coach” and guarantor of Meloni.

Of course, as is often the case with Italian politicians who are climbed to the top, Meloni is very much a charmer – there are many people who believe they have an “exclusive” channel of dialogue with her. Draghi’s supporters are confident that, given the chaos in Italy, they have a voice with Meloni, and that will be the case for some time to come.

However, Steve Bannon, the global guru of the new right, also regularly chats with Meloni. In an attempt to help her tell her story, Bannon has just developed a new Italian series on his show “War Room”. Inevitably, this justifies the question: who is the real Meloni? Is she the responsible party leader following an evolutionary path to transform the Brothers of Italy into a post-populist party, or the friend of Viktor Orban in Rome? Only time will tell.

However, the biggest test of whether Meloni really wants to protect Draghi’s legacy will be the appointment of Italy’s next finance minister. Will she propose someone from Draghi’s old guard for this job? All eyes are on Meloni.

*Francesco Galietti is the founder of Policy Sonar, a Rome-based political risk consultancy. He has held management positions in Italian public institutions, including the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Galietti is a columnist for the Italian current affairs magazine “Panorama”. The opinions expressed in this text are those of the author.

Source: CNN Brasil

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