Brothers of Italy, the far-right party on the cusp of power

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·5-min read
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The only party in opposition during the reign of technocrat Mario Draghi’s national unity government, the post-fascist Brothers of Italy, looks set to do well in Italian elections on September 25, making party leader Giorgia Meloni the favourite to become Italy’s next prime minister.

Widely favoured to become Italy’s first female prime minister, Meloni makes repeated use of her signature slogan at rallies: “I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian and you will not take that away from me.”

Born in Rome’s working-class Garbatella district to a Sicilian mother and a father from Sardinia – a world away from the city’s elites – the Brothers of Italy leader is now reaping the rewards of betting on making her party the sole opposition force to Draghi after he formed his grand coalition in February 2021.

Brothers of Italy leads among Italy’s political parties with 23 percent after a slow but steady ascent, according to Politico’s polling aggregate.

“For a year and a half, whatever discontent Italians have had, it’s had only one outlet: Brothers of Italy,” said Marc Lazar, an Italy specialist at Sciences Po University in Paris. “That’s why it made great progress in local elections and is now one of the country’s leading parties, as the polls show.”

The Brothers of Italy currently edges out the centre-left Democratic Party by just one point. But collectively, the far right and right carry much more weight than the other side of the political spectrum: ex-interior minister Matteo Salvini’s populist-nationalist League is at third place in the polls, at 15 percent. Brothers of Italy has an alliance with the League and ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, in fourth place at 8 percent behind the populist Five Star Movement.

Post-fascist history

Meloni’s party was founded in 2012 as the successor to the National Alliance, which rose from the ashes of the 1946-1995 Italian Social Movement formed by members of dictator Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party. Meloni denies any link with Mussolini’s ideas but is careful not to condemn his rule.

“Meloni has been an activist in post-fascist politics since her youth,” said Piero Ignazi, a professor emeritus at the University of Bologna and an expert on Brothers of Italy. “The party’s identity is, for the most part, linked to post-fascist traditions. But its platform mixes this tradition with some mainstream conservative ideas and neoliberal elements such as free enterprise.”

But Brothers of Italy does have some members who are nostalgic for the Duce’s rule, and its Secolo d’Italia newspaper has made ambiguous statements on this chapter of the country’s history.

However, Meloni has distanced herself from the leader who became Adolf Hitler’s puppet.

Presenting itself as the guarantor of the family and of Italian national identity, Brothers of Italy endorses pro-natalist policies to deal with the country’s low birth rate, proposing the creation of free nurseries and the introduction of a €400-per-month family allowance.

Meloni has also opposed gay civil partnerships and wants to close Italy’s ports to migrants arriving from Libya.

She is close to Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban as well as the French far-right National Rally and Spain’s Vox. Meloni also has ties with the US far right, having attended the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference and the National Prayer Breakfast alongside ex-president Donald Trump.

‘Electoral machine’

But Meloni has also softened her stance on some issues, pledging to safeguard access to abortion in Italy, a reversal of her earlier positions. Meloni has also displayed firm support for Ukraine and the Atlantic alliance since the February 24 Russian invasion, creating a contrast with the more equivocal positions of both Salvini and Berlusconi, both of whom have links with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Brothers of Italy has also greatly toned down its anti-EU stance; the party does not favour leaving the bloc or even the Eurozone, saying it prefers a “Europe of Nations”.

Meloni may be finding this position easier to endorse now that Italy is benefitting from nearly €200 billion in EU Covid recovery funds.

“Meloni is making the post of her coherent programme and her substantial work ethic,” Lazar said. “Meloni is the only woman in a very male environment; she organised an inter-party convention in May, surrounding herself with intellectuals and politicians on the right but not necessarily the far right. This helps present her as a suitable candidate for prime minister.”

Meloni has been in politics for a while, having become an MP at the age of 29 back in 2006. Two years later, she joined Berlusconi’s cabinet as minister of youth.

Relying on her serious demeanour, working-class background and her presence as a woman in the largely masculine environment of Italian politics, Meloni has broadened the Brothers of Italy’s appeal beyond its traditional rural, southern heartlands – notching up several local election victories in northern Italy, which is dominated by the League, and scoring impressively in Palermo, Sicily’s biggest city and a longstanding bastion of the left.

But while Meloni’s strategy is paying off now, her party could be undone by victory if it wins general elections, given the divides between the far right and the right, as well as the history of personal animus between her and Salvini.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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