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Italy's shift to the right is dangerous for EU

September 26, 2022

Italy's post-fascists are jubilant about their election triumph and are now the strongest force in parliament. DW's Alexandra von Nahmen outlines the consequences for cohesion in the European Union.

Giorgia Meloni laughing
Giorgia Meloni is on track to become the first female prime minister in ItalyImage: Guglielmo Mangiapane/REUTERS

"We rejoice with Italy," Beatrix von Storch, the leader of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Jordan Bardella, the acting president of Marine Le Pen's euroskeptic National Rally party and a member of the European Parliament, wrote that Italian voters had given the EU a "lesson in humility."

Alexandra von Nahmen wears a red blazer and looks into the camera
Alexandra von Nahmen is the head of DW's office in Brussels

The tweets by the German and French politicians were emblematic of the response from far-right parties within the European Union in their public congratulations for the leader of the nationalist Brothers of Italy (FdI), Giorgia Meloni, who is on track to become the next Italian prime minister.

This is a watershed moment for Italy, one of the founding members of the European Union. Not since World War II, has the Italian Parliament been as right-wing as the one just voted in. Meloni's party, which has neofascist roots, was able to achieve a majority coalition with Matteo Salvini's right-wing nationalist Lega and Silvio Berlusconi's Christian Democratic Forza Italia.

Frustrated Italian voters

The shift to the right in Italy is, of course, primarily related to the political situation. Many Italians are dissatisfied and frustrated with the political class. One-third of eligible voters stayed away from the polls. In the past four years, Italy has seen three governments. Meloni's party has not participated in any of them and has benefited from that fact.

In her campaign, Meloni emphasized energy shortages and inflation and promised voters that she would address immigration and their fears for the future. This was exactly what many wanted to hear, having written off what they consider to be the elites in Rome, with politicians being perceived as only in it to line their own pockets.

The European Union has also been made responsible for the current state of affairs in Italy. Many think that it is aloof and opaque, beholden to the interests of capital, a bureaucratic space of formulaic compromise, and too remote from the real problems of people in the member states.

EU 'fun' over?

Meloni blasted the European Union as an incompetent monster and promised that the "fun" was "over." She said she would represent Italy's interests in the European Union, and insisted that EU law should not stand above national law.

She stopped calling for Italy to abandon the euro and to leave the EU a while back. Nonetheless, her critical stance of the EU could mean that she becomes another thorn in the side of the European Union, like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been at constant loggerheads with Brussels and a continual challenge to the bloc's cohesion.

Italy could also pose a problem regarding the European Union's policy toward Russia. So far, Orban is the only EU leader to have called for suspending sanctions. But, though Meloni has expressed her solidarity with Ukraine and said she supported the sanctions, her future coalition allies are less reliable. Berlusconi, a friend of Vladimir Putin's, recently claimed on Italian TV that Russia's president had been pushed into invading. Lega leader Salvini said the European Union's sanctions on Russia had brought Italy "to its knees."

If a cold and harsh winter exacerbates the energy crisis, politicians of Meloni's ilk in other EU states will be emboldened. Two weeks ago, the right-wing nationalist Sweden Democrats emerged as the second strongest force in that country in parliamentary elections. Thus, Meloni's victory in Italy has further fortified the camp of EU critics.

Italy needs the European Union that it helped to build. The country is due to receive Є220 billion ($210 billion) from the bloc's pandemic recovery fund and this is urgently required if the economy is to be stabilized. Meloni's victory will not change this.

The rise of Meloni and the like shows that the European Union finally must show more courage to tackle the problems that concern people across the bloc.

This op-ed was originally written in German.

Why did so many Italian voters turn to Meloni and her party?

von Nahmen Alexandra Kommentarbild App
Alexandra von Nahmen DW’s Brussels Bureau Chief, focusing on trans-Atlantic relations, security policy, counterterrorism