When the results of the Italian parliamentary elections on September 25 were announced, the attention of the global media was on Giorgia Meloni, the 45-year-old leader of the Italian fraternal party.
The far-right party she co-founded formed a center-right alliance with the Alliance Party and Forza Italia, which defeated the center-left alliance led by the Democratic Party and won the right to form a cabinet. If the formation of a cabinet is successful, Italy will have the first government led by a far-right party after World War II, and Meloni will become Italy’s first female prime minister.
She, who is only a stone’s throw away from the Prime Minister’s Office, is at the center of controversy and attention. Her opponents saw her as a “threat to Italy and Europe” and even called her “the new Mussolini”. Supporters called her “a girl with an idea and a strong will”. She stressed that she “will work for all Italians”.
“Italian pendulum” swings to the right
”I am Giorgia! I am a woman, a mother, and a Christian! These identities can never be taken away!” Meloni shouted in a speech in 2019. The speech went viral online, putting her in the center of Italian attention.
Zhong Zhun, an associate professor at the Institute of Economics and Strategies of Chongqing University, told Global People that compared with other Western European countries, Italian society is more conservative in politics and pays more attention to family and religion. Meloni’s “shouting” reveals her emphasis on family and religion, which has a certain market in Italy.
The Italian Brotherhood Party, founded in 2012, won less than 2% of the vote in the 2013 general election and 4.4% in the 2018 general election, crossing the parliamentary threshold but refusing to join the coalition government. In 2022, the party will become the largest party in parliament with about 26% of the vote. What happened in these years?
Meloni takes a selfie with supporters at a rally for his general election campaign in Turin, Italy, September 13, 2022.
A big background is that the Italian people are dissatisfied with the status quo. Since the European debt crisis, the Italian economy has been sluggish for a long time, the deficit problem has become prominent, and the public’s trust in traditional political parties has dropped significantly. After the outbreak of the new crown pneumonia epidemic, Italy’s public debt to GDP ratio exceeded 150% for two consecutive years. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine this year has exacerbated Italy’s energy crisis and inflation problems.
Zhong Zhun said: “Italian politics is highly fragmented, and it always relies on multi-party alliances to achieve governance.” People’s disgust with the ruling party usually translates into support for the opposition. Political parties with more extreme positions, such as the Five Star Movement and the Alliance Party, were given the opportunity to play in turn.
The Italian Brotherhood has never joined the ruling coalition since its founding and is a “pure” opposition party. In July, Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigned from Italy’s coalition government, which was backed by parties other than the Italian Brotherhood. In the eyes of voters dissatisfied with the status quo, the “outsider” Italian Brotherhood has become a favorite. The Coalition Party, which is also a right-wing party, has been in power twice before, but was abandoned by voters because of its poor performance. Coupled with the fact that Melloni is young and female, many voters who are tired of “old man politics” have a fresh feeling.
The rise of Meloni and the Italian Brotherhood caused a shock in Europe. The emblem of the Italian Brotherhood has a “green, white, and red flame” logo, which is derived from the emblem of the Italian Social Movement Party established by fascist supporters in 1945. The slogan of the fraternal party is “God, Fatherland, Family”, which also brings to mind the infamous slogan of “Fascist leader Mussolini” “Faith, Obedience, Fight”.
Meloni’s response was to try to downplay the Italian Brotherhood’s fascist roots, portraying the party as a mainstream conservative party. In August of this year, she said in a speech: “There are no nostalgic fascists, racists and anti-Semites in the DNA of the Italian Brotherhood.” However, speaking of the fascist regime of that year, when she was young, she praised Mussolini’s She, only vaguely said that Mussolini “also made some mistakes”.
Meloni’s election means that Italy “turns to the right”? Chung doesn’t see it that way. Economic and security challenges in Europe in recent years have accelerated the rise of Meloni and the Italian Brotherhood, he said. However, since the Cold War, the position of Italian voters has been changing in a “pendulum” style, with the left and the right “taking turns in power”. The emergence of Meloni may just be a cyclical phenomenon in Italian politics.
Some far-right parties have done well in elections, often because of their moderate handling of extremist claims. For example, on the immigration issue, Meloni once claimed to use a “sea blockade” method to block immigration, but in the late election, she adjusted her stance, saying that the EU should cooperate with North African countries to open refugee application centers to allow refugees to obtain legal status into Europe.
“Vengeance” Rebellious Woman
In 1977, Meloni was born in the wealthy area of Rome, the capital of Italy, his father was an accountant. When she was a child, her father suddenly quit his job and boarded a cruise ship bound for Spain, never to return. Meloni and his sister lived with their mother and moved from their villa to a small apartment in the Garbatila district on the outskirts of the city, and were thrown into a “hostile world”.
Meloni mentioned in his autobiography that his childhood has been spent in “seeking recognition”. She was often laughed at by her classmates as “without a father”, and was nicknamed “fat girl without friends” because of her fatness. Often bullied by classmates and living in embarrassment, Meloni’s childhood was quite depressing. Fantasy novels and Michael Jackson’s music have become two lights in her life. According to a friend’s memory, Meloni fell in love with the fantasy novel “The Lord of the Rings” when he was in junior high school. He often made costumes and rehearsed the classic scenes in “The Lord of the Rings” with fans of the novel.
Left: The emblem of the Italian Brotherhood. Right: Meloni’s autobiography.
Garbatila has a strong political atmosphere. In 1992, at the age of 15, Meloni joined the Youth Front, a youth organization of the Italian Social Movement Party, in a basement. Italy’s La Repubblica said her move was “revenge” against her father, who opposed far-right parties.
Political activity gradually became the center of Meloni’s life. After earning her high school diploma, instead of going to college, she made a living by working as a nanny, waiter, bartender, and joined the far-right party, the National Front, to become more active in politics. At the age of 21, Meloni was elected to the provincial council of Rome, and at the age of 27, she became the first female president of the Youth Front. In 2006, she was elected to the House of Representatives and became the youngest deputy speaker in Italian history. Two years later, she was appointed youth minister in Berlusconi’s cabinet.
In the male-dominated right-wing political circle, Meloni faces enormous pressure. She has frequent eating disorders. A colleague once described her as “tired and overweight, forced to deal with grey-haired men all day long”. For the sake of image, she tried her best to lose weight, and the effect was good. Before this year’s election, she shared her “weight loss tips” in an interview, emphasizing that she “hasn’t eaten a bite of pasta in 8 years” to show her “perseverance”. The weight loss experience became her political asset.
In November 2011, Berlusconi resigned over the scandal and Meloni lost his ministerial post. In 2012, she and some right-wing politicians founded the Italian Brotherhood Party, whose name comes from the first line of the Italian national anthem, “Italian Brothers.” In 2014, she became party leader.
Compared with other Italian right-wing politicians, Meloni is politically “more flexible,” Zhong said. On the one hand, she continued to raise the banner of support for traditional ideas on social issues and continued to attract conservative voters. On the other hand, she has moved closer to the “mainstream” of the EU on economic and diplomatic issues.
Will not choose to turn against the EU
Ahead of the election, many EU officials worried that the victory of Meloni’s Italian brotherhood would set Italy on an “anti-EU” path. After all, she once slammed the EU as a “bureaucratic giant” and advocated that Italy should maintain relative independence in the EU and NATO.
On September 23, European Commission President von der Leyen issued a warning at Princeton University: “If Italy is developing in a dangerous direction, then we also have the means to deal with it.” This remark caused a fierce reaction from Italians. Salvini, an ally of Meloni and the leader of the Coalition Party, asked: “Is this a threat, blackmail or deliberate bullying?” Many Italian politicians have publicly demanded von der Leyen apologize or even resign. But Meloni, who was at the center of the incident, did not respond directly.
Zhong Zhun said that Meloni was very critical of the EU during his campaign, but his fundamental position was not to want Italy to leave the EU, but to reform the relevant EU system to make it more in line with Italy’s interests. Meloni is well aware that to solve Italy’s current economic problems, the EU needs to be involved.
On September 22, Meloni and former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi (second from left) and others attended the last event before the general election.
According to the economic recovery plan, Italy will receive an allocation of about 200 billion euros (about 1.38 trillion yuan) from the European Union in batches by the end of 2026, provided the Italian government fulfills the promised reform goals. During the campaign, Meloni’s proposition was to seek to improve the existing economic recovery plan and make it more compatible with Italy’s economic priorities. In other words, what she advocates is not to overturn the relevant agreement with the EU, but to strengthen the control over the use of some funds.
Economically, it is impossible to “draw a clear line” with the EU, and diplomatically, it will naturally adjust to maintain the “mainstream” consistency with the EU. Zhong Zhun said that Meloni’s “mainstream” trend can be seen from his policy toward Russia. Among the Italian right-wing politicians, there are many who are called “pro-Russian”. The British “Economist” reported that Salvini had questioned Western sanctions against Russia, and Berlusconi had also defended Putin. After the Crimea incident, Meloni expressed his opposition to sanctions against Russia. In 2018, Putin was re-elected as Russian president, and she also expressed her congratulations. But after the Russian-Ukrainian conflict broke out this year, she adjusted her stance and supported the EU’s tough stance on Russia.
It is worth mentioning that during the campaign, Meloni made negative comments on the “Belt and Road” and Taiwan issues. In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: China and Italy are comprehensive strategic partners, and the healthy and stable development of China-Italy relations is in the common interests of both sides. We hope that the new Italian government will continue to adhere to a positive and pragmatic policy toward China. Wang Wenbin also emphasized that the Taiwan issue is purely China’s internal affairs, and no external forces are allowed to interfere. The one-China principle is the general consensus of the international community and the basic norms governing international relations. It is the political premise and foundation for China to establish and develop diplomatic relations with all countries, including Italy. The Chinese side urges the Italian side to fully understand the high sensitivity of the Taiwan issue, earnestly abide by the one-China principle, and avoid sending wrong signals to the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces.
was born in Rome, Italy in 1977, and is the leader of the far-right party Fraternity Italia. On September 25, the center-right alliance led by her won the parliamentary election and won the right to form a cabinet. She is expected to become Italy’s first female prime minister.