the far-right leader at the gates of Italian power

A few days before the legislative elections in Italy, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party, seems on the way to becoming the first president of the Council in the country’s history. Sunday September 11, she was in a meeting in Milan, stronghold of her former ally and rival Matteo Salvini.

Onlookers stroll, couples feast on Italian ice cream, tourists seek to take the best photo of the imposing cathedral… This September 11 could look like a Sunday like another Duomo square, in Milan, in the north of italy. If only in the center, a flag-waving crowd is gathered around a speaker with a pronounced Roman accent.

It is Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party, an extreme right-wing movement born in 2012 and which has managed to establish itself in a few years as the main opposition party in the political landscape. At 45, the tall, vindictive-looking blonde appears to be the favorite in the next legislative elections, on September 25, organized after the fall of Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the end of July.

According to the latest polls, the party is credited with nearly 25% of the vote nationally, five times more than in the last legislative elections in 2018, but above all well above the other right-wing parties, led by Matteo Salvini and the eternal Silvio Berlusconi. Gathered in a broad coalition, the three parties could obtain a sufficiently solid majority to modify the Italian Constitution.

“Giorgia Meloni is the only one we haven’t tried yet – which means she’s the only one who hasn’t failed yet,” Francesco Trevisi, a retiree from Lecce in southern Italy, simply explains. Italy, as he finishes his walk.

Milan, stronghold of Salvini and Berlusconi

Whether it was the overwhelming heat, a half-hearted election campaign or the Formula 1 Grand Prix that was taking place a few kilometers away, in Monza, Giorgia Meloni failed to “fill the piazza Duomo”, as she had promised. But the presence of a few thousand of his supporters is enough to highlight the new balance of power within the Italian right.

Traditionally, Milan, the economic engine of the country, is the stronghold of the great pundits Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini. It was here that the former built his real estate, advertising and television empires, where he owned a football club and where he launched his political career. It is also here that the party of the second, the League, formerly called the Northern League, hoped to create a prosperous and independent capital, far from “Roma Ladrona” (Rome, the thief, editor’s note).

During previous election campaigns, the two men had competed in their efforts to organize the largest possible rally at the foot of the Duomo, the third largest cathedral in the world. This year, they had no choice but to give ground to Giorgia Meloni. And it shows in the polls: in 2018, Fratelli d’Italia obtained less than 4% of the vote in the capital of Lombardy. This time, he should win a quarter.

Giorgia Meloni, the only opposition figure

In the quicksand of Italian politics, where politicians seem to change their minds, parties or coalitions every other day, Giorgia Meloni enjoys one major advantage: a reputation for consistency and consistency. For good reason, his party was the only one not to join Mario Draghi’s national unity coalition – a formation which she described as undemocratic.

“Whether we like her or not, she stayed true to her word and refused to engage in unnatural alliances”, greets Grazia Valerin, a Milanese retiree who stumbled upon the candidate’s gathering. “You can’t say the same for people like Salvini. They claim to be in the opposition today when they were in government,” says his companion, Ruben, an insurance employee. A former League voter, he has already decided not to renew his vote at the end of September.

“Giorgia Meloni skilfully exploits her position as the main opposition force”, analyzes Maurizio Cotta, professor of political science at the University of Siena. “She was able to capitalize on the resentment of part of the population towards the government of Mario Draghi – a policy initially considered competent and efficient, but which also appeared to be severe and technocratic”.

Salvini’s limits have become too obvious for most voters”, continues the specialist – the popularity of Matteo Salvini has plummeted since his botched takeover in 2019. As for Berlusconi, 85, “he is an exhausted force”.

Italy first, then Europe

Disillusionment with Matteo Salvini was also a recurring theme at the meeting in Milan. “Meloni learned from the mistakes of Salvini,” says Massimo Boscia, a 23-year-old student, who also broke with the politician after his decision to join the government of national unity.

The student was especially won over by the economic program of the candidate Fratteli d’Italia, a mixture of tax cuts favorable to companies, protectionism, industrial investments and which refuses to respond to the “sterile injunctions of environmentalism .”

If Italy has the second highest public debt in the eurozonethe European Union has reserved more than 200 billion euros in recovery funds post-pandemic. An agreement subject to a series of reforms that Giorgia Meloni assures, moreover, that she wants to renegotiate if she is elected. “I say to the European Union: the party is over,” she said on Sunday, promising to “start defending Italy’s national interests as all the other members of the EU are already doing. “. Far from gatherings, the candidate had however adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Brussels, notably promising budgetary prudence.

During his speech, Giorgia Meloni also attacked once again the center left candidate, Enrico Letta, his main opponent. “The left attacks us all day long because it has nothing else to offer,” she said. And to denounce: “They are trying to create a monster (…) by calling me a fascist”.

Accusations that the left went to draw from the origins of the Fratelli d’Italia party. “Giorgia Meloni leads a party whose roots go back to the fascist tradition, in particular through the symbol of the flame”, explains Paolo Berizzi, journalist with the Italian daily La Repubblica, who has been living under police protection for three years after receiving threats from death at the hands of neo-fascist groups. “In her interviews with the foreign press, she tries to be moderate, but when she addresses right-wing crowds at rallies, she shows her true colors,” he adds.

“As things stand, this nation is destined to disappear”, warned Giorgia Meloni, Sunday, before adding, faithful to its values: “And The solution is not immigration, as the left would like make you believe it”.

A “feminist” victory

The candidate likes to describe herself as a “conservative” who defends patriotism and traditional family values. Giorgia Meloni remains, for example, opposed to quotas aimed at strengthening the presence of women in Parliament or on the boards of directors, affirming that they must reach the top by merit, as she did.

And if her party has a priority concerning women, it is above all that of reversing the decline in the birth rate in Italy. “Women shouldn’t have to choose between their career and motherhood, like I did when I quit my job to have a baby,” says opera singer Rafaella D’Ascoli, who sang the national anthem. Italian at the end of the meeting. “We have to make sure they can do both.”

In the assembly, several supporters of Girogia Meloni see her probable imminent victory as a step forward for the feminist cause. “A victory for Fratelli d’Italia would be a victory for women,” said Serena, a pharmacist, praising her “tenacity”.

Basically, Giorgia Meloni’s program is “about the same as Salvini’s”, concludes Claudio, retired. Nostalgic for the League of yesteryear, he will remain faithful to the party of Matteo Salvini. “Italy tried everyone [à droite, NDLR] Meloni is the novelty”, he explains. “It suits me perfectly. As long as in the end they rule together. ”

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