In the recent national parliamentary elections held in Italy, the center-right coalition won an effective majority in both houses of parliament (237 of the 400 seats in the House of Representatives and 115 of the 200 in the Senate), which is expected to be held by the end of October 11 A new government was formed at the beginning of the month. It is worth noting that in the center-right coalition, the far-right Italian Brotherhood Party won more than 26% of the vote, becoming the largest party in parliament (winning 119 seats in the House of Representatives and 66 seats in the Senate), its leader Georgia Melo Nepal is likely to be the next prime minister. If elected, Meloni will become Italy’s first female prime minister. The far-right Alliance Party and the center-right Forza Italia party took second and third place in the center-right coalition. Therefore, Italy’s upcoming new center-right government will be dominated by far-right parties, which can be said to be the “most right” government in the more than 70 years since the end of World War II. Italy is a founding member of the EU and the third largest economy in the EU, and its economic and political status in the EU should not be underestimated. Considering that the above-mentioned two extreme right-wing parties are “European skeptical” or even “anti-European” to varying degrees, they have also publicly “challenged” with the EU on some important issues. A deeply troubled European integration faces new uncertainties.
Disappointment of traditional parties by the bottom people has led to the rise of right-wing parties
Over the past decade or so, Europe has endured successive shocks from the international financial crisis, sovereign debt crisis, refugee crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, and Ukraine crisis. In the face of various crises, the traditional mainstream political parties in Europe have been unable to come up with an effective response plan, resulting in a group of populist parties claiming to express disappointment on behalf of the people at the bottom. Among these various populist parties, far-right parties are an important force, and they have developed rapidly in the past two years. Especially after the Ukrainian crisis broke out this year, Europe quickly fell into an energy crisis. Soaring energy prices caused inflation to rise to the highest level in more than 40 years. People’s living costs have soared, business operations have become more difficult, and public opinion has become more confused and conservative. This makes it easier for far-right parties with conservative stances to attract the support of voters.
In this Italian parliamentary election, whether it is the Italian Brotherhood or the Alliance Party, the primary reason for its high support rate is that it is a populist party that is different from traditional parties. Italians have relatively strong beliefs about religion and family, and at the same time they have been severely impacted by the refugee crisis in recent years. Therefore, the extreme right-wing parties’ proposals for returning to family and traditional values, anti-immigration, and safeguarding Italian sovereignty and national interests have caused some protests. popular sympathy. Since Italy was involved in the European debt crisis in 2011, the traditional center-right and center-left governments have been unable to solve the economic and social problems faced by the country, causing the people at the bottom to be disappointed and even tired of traditional political parties. Established and extremist parties to express dissatisfaction and grievances. The voter turnout in this general election was only 63.91%, which was about 9% lower than the previous general election. On the one hand, it was caused by the rush of the election due to the advance of the general election to the autumn, and on the other hand, it also reflected the numbness of the people towards politics. It can be said that the victory of the far-right political party in Italy in this general election has not only caused the right turn of public opinion in the country, but also reflected the people’s disappointment and helplessness with the political status quo. In addition, in the face of economic and social difficulties, political party leaders with distinctive personalities are more likely to attract public attention. In recent years, the Five Star Movement, the Alliance Party and the Italian Brotherhood Party have successively become the parties with the highest approval rate, all of which are more or less due to the distinctive personality of their founders and the bold remarks that dare to criticize mainstream parties and mainstream political narratives.
In fact, it is unlikely that a far-right political party will come to power to come up with an effective solution to the current Italian economic and social problems. It will not be able to solve its own energy crisis independently of the EU, nor will it be able to make important breakthroughs in promoting structural reforms. Conservative leanings do not serve Italy’s national interest as a highly open economy. In view of the fact that the Five Star Movement and the Alliance Party have gradually lost voters after they came to power due to their exposure to the limitations of their governance capabilities, the Italian fraternal party, which is currently in the limelight, may not be able to break the “vicious circle” of declining support after coming to power.
The new government’s policy philosophy is clearly at odds with the EU
After the current Italian caretaker government, Draghi’s government, came to power in 2021, it not only fully returned to the EU’s mainstream policy framework, but also exerted a positive influence on core decisions such as the EU’s epidemic prevention and economic recovery plans through Draghi’s personal international reputation. The ‘power vacuum’ left after Brexit. This not only enhances Italy’s right to speak in the EU, but also strengthens the cohesion of the EU to a certain extent. But the winners of this election, the Italian Brotherhood and the Alliance, are conservative parties with nationalist and sovereign tendencies. The Coalition Party put forward the extreme proposal for Italy to withdraw from the euro zone in the 2018 general election, and Meloni, the leader of the Italian fraternal party, has also publicly criticized the EU for being too bureaucratic. Although the two parties’ positions on the EU have eased a lot in this election, their “Euro-skepticism” tendency has not changed. It is expected that the relationship between the new government and the EU will change significantly compared with the Draghi coalition government. .
The political slogan of the Italian Brotherhood is “Defend Italy”, which has always rejected large-scale immigration. The party’s campaign platform clearly proposes to “stop illegal immigration and restore citizens’ security”, while the coalition leader Salvini’s tough attitude towards immigrants and refugees has been This was evident during his previous tenure as Minister of the Interior. Considering that Italy is currently hit by refugees from Ukraine and southern Mediterranean countries, even if the new government partially fulfills its campaign promises, it will again have differences with the EU on immigration and refugee policy. On the Ukraine crisis, the leader of the Coalition Party, Salvini, has repeatedly criticized the practice of sending arms to Ukraine from Europe and the United States, arguing that this is not conducive to solving the problem and will only prolong the conflict. Although Meloni, the leader of the Italian Brotherhood Party, supports providing military assistance to Ukraine, he also proposed that Italy should maintain a certain degree of independence in the EU and NATO based on its own interests. On the so-called “mainstream democratic values” that the EU values, the Italian Brotherhood Party and the Alliance Party also have different understandings. On September 15, the European Parliament passed a resolution affirming that Hungary is not a “complete democracy” with 433 votes. This openly “non-mainstream” approach is deeply disturbing at the EU level, and has also triggered a farce in which European Commission President von der Leyen “shouted” at the Italian election but was “returned” by leaders of several Italian political parties . The current crisis situation in Ukraine is still unclear, Europe is in deep energy dilemma, the inflation rate is still rising, and the risk of economic recession is increasing. In this context, if the relationship between Italy and the EU goes backwards, it is bound to have an impact on European integration. It is conducive to the EU’s solidarity to tide over the difficulties.
In addition, Italy is the biggest beneficiary of the EU Recovery Fund’s “Next Generation EU” program. In order to obtain EU recovery funds, Italy needs to gradually implement nearly 60 reform projects in accordance with the steps determined by its National Recovery and Resilience Program. However, it is expected that the willingness and ability of the new government to continue to implement reforms after taking office will be significantly weaker than Draghi’s government due to the constraints of party politics.
More fighting for interests within the EU framework
Although the next Italian government is likely to be dominated by two far-right parties with “European skepticism” or even “anti-European” stance, from many perspectives, the attitude of the new Italian government towards the EU should not undergo a major reversal, let alone As for the extreme case of “Brexit”.
Although the origins of the Italian Brotherhood can be traced back to the neo-fascist political party “Italian Social Movement” established at the beginning of the Second World War, Meloni has also been rendered as a “female version of Mussolini” by some media, but in the past two years, the party has In propaganda, the link with neo-fascism is deliberately downplayed, and the attitude towards the EU is no longer radical. In fact, the post-Brexit plight of the United Kingdom has made Italian populist parties realize that Italy cannot solve its own problems alone by leaving the European Union. In addition, the Italian Fraternity Party proposed in its election platform to make Italy play a more important role on the European and world stage, and to achieve this goal, it is obvious that the first and foremost need to remain in the European Union. In view of this, although Meloni and Salvini still “questioned” or even “blamed” the EU on many issues in the general election, they mostly wanted to win the interests of Italy within the EU framework, and did not advocate for Italy to leave the EU.
On September 26, 2022, the leader of the Italian Fraternal Party, Meloni, participated in the election night event and delivered a speech.
After the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, Italy has become the largest beneficiary of the EU Recovery Fund’s “Next Generation EU” program, and will successively receive grants and low-interest loans totaling more than 190 billion euros. This makes the use of “Eurosceptic” and “anti-European” rhetoric as a propaganda weapon for populist parties much less powerful than before. Since 2021, under the leadership of the Draghi government, Italy has successfully received the advance payment and the first and second funds of the EU recovery fund, and its economic growth performance has also been better than that of Germany and France. The center-right coalition is fully aware of the importance of EU funding, so Meloni made it clear in the election campaign that he will abide by EU fiscal discipline. It can be seen that the new government may adjust its economic policies after taking office, but it should not be opposed to the EU in this regard.
In addition, the results of the general election showed that the Italian Fraternal Party and the Alliance Party did not have more than half of the seats in both houses of parliament, which means that the center-right Forza Italia party, as the third largest party in the new government, can challenge the far right on important issues. The forces form an effective containment. Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia, has also criticized EU policies, but the party’s orientation is always “Europeanists”, which makes the new government’s attitude towards European integration not reversed.
Although the imminent arrival of a far-right party in Italy will not fundamentally shake European integration, the regression in relations between Italy and the EU is bound to add new worries to the already troubled EU. The current strong development of far-right political parties in Italy and many European countries shows that although the EU’s institutional construction has been gradually improved after the international financial crisis, the European debt crisis and the new crown epidemic crisis, the EU has helped member states to resist crises and risks brought about by regional conflicts. There are still many deficiencies in the capacity of the European Union, its cohesion will once again undergo severe tests, and the future of European integration will still face many challenges.