21st Century Fascism?

The big news out of Italy is that the country has elected Giorgia Meloni, a member of Fratelli d’Italia, to be the first female prime minister in Italy’s history. The first right-wing leader since Benito Mussolini came to power one hundred years ago, Meloni is poised to change the more liberal policies that have been part of the country since that time.

The Changing of the Guard

Sunday’s election featured a historically low turn-out, with only 64% of the population voting, many Italians claimed to stay home as a protest against secret deals made by the government. The center-right coalition had 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party getting 26%. The League of Matteo Salvini won almost 9% of the vote, with Forza Italia taking around 8%. Additionally, the center-left Democratic Party had around 26%, and the 5-Star Movement which was the biggest vote-getter in 2018 Parliamentary elections, had nearly a 50% reduction in votes in this election. Meloni is interested in forming a coalition with two smaller right-wing parties, the anti-immigrant Lega (League) and the center-right Forza Italia.

There is some question about the differing views of Meloni in her tenure. There is no doubt, however, that the party is socially conservative, with their touting of “family values” and opposition to gay marriage. In 2019, Meloni even said that her mission was to defend “God, homeland and family.” With her victory, women’s rights and the rights of the LGBTQ community are in jeopardy.

The New Regime

Fratelli d’Italia is a relative newcomer to the political scene in Italy. This party is often described as “neo-fascist” or “post-fascist”, leaning back to the past for nationalist and anti-immigrant tendencies. Meloni, however, says that the party has “handed fascism over to history for decades now.”

Carlo Ciccioli, the president of the Fratelli d’Italia in an eastern Italian region of Le Marche, explained that the party’s popularity has skyrocketed, and said they were ready to lead the country. “At this moment, we’re likely to be the largest party in the country — which can only be confirmed by the vote on Sunday, not any polls. Why do I think Fratelli d’Italia will make it? Because our leadership is one of substance. Giorgia Meloni is prepared both culturally and politically,” he told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche.

The party itself began in 2012, with roots in the 20th century neo-fascist movement which followed the death of Mussolini in 1945. It gets its name from the first words of Italy’s national anthem. The new party has grown exponentially over the populist party Lega. Two major talking points for the party are immigration, with many migrant boats making their way across the Mediterranean, as well as the economy and EU.

Italy in the European Community

There is some question about what will come next for the citizens of Italy. Fratelli d’Italia is in favor of reform in the EU, with their slogan ‘A Europe that does less, but does it better.” Meloni has been pro-Ukraine and pro-Nato, unlike her Lega peers. Meloni understands that she needs to do something to help the economy, such as cutting sales taxes to alleviate the trouble with the extreme spike in the cost of living, as well as making a move to take another look at the Covid recovery funds with the EU. Working with the EU, especially the primary countries, is also an important goal. Unfortunately, the party has close ties with Hungary’s President Viktor Orban, who is no friend of the EU. Some Italian leaders are worried that this will impact Meloni’s interest in independent media, free courts, and civil rights. This connection makes EU leaders nervous, although Meloni does keep her focus with the EU on Russia’s war on Ukraine, even sending weapons to Ukrainian forces.

Emanuele Fiano of the Democratic Party, said, “We have to cooperate with Europe and the European community.” He added, “The problem in Italy is that the center-right and right-wing doesn’t want to continue with this support to European policy. This would be a very hard problem for Italy and the Italian economy.”

As for Meloni, she can play the game differently depending on her audience, and is seen as a chameleon to many in the Italian government. Which side will she play? Will she move towards Europe and its policies or away? Guido Caldiron, an Italian journalist who covers fascism and the far right is concerned about the new regime. "It's not fascism but it's still a threat," Caldiron says.

The new election signals a conservative approach to the issues that have plagued the whole world recently, and the nations will be watching as Italy makes its move under the tutelage of Meloni.