History is Made
On September 20th, 2022, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy (FDI) party, was appointed Italian Prime minister via a snap election. This election came about due to the resignation of former PM Mario Draghi. In terms of the Italian timeline, her victory marks the 70th change in leadership within the past 77 years, adding a new face to Italy’s ever-changing list of PMs. Her win is historic as not only is she the first woman prime minister in Italian history, but she is also Italy’s most right-wing PM since Mussolini. So based on these facts, her victory indicates a new era in Italy, shocking the liberal world. But her victory and support didn’t just suddenly come about; Italian history is full of tangible factors that led to this. So by analyzing the conditions and actions that fostered her rise to power, we’re given great insight into how the Italian past gave way to a rightwing future.
The Anomaly that is Italian Politics
Italian governmental turnover is unparalleled when compared to other European nations. Due to its highly diverse electorate demographics along with its history with fascism, Italy constructed a political system that has a very high number of political parties along with a weakened prime minister. PMs must hold votes of confidence to pass reforms, and ultimately if they don’t receive the necessary votes, they must step down. Since such high diversity in the electorate leads to an abundance of political parties, coalitions become essential for parties to participate in government in any meaningful capacity. This reality has led to a dynamic where PMs come into positions of power through the coalitions of many parties. But, these coalitions are two-faced due to their formulation stemming from necessity, not loyalty. Meaning coalition votes aren’t guaranteed when votes of confidence come about. With this being the case, along with opposition parties’ presence within parliament, votes of faith are often not reached, leading to a change in cabinet.
From 1948-1992, the Christain Democracy Party (DC) had a continuous presence as the main political party within Italy. Despite overturns of cabinets, the DC maintained power as their coalitions would continuously become re-elected. The DC’s success in forming such successful coalitions was due to its central hold on Italian politics. Opposition parties could not overturn the party’s position as opposition parties (both left and right) couldn’t agree on policy packages that were more preferred than the policy packages proposed by the DC government. This conundrum led to stability in the sense that despite their lack of cabinet retention, the nation stayed on a DC-oriented political track. But, this ultimately changed in 1992 when the leaders of the DC were implicated in a corruption scandal imploding the entire party, ending the First Republic. This end allowed for a new wave of Italian politics to begin, one characterized by coalitions with differing visions and goals (center-right and center-left coalitions). Before, stability stemmed from the D.C.’s ability to maintain the centrality of Italian politics, but now with new importance placed on diverging ideological coalitions, an era of political instability was born.
The Perfect Storm
The shift from a central coalition to center-right and left coalitions exacerbates the cleavages of the Italian system. From the 1990s to 2000s, the coalitions promoted themselves through the face of their leader (Silvio Berlusconi on the center-right, while on the center-left Romano Prodi) to prioritize winning elections over governing. This ill-intention created a political dynamic of prioritizing polished palatability and retention over meaningful action (which, as mentioned before, is already hard to achieve). This prioritization created anti-establishment sentiment as these coalitions were legislatively and symbolically stagnant compared to electorate desires. Sprinkle in historical corruption along with the ramifications of globalization, and the perfect storm for right-wing propaganda to flourish is born.
The Role of the Five-Star Movement
The 2013 general elections marked the decline of the mainstream parties and signaled the rise of the populist 5-star movement. In this election, the party gained ¼ of the popular vote, and in 2018 they became the largest party with 33%. Simultaneously the Brothers of Italy (created by Meloni in 2012) was born and began to blossom. In 2018 the Five Star Movement formed a coalition with Lega Nord (another right-wing party) to create the Conte I government (2018-2019), and then in 2019, the Five Star Movement formed the Conte II government with the Democratic Party. Ultimately Meloni and other right-wing parties protested the Conte II, boosting her popularity as an opposition party. The Five Star continued this bureaucratic trend by then entering the Draghi government amidst the covid crisis. They then imploded the Draghi government by threatening to boycott Draghi’s aid package, causing Draghi to resign despite him receiving enough votes in confidence to stay in office. His resignation ultimately led to the snap election where Meloni’s party (Brothers of Italy/FDI) won. This entire time, the FDI was the only right-wing party that remained in opposition to all of these coalition governments.
Factors of FDI Success
The rise of the FDI is intrinsically linked to their tactics of opportunism. Initially, in 2013, the party’s stances were teetering on right-wing rhetoric using mostly suggestive language. But, as opportunities arose due to Italian mishandling of economic and immigrant crises along with continued political instability, nationalism, nativism, and authoritarianism’ along with the anti-EU sentiment, they became direct party platforms. Ultimately, unlike the Five Star Movement, the choice to stay as an opposition party to mainstream Italian politics legitimized their platform in the eyes of the electorate. This fact, along with the charisma of ”outsider” Meloni, won her party the election rather than other potential right-wing forces. By looking at this case study were given insight into the intricacies of Italian politics, and by understanding them, we’re able to understand the impact of this FDI win. Ultimately Meloni and her party went against the grain of Italian politics (not joining pre-election coalitions), and it paid off. Now time will only tell what the ramifications of her win will be—both domestically and Internationally.
This blog post explores the rise of the far-right in Italy under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni through the lens of Italian political institutions. The post notes that Prime Ministers face votes of confidence before passing reforms, and the shift in Italian party politics toward increasingly divided right and left parties. This has decreased capacity to govern, and increased polarization which allowed an opportunistic and uncompromising far-right party to rise.
There are also opportunities to understand the rise of the far-right in Italy through other frameworks suggested by Ellen Lust and David Waldner in their USAID Report understanding democratic backsliding, such as political leadership, political economy, political culture, and international factors. For example, the post briefly touches on the charisma of Giorgia Meloni, thus it could be useful to understand her choices as a party leader leading to her rise to power. Ms. Meloni used certain propaganda and messaging to promote far-right ideas in a more palatable form, emphasizing beauty and femininity. Another potential lens is that of the political economy due to Italy’s economic stagnation and the struggle of workers with low-wages frustrated by the lack of growth. This stagnation has created a political culture ripe for scapegoating, rhetoric Ms. Meloni used against migrants and the European Union. International factors such as effects of the European Union and the euro on Italy’s economy, Europe-wide immigration policies, and crises in the MENA region which have led to an influx of immigrants through the Mediterranean are also factors which have created resentment and economic hardship in Italy, creating a political culture and economy ripe for the rise of the far-right. This post presents one lens through which to understand the rise of the far-right in Italy where many potential frameworks can also aid understanding in the dynamics at play in this case.