In late September of 2022, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party won a plurality of the votes in the parliamentary elections to secure control of the government in Italy. Meloni has been criticized in the past for her rhetoric that is considered homophobic. Further, concern has been raised among the opposition that the victory of the Brothers of Italy will lead to a sort of neo-fascist rule. The outcome of the party’s rule remains unclear, mostly because Meloni’s leadership has just recently begun, yet questions can be raised about the potential causes for an election some may see as a sign of democratic backsliding. How, exactly, did we get here?
A decade ago next month, Brothers of Italy was founded as a right-wing populist party that was often considered as a neo-fascist party at its onus. Widely, they are considered as conservative-nationalists, with their growth becoming exponential especially over the past four years. CNN journalist Valentina di Donato remarked that the party grew from about 4% of the vote in the parliamentary elections in 2018 to 26% this cycle, a plurality which gave the FDI (Fratelli d’Italia) control over the government and the prime minister position to Meloni.
At its beginning, the party had little support due to its drastic stances on many key issues for Europeans. For example, FDI expressed strong desire to secede from the European Union, and up until recently the party was still split on the issue. Meloni herself came out a few years ago in opposition to secession, which the party ultimately fell in line with. The potential secession of the European Union that was initially supported by the Brothers of Italy was a key factor in driving down their support. Furthermore, hard-lined economic and immigration stances that very much opposed the workers of international origin that provided valuable assets to the Italian economy. As a result, support was weak up until very recently.
As did many nations around the world, Italy was greatly affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic. With a population with one of the oldest average ages in the world, Italy experienced extreme hardship during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. As a result, unemployment plummeted, as well as overall output. To this day, unemployment in Italy sits at nearly 10%, a number significantly higher than comparable countries. Furthermore, the unemployment rate of youth in the country sits at 46% of youth able to work. With a significantly older population, this number is threatening to the economic powers of the nation, and has impacted the production of goods and services within the country.
The Brothers of Italy’s stance on youth working and the overall lack of enthusiasm in the workforce has resonated with the people of Italy increasingly more since the beginning of the pandemic-era life in Italy. Further, nationalist pride rose among those who wished to rebuild the nation following the life-altering quarantines imposed around the country. As nationalism reached new highs, so did support for the FDI. The party offers an alternative to those frustrated with the status quo of the government, with tangible ideas for change within the country. These include incentives for younger Italians to go to work, and support for the creation of manufacturing jobs within the country, instead of outsourcing work. Diversification of jobs in Italy has also garnered a significant amount of support within the country. For these reasons, the Brothers of Italy have gained momentum in the past few years, and led to their subsequent victory in September of this year.
With the victory, though, comes some serious concerns. Meloni has previously been known to spread homophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, a common theme among the FDI. Furthermore, Meloni is a well-established populist figure in Italy, and the election of populist leaders has been a signal for democratic backsliding in the past. A massive concern on the European front at the moment is the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Meloni has stated that they will ardently support Ukraine, a democratic nation under siege by Russia and Vladimir Putin. The concern, though, is that a few notable members of Meloni’s ministry. Plenty of members of the Brothers of Italy have been noted as supporters, if not allies of Putin, and that they would assist in funding Putin’s aims. The support of an unjust invasion of sovereign land is incredibly concerning for Italy, even if Meloni has stated that their support of Ukraine will be unwavering.
As I stated earlier, the true impact of the election of the FDI remains to be seen. If we have learned anything from this case, though, it would be that economic crises tend to lend better to those with more tangible solutions for those in the working class. And in the future, we will be better equipped to evaluate the democratic backsliding in this country, and what the extent will have been.