A few days before the legislative elections in Italy, Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, appears to be on the way to becoming the first prime minister in the country’s history. On Sunday 11 September she was in a meeting in Milan, the stronghold of her former ally and rival Matteo Salvini.
Spectators stroll, couples feast on Italian ice cream, tourists try to take the best photo of the imposing cathedral… This 11th September could seem like another piazza del Duomo, in Milan, in the north of Italy. Although only in the center, a crowd of flag-wavers is gathered around an orator with a pronounced Roman accent.
This is Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party, a far-right movement born in 2012 and which has managed to establish itself in a few years as the main opposition party on the political scene. At 45, the tall and vindictive blonde appears to be the favorite in the next legislative elections, on 25 September, organized after the fall of Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the end of July.
According to the latest polls, the party is credited with almost 25% of the votes nationwide, five times more than in the last legislative elections of 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 majority solid enough to change 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,” explains Francesco Trevisi, a retiree from Lecce in southern Italy, simply as he finishes his walk.
Milan, stronghold of Salvini and Berlusconi
Whether it was the oppressive heat, a tepid electoral campaign or the Formula 1 Grand Prix that was taking place a few kilometers away, in Monza, Giorgia Meloni was unable to “fill Piazza Duomo”, as she had promised. But the presence of a few thousand of her supporters is enough to highlight the new balance of power within the Italian right.
Milan, the economic engine of the country, is traditionally the stronghold of the great experts Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini. It was here that the first of him built his real estate, advertising and television empires, where he owned a football team and where he began his political career. It is also here that the party of the second, the Lega, formerly known as the Northern League, hoped to create a prosperous and independent capital, far from “Roma Ladrona” (Rome the thief, ed).
During previous election campaigns, the two men had competed in their efforts to organize the largest possible gathering at the foot of the Duomo, the third largest cathedral in the world. This year they had no choice but to give land to Giorgia Meloni. And it can be seen from the polls: in 2018 Fratelli d’Italia obtained less than 4% of the votes in the Lombard capital. 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 a great advantage: a reputation for consistency and coherence. For good reason, hers was the only party not to join Mario Draghi’s coalition of national unity, a party she described as undemocratic.
“Whether we like it or not, she stayed true to her word and refused to engage in unnatural alliances,” greets Grazia Valerin, a retired Milanese who stumbled upon the candidate’s meeting. “The same cannot be said for people like Salvini. They say they are in the opposition today when they were in government,” says her partner, Ruben, an insurer. Former Northern League player, he has already decided not to renew the 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. “You were able to capitalize on the resentment of some of the population towards Mario Draghi’s government – a policy initially considered competent and efficient, but which also appeared severe and technocratic”.
“Salvini’s limitations have become too obvious for most voters”, continues the specialist – Matteo Salvini’s popularity has plummeted since his failed inauguration in 2019. As for Berlusconi, 85, “he’s an exhausted force”.
Italy first, then Europe
Disillusionment with Matteo Salvini was also a recurring theme at the Milan meeting. “Meloni has learned from Salvini’s mistakes,” 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 particularly captivated by candidate Fratteli d’Italia’s economic program, a mixture of business-friendly tax cuts, protectionism, industrial investments and which refuses to respond to the “sterile injunctions of environmentalism”.
While Italy has the second highest public debt in the euro zone, the European Union has allocated over 200 billion euros in post-pandemic rehabilitation funds for this. An agreement subject to a series of reforms that Giorgia Meloni also ensures that she will renegotiate if she is elected. “I tell the European Union: the party is over”, she said on Sunday, promising to “start defending Italy’s national interests as all the other EU members are already doing”. Far from gatherings, however, the candidate had adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Brussels, promising in particular budgetary prudence.
In her speech Giorgia Meloni once again attacked the center-left candidate, Enrico Letta, her main opponent. “The left is attacking us all day because they have nothing else to offer,” she said. And to denounce: “They are trying to create a monster (…) calling me a fascist”.
Accusations that the left has drawn from the origins of the Brothers of Italy party. “Giorgia Meloni leads a party whose roots lie in the fascist tradition, in particular through the symbol of the flame”, explains Paolo Berizzi, journalist of La Repubblica, who has been living under the protection of the police for three years after receiving death threats by hand. of neo-fascist groups. “In her interviews with the foreign press, she tries to be moderate, but when she turns to right-wing crowds at rallies, she shows her true colors of hers,” he adds.
“As things stand, this nation is destined to disappear”, Giorgia Meloni warned on Sunday, before adding, faithful to her values: “And the solution is not immigration, as the left would have us believe.”
A “feminist” victory.
The candidate likes to call herself a “conservative” who defends patriotism and traditional family values. Giorgia Meloni, for example, remains opposed to quotas aimed at strengthening the presence of women in Parliament or on the boards of directors, stating that they must reach the top by merit, as she did.
And if his party has a priority over women, it is above all to reverse the decline in the birth rate in Italy. “Women shouldn’t have to choose between career and motherhood, as I did when I left my job to have a baby,” says opera singer Rafaella D’Ascoli, who sang the Italian national anthem at the end of the meeting. “We have to make sure they can do both.”
In the assembly, several supporters of Girogia Meloni see in its probable imminent victory a step forward for the feminist cause. “A victory for Brothers of Italy would be a victory for women,” said Serena, a pharmacist, praising her “tenacity”.
After all, Giorgia Meloni’s program is “more or less the same as Salvini’s”, concludes Claudio, retired. Nostalgic for the League of yesteryear, he will remain loyal to Matteo Salvini’s party. “Italy has tried everyone [à droite, NDLR] Meloni is the novelty, “he explains.” It fits me perfectly. Until eventually they reign together. ”