The state of play of Italy. Three years ago, Salvini looked like he was the pending Italian prime minister. But a series of political missteps, including his push for an ill-conceived early election in 2019, left him in opposition. Salvini remained the country’s most popular politician, but in 2020 COVID devastated Italy and its economy, blunting the strength of Salvini’s anti-immigrant and anti-EU message leaving the country dependent on outside aid.
After the collapse of the previous government, Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank, was called in February 2021 to form a government of national unity. In the face of the pandemic – the coronavirus has killed more people in Italy than in any other EU country – and the need to work with the EU on financial aid for his beleaguered country, Draghi reached out to left and right. The center-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Party have agreed to join its coalition. Basically, Lega, Salvini’s party.
It was then that Salvini and his Lega party began to fall in the polls. Some voters who liked his anti-immigrant punches and attacks on EU leaders decided Salvini had sold off by letting Lega join Draghi’s government, which accepted demands for EU reform in exchange for rescue funds.
In search of a more genuine far-right alternative, they turned to the Brothers of Italy, the largest party in parliament that refused to join Draghi’s coalition of unity. Since then, the charismatic leader of this party, Giorgia Meloni, has been on the rise in the polls.
A poll carried out this month by Corriere della Sera, a Milan-based daily, named Meloni as Italy’s second-most popular politician after former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Salvini is now tied for fourth after dropping from 39% approval a year ago to 30%. A series of polls also reveal that Brothers of Italy is now the fastest growing party in the country, and that Lega is the party that falls fastest. Lega’s remaining lead in the all-party polls has fallen to next to nothing.
Meet Meloni. At just 43 years old, Meloni has over 25 years of experience in Italian politics at close range. Still a teenager, she joined the youth group within the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement), a barely rebuilt fascist party inspired by Benito Mussolini. After joining the right-wing Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), she became Minister of Youth in one of the many governments led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2008. In 2014, she helped found Brothers of Italy .
The party hit an even harder line than Lega’s. The Brothers want to prevent migrants from reaching Italian ports, increase Italy’s birth rate to alleviate the need for migrant labor and defend “God, homeland and family”, a fascist slogan in the ‘Ancient.
Although Meloni is not in favor of an Italian exit from the EU, she wishes to “re-discuss” existing European treaties and the single currency. She also wants to amend the Italian constitution to give Italian law priority over European law. But it is his decision to keep the Brothers of Italy out of the current government that underlines his talent as a political strategist.
Meloni’s moment? In recent months, COVID has forced Italians to care less about migrants than about vaccines and the economic recovery. It’s about to change. The pandemic will subside in the coming months and more boats will head to the Italian coasts. In fact, more than 13,000 people have already arrived this year, three times the amount compared to the same period last year. Warmer weather will continue this surge.
Italy will hold elections between early next year and mid-2023, and if Draghi decides he would rather become president than remain prime minister once the pandemic is over, the earlier election timeline becomes likely. . With the support of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the Lega and the Brothers of Italy could well form the next government.
If so, it could spark a real battle for the Right. Meloni and Salvini both want to be prime minister. Only one can wear the day.