Italy’s far-right threat has vanished, but a familiar dread returns as Meloni settles into office

After Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni won the national election last September, many expressed concern that the leader of the Italian Brotherhood was the exception, a party with neo-developmental roots. fascists, will drastically shift the country to the right.

However, when she reached the first 100 days of her term last week, those fears had almost vanished, replaced by the familiar fear that the 46-year-old first-time prime minister is steering Italy on the same course. almost every other leader has experienced in the last three decades: slow and steady decline.

The country has low labor productivity and meager wages; constrained by cumbersome bureaucracy and little investment in research; There is no real immigration plan and is increasingly running out of the most promising young people, with 1.2 million young Italians currently working abroad for better opportunities.

“What Italy needs now are ideas,” said Nathalie Tocci, an Italian political scientist and director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, Rome-based Institute of International Affairs. “And without any.”

Low expectations for Meloni

Meloni was elected after a brief technical government led by respected former EU banker Mario Draghi. Many Italians have pinned their hopes on him to turn the country around.

Tocci said that Meloni’s expectations were so low that it was almost catastrophic, she has performed very well as prime minister so far.

During the election campaign last fall, Meloni made scathing accusations against political correctness and “LGBT lobbyists”, expressing intolerance towards those who are not politically correct. migrants cross the Mediterranean and mock the European Union, which she has long considered useless, out of fear of her.

However, in the early hours of the morning after her election victory, a low-pitched Meloni took to the stage: gloomy, serious, looking more frightened than celebrated.

Newly elected Italian leader Giorgia Meloni speaks into the microphone.
Meloni speaks to the media at her party’s electoral headquarters in Rome on September 25, 2022. (Gregorio Borgia/Press Association)

That sanity, coupled with a series of compromises, marked her first three months in power.

The former Europe skeptic made his first foreign visit to Brussels to reassure the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen that Italy under her guidance would make good on reform promises made by the previous government. led by Draghi.

The new Interior Minister, Matteo Piantedosi, passed a decree requiring ships to go directly to port instead of staying at sea to search for other migrant boats in distress, although Meloni’s government withdrew outright ban on NGO migrant rescue ships docking here after a standoff with France.

‘This is clearly a right-wing government’

She raised the legal limit of cash transactions from 2,000 to 5,000 euros (about $5,000 to Cdn 7,000, but rejected an election promise to ease restrictions for merchants to accept electronic payments) , a concession to the EU and others that would be a big step back in Italy’s fight against tax evasion

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni gestures during an interview.
Meloni speaks during her year-end press conference in Rome on December 29, 2022. (Alessandra Tarantino/Press Association)

And while her signature outspoken confidence wavered when asked for details of Italy’s economic policy during her year-end press conference, she remained steadfast enough to direct that the spread between major bonds Italy and Germany 10-year coverage, an important confidence indicator. in Italy’s debt servicing capacity, has fallen from 2.3 to about 1.8.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, she has been a relentless supporter of NATO and Ukraine, at least in terms of words – Italy has very few weapons to offer.

“This is clearly a right-wing government” when it comes to economic, security and migration policies, said Cecilia Emma Sottilotta, a politics expert at the University of Perugia.

However, she said, compared to Meloni’s coalition partner, The League party leader Matteo Salvini, Meloni is much better at politics.

“She doesn’t raise the stakes and seek out head-to-head conflicts on issues like migration, but avoids them.”

It is now common to hear people who say they will never vote for Meloni also express their admiration for her.

Alessandro Caleffi, a Roman dentist who says he always votes centre-left, said: “I like that she did it all by herself.

“She’s dropped all that disgusting campaign propaganda and is turning herself into a politician, a female politician. It’s great that she keeps haters like Salvini and [Silvio] Berlusconi in their place.”

The sentiment has already begun to be reflected in the polls.

Increase in popularity

Meloni’s popularity has risen above 30% from the 26% she and her party won in the fall elections, despite historically low turnout. On the other hand, support for Salvini and Berlusconi had dried up.

Meloni can decide between her allies and encounters almost no opposition.

Tocci said: “So far everything is going well for her. “But the million-dollar question is, what happens when they don’t work.”

In the meantime, observers say that, without a radical movement towards modernization, the country will continue to decline.

The elephant in every decision-making room is debt that accounts for 150% of its GDP – the third burden on developed nations, after Greece and Japan. The European Central Bank’s plan to raise interest rates and reduce its bond-buying program has helped Italy will only make debt harder to manage.

Doctors and nurses wearing masks in Rome work in a hospital.
Doctors talk to nurses in the COVID-19 intensive care unit of Tor Vergata Hospital in Rome on February 7. (Gregorio Borgia/Press Association)

As the first country and one of the hardest hit in Europe by the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy is the largest recipient of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Fund – around 190 billion euros (275 billion Cdn) in the form of grants and loans. But the monies come with strict regulations on how to spend it – from digitization and innovation to renewable energy and tourism infrastructure – Meloni has complained the sums are not enough.

What is really missing, however, according to observers, is a political class with the capacity, vision and courage to carry out the reforms the country needs to thrive and keep generations of people alive. The future does not leave the country.

“Meloni is probably much smarter than most Italian politicians,” says Sottilotta. “But that’s still not enough. There’s a problem with the people surrounding her.”

Italy’s political structure is a problem

The most recent example is the case of Deputy Attorney General Giovanni Donzelli appointed by Meloni. In a criticism against the opposition in parliament last week, he revealed classified information obtained through secretly recording prisoners.

The pontiff in white shook the hand of a woman with long blonde hair and a black coat as a smiling man with gray hair, glasses, a coat and a watch.
Pope Francis greets Meloni at the funeral of former Pope Benedict at the Vatican on January 5. (Vatican Media/Release via Reuters)

Many of his calls to resign were ignored.

According to political expert Sottilotta, a top-down electoral system in which political parties tightly control who runs for office means there is less political accountability of the kind that can promote political change. .

“This is not a problem of this government, it is a matter of the structural decline of this country – economic, cultural, technological, international,” Tocci said. “Why do we all love Draghi? Because we thought, maybe we’ll eventually reverse the trend.

“But he’s an exception, and we’re getting back on track.”


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