Italy takes step into unknown with far-right win

Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

ROME: Italy took a sharp turn to the right Monday after Giorgia Meloni´s Eurosceptic populist party swept to victory in general elections, putting the one-time Mussolini admirer on course to become the first woman to lead the country.

Meloni´s Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, looked set to win 26 percent in Sunday´s election, while her wider coalition secured a clear majority in parliament.

With former premier Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini´s far-right League, they will now begin forming the most right-wing government since World War II, a process likely to take weeks.

Meloni´s success represents a seismic change in Italy -- a founding member of the European Union and the eurozone´s third largest economy -- and for the EU, just weeks after the far-right performed strongly in Sweden´s elections.

"Meloni takes Italy," read the Repubblica daily´s headline, while editorialist Stefano Folli said it was "the first time in decades that the country´s political face has transformed so completely". Meloni used her first public statement in the early hours of Monday morning to emphasise unity, saying she would govern "for all Italians".

"We will do it with the aim of uniting people, of enhancing what unites them rather than what divides them," she said. But the 45-year-old, whose party has never held office, has huge challenges ahead, from soaring inflation to a looming energy crisis and the war in Ukraine.

Congratulations flooded in from Meloni´s European nationalist allies, from Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to Spain´s far-right party Vox. "Meloni has shown the way for a proud, free Europe of sovereign nations," Vox leader Santiago Abascal tweeted.

But Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares warned that "populist movements always grow, but it always ends in the same way -- in catastrophe".

A spokesman for the European Commission said it hoped for "constructive cooperation" with the new government, a line echoed by the Kremlin. "Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won´t change," added a spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Meloni and Salvini are both strongly Eurosceptic, although they no longer want Italy to leave the eurozone. The Brothers of Italy head says Rome must assert its interests more, and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

Her coalition also wants to renegotiate Italy´s part of the EU´s post-pandemic recovery fund, arguing the almost 200 billion euros ($193 billion) it expects to receive should take into account the energy crisis.

But the funds are tied to a series of reforms only just begun by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and analysts say she has limited room for manoeuvre. Meloni campaigned on a platform of "God, country and family", sparking fears of regression on rights in the Catholic-majority country.