Opinion: The political charm that brought Italy’s far right back together

Which comparables should we look at? Hungary, Poland, Brazil and even the United Kingdom (not to mention the United States under Donald Trump) are countries where the “right” or “right” took power, at least in part, on the back of nationalist sentiment.

But Meloni, 45, who is the favorite to become Italy’s youngest and first woman prime minister in Sunday’s election, does not fit neatly into definitions. His meteoric rise is perhaps best described as a daring balancing act.

On the one hand, Meloni has tried to remove the post-fascist aura of his party, whose past it is Political actors who felt nostalgia for Fascists or Benito Mussolini. On the other hand, he has been blowing kisses to the capital markets, pledging to adhere to the fiscal discipline of the outgoing prime minister and staunch Euro-Atlanticist Mario Draghi and the budgetary rules of the European Union.

Despite being young, Meloni has been in politics for quite some time. In 2008, he received his baptism of fire, as Minister of Youth under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. His cabinet position at the time was relatively small, but the consensus was that Meloni was being groomed for power.

At the time, I was a young councilor of the Italian Treasury, and I thought there was perhaps more to Meloni. He looked as if he had literally dedicated his life to politics; it seemed more for him than a vocation, a calling, a profession. That is why I did not find it at all striking to support a party leader who was trying to govern.

A few years later, in 2021, Meloni’s autobiography was published. I went shopping for a run. The book explains in vivid detail how painful Meloni’s youth was, and how important it was for him to become a party militant. Meloni’s father abandoned him and his sister Arianna, and the Italian right-wing Social Movement filled that void. (He later helped create a runaway political movement, the Brothers of Italy).

Learning about Meloni’s upbringing, I thought my earlier impressions were somewhat confirmed: the trauma of a lost father had set Meloni on a mission to find purpose. Suddenly, Meloni looked like Bruce Wayne, embarking on his journey to become Batman after the murder of his parents. However, Batman is a vigilante who sets out to rid the streets of Gotham City of its many villains, while Meloni flirted several times with the idea of ​​becoming the mayor of his city, Rome, but never went away.

In 2016, Meloni threw his hat into the ring for the first time, but eventually got out of the mayoralty. In 2021, Meloni did not run again, in favor of right-wing candidate Enrico Michetti, who lost to Roberto Gualtieri of the center-left Democratic Party. In general, it is believed that if Meloni himself had run in the 2021 race, the chances of success for the right would be very high. So why not go for it? After all, Rome is unlike any other city in Italy and has global visibility like few other cities in the world. Did Meloni deliberately decide to “sacrifice” Rome to play the long game?

There is little doubt that Meloni’s rise reflects the discontent and protest votes we have seen in Italy at least since 2013. In fact, this was already the case with anti-establishment parties such as the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s League. of recent years Unlike them, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party has risen rapidly in the polls, from single digits to around 25%.

Meloni’s time looks better than the previous ones. In fact, if he takes into account the general conditions of Italian law, Berlusconi will be 86 years old next week, it won’t play for much longer. Moreover, Salvini’s limits are clear and his “pivot towards Russia” position has made him politically radioactive, after the president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This means that Meloni can not only dream of becoming Italy’s first female prime minister, but also strengthen Italy’s conservative bloc.

Both tasks will likely require keeping moderates on board and bringing in new ones. How serious is Meloni about all this? Meloni is still actively using his repertoire of nativist, anti-awakening stories. Earlier this month, it also rallied behind Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, after the European Parliament voted to denounce Hungary’s “clear risk” of breaching core EU values.

But Meloni is also not afraid to normalize his party, and could follow the example of his former boss and mentor Gianfranco Fini. In 2003, Fini chose to normalize his party’s relations with Israel and made a highly symbolic visit there. Undoubtedly, at the time, this move was not well received by some of Fini’s followers. And yet he changed the perception of the party once and for all.

Today, Meloni describes Moscow’s invasion as an “unacceptable large-scale act of war by Putin’s Russia against Ukraine” and advocates sending arms to the government in Kiev. Indeed, with the wind in his grass, Meloni is messaging a wider audience, both to attract potential voters and to appease critics. In fact, he knows that without a strong Atlanticist position it would be impossible for his party to lead the country today. Meloni also appears to have a flowing conversation with the outgoing prime minister and highly respected former president of the European Central Bank, leading to insinuations that Draghi has become Meloni’s own ‘leadership coach’ and guarantor.

Of course, as is often the case with Italian politicians vying for top jobs, Meloni is quite the charmer — so many are convinced they have an “exclusive” interview with him. Draghi’s Italians are confident that, given the chaos around Italy, they have Meloni’s ear, and will be for a while.

Even so, Steve Bannon, the global guru of the alt-right, speaks regularly with Meloni. In an effort to help Meloni tell his story, Bannon has just released an unprecedented Italian franchise of his “War Room” show. Inevitably, this begs the question: Who is the real Meloni? Is the Brothers of Italy the responsible party that has been on the path of evolution to become a post-populist party, or is Viktor Orban his friend in Rome? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the biggest test of whether Meloni wants to protect Draghi’s legacy will be the appointment of Italy’s next finance minister. Will he suggest someone from Draghi’s old guard for this job? All eyes are there Melons