A few days before Italy’s legislative elections, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right party Fratelli d’Italia, seems to be on her way to becoming the first president of the Council in the country’s history. Sunday September 11, he was in a meeting in Milan, stronghold of his former ally and rival Matteo Salvini.
Spectators walk around, couples celebrate Italian ice cream, tourists try to take the best photo of the beautiful cathedral… This September 11 may look like a Sunday like another Duomo square , in Milan, in the north of ‘Italy. Just in the middle, a flag-waving crowd gathers around a speaker with a pronounced Roman accent.
This is Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party, an extreme right-wing movement that was born in 2012 and that managed to establish itself in a few years as the main opposition party in political landscape. At 45, the tall, vindictive blonde appears to be the favorite in the next legislative elections, on September 25, organized after the fall of Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the end of July.
According to the latest polls, the party was credited with nearly 25% of the vote nationwide, five times more than in the previous legislative elections in 2018, but above all above all in other parties of the right, led by Matteo Salvini and the eternal. Silvio Berlusconi. Assembled in a broad coalition, the three parties will get a solid enough majority to change the Italian Constitution.
“Giorgia Meloni is the only one we haven’t tried – which means she’s the only one who hasn’t failed,” Francesco Trevisi, a retiree from Lecce in southern Italy, simply explains. Italy, at the end of his journey.
Milan, stronghold of Salvini and Berlusconi
Even if the extreme heat, a half-hearted election campaign or the Formula 1 Grand Prix that took place a few kilometers away, in Monza, Giorgia Meloni failed to “fill the piazza Duomo”, as she promised . But the presence of several thousand of his supporters was enough to highlight the new balance of power within the Italian right.
Traditionally, Milan, the economic engine of the country, has been the stronghold of the great intellectuals Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini. Here the former built his real estate, advertising and television empires, where he owned a football club and where he launched his political career. It was also here that the second party, the League, then called the Northern League, hoped to create a prosperous and independent capital, far from “Roma Ladrona” (Rome, the thief, editor’s note).
During the previous election campaigns, the two men competed in their efforts to organize the largest possible rally at the foot of the Duomo, the third largest cathedral in the world. This year, they have no choice but to give land to Giorgia Meloni. And the polls show it: in 2018, Fratelli d’Italia got less than 4% of the vote in the capital of Lombardy. This time, he had to 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 day, Giorgia Meloni enjoys an important advantage: a reputation for consistency and coherence. For good reason, his party is the only one that did not participate in Mario Draghi’s national unity coalition – a party he described as undemocratic.
“Whether we like him or not, he remains true to his word and refuses to make unnatural alliances”, greeted Grazia Valerin, a Milanese retiree who stumbled upon the candidate’s gathering. “You can’t say the same for people like Salvini. They admit that they are in the opposition now when they were in the government,” said his colleague, Ruben, an insurance employee. A former League voter, he has decided not to renew his vote at the end of September.
“Giorgia Meloni skilfully took advantage of her position as the main force of the opposition”, analyzed Maurizio Cotta, professor of political science at the University of Siena. “He was able to take advantage of the anger on the part of the population of Mario Draghi’s government – a policy that was initially considered competent and efficient, but also harsh and technocratic”.
“The limits of Salvini have become very clear for the majority of voters”, continues the specialist – the popularity of Matteo Salvini has decreased since his failed takeover in 2019. Like Berlusconi, 85, “he is a tired force”.
First Italy, then Europe
Disappointment with Matteo Salvini was also a recurring theme at the meeting in Milan. “Meloni learned from Salvini’s mistakes,” said Massimo Boscia, a 23-year-old student, who also broke with the politician after his decision to join the national unity government.
The student was especially won by the economic program of the candidate Fratteli d’Italia, a mixture of tax cuts favorable to companies, protectionism, industrial investment 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 more than 200 billion euros of post-pandemic recovery funds for it. An agreement subject to a series of reforms that Giorgia Meloni assured, moreover, that she wants to renegotiate if she is elected. “I say to the European Union: the party is over,” he said on Sunday, promising to “start defending Italy’s national interests as all EU members do.”. Away from the gatherings, the candidate however adopted a more conciliatory tone towards Brussels, notably promising budgetary prudence.
During her speech, Giorgia Meloni also attacked once again the remaining center candidate, Enrico Letta, her main opponent. “We’ve been attacked by the left all day because there’s nothing else to offer,” he said. And to criticize: “They are trying to make a monster (…) by calling me a fascist”.
The accusations that the left went to get the origin of the Fratelli d’Italia party. “Giorgia Meloni leads a party whose roots go back to the fascist tradition, especially through the symbol of the flame”, explained Paolo Berizzi, journalist of the Italian daily La Repubblica, who lives under police protection within three years after receiving death threats at the hands of neo-fascist groups. “In his interviews with the foreign press, he tries to be moderate, but when he addresses right-wing people at rallies, he shows his true colors,” he added.
“As things stand, this country is destined to disappear”, warned Giorgia Meloni, Sunday, before adding, faithful to its values: “And The solution is not immigration, as those who do not want to you believe it”.
A “feminist” victory
The candidate likes to describe himself as a “conservative” who defends patriotism and traditional family values. Giorgia Meloni remains, for example, against quotas aimed at strengthening the presence of women in Parliament or on boards of directors, proving that they should reach the top through merit, as she did.
And if his party has a priority regarding women, above all reversing the decline in Italy’s birth rate. “Women should not have to choose between their career and motherhood, as I did when I quit my job to have a child,” said opera singer Rafaella D’Ascoli, who sang the national anthem. . Italian at the end of the meeting. “We have to make sure they can do both.”
In the assembly, many supporters of Girogia Meloni saw her likely imminent victory as a step forward for the feminist cause. “A victory for Fratelli d’Italia will be a victory for women,” said Serena, a pharmacist, praising her “goodness”.
Basically, Giorgia Meloni’s program is “almost the same as Salvini’s”, concluded Claudio, retiring. Nostalgic for last year’s League, he will remain loyal to Matteo Salvini’s party. “Italy tried everything [à droite, NDLR] Meloni is the novelty”, he explained. “It suits me perfectly. Until the end they will rule together. ”