Giorgia Meloni photo
Commentary

Key Takeaways From Italian Elections

on 24.10.2022

On Sunday, September 25th, Italy elected a new parliament with a right wing majority. The election, by and large, delivered the outcome forecasted by opinion polls, namely a solid majority in both chambers of parliament for a right wing coalition that includes the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli di Italia), Lega and Forza Italia. The results are poised to give Italy a government that, nevertheless, will fall short of the two-thirds majority required to change the Italian constitution without a referendum. There are several election takeaways that can be spotlighted.

Voter turnout, at a mere 64%, slumped to a record low and experienced a 9 percentage point decline compared to Italy’s 2018 parliamentary elections1. The drop may indicate increasing societal disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the country’s volatile political system, with some seeing no purpose to voting. Meloni, in fact, likely benefitted from the fact that her party had not previously participated in a governing coalition (including Draghi’s outgoing big tent coalition government).

It is, secondly, notable that the Brothers of Italy largely gained votes from people previously supporting the Lega party led by Matteo Salvini – the latter party performed considerably worse than polls forecasted2. The election results indeed have diminished the position of Salvini coming into discussions on the formation of a new government. The outcome may also be interpreted as a rejection of his pro-Russian stance and disappointment from the right-wing electorate regarding his participation in the outgoing government. Since the Brothers of Italy took the lion’s share of votes within the right wing coalition, Meloni now boasts a stronger bargaining position than her partners, Salvini and Berlusconi. The implications: European unity specifically regarding sanctions against Russia may be able to hold.

A third pertinent observation concerns the fact that Meloni portrayed herself as a pro-European conservative politician during the campaign, signalling to Brussels that alarm is not necessarily warranted. This posture came as a U-turn – Meloni had previously advocated for Italy to leave the EU. Since the elections, she has further consulted with Draghi on multiple occasions. And it is expected that she will attempt to smooth relations with Brussels, Berlin and Paris and continue to support Ukraine. Her version of “pro-Europe”, nevertheless, may only mean that she will not seek to entirely dismantle the EU. She, nonetheless, will remain in a Eurosceptic camp that would rather prefer to see EU member states put their national interests before European ones.

Through her current slightly moderated and more pro-European rhetoric, Meloni is seeking to rid her party of the “fascist” label. “The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now,” she claims. Yet the continued use of symbols linked to Mussolini’s Movimento Soziale Italiano (such as a logo) often contradict this supposed pivot. Meloni, furthermore, continues to deploy more nationalistic rhetoric asserting “Italy first” and framing herself as “an Italian”, “mother”, and a “Christian conservative” with an emphasis on family and traditional values. This rhetoric is analogous to political language used in Poland and Hungary and thereby strengthens the positioning of conservatives within EU.

What does it mean for Central Europe? Although Eurosceptic Poland and Hungary might have gained a new ally on immigration, LGBT rights and abortion policy, Meloni will need to set these matters aside to address Italy’s economic predicament. She simply cannot afford to leave the €191.5 billion Recovery and Resilience Plan package negotiated by Draghi on the table. The EU funds are rather too essential to walk away from. An expected further 60%, at minimum, rise in already sky-high energy prices this winter only compounds this dynamic.

[1] Giorgia Meloni: Italy’s far-right wins election and vows to govern for all – BBC News

[2] How Georgia Meloni overtook Matteo Salvini – The Post (unherd.com), Italy election: In Rome’s progressive neighbourhood, Meloni’s victory causes anger and concern | Euronews