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4th Feb 2023

The rise of Italy's new far-right star: Giorgia Meloni

  • Giorgia Meloni got involved in fascist youth group aged 15 (Photo: Hermann Tertsch and Victor Gonzalez)
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Few people knew who she was 10 years ago — Giorgia Meloni, a former youth minister in Silvio Berlusconi's scandal-tainted government, who went on to create her own party, the ultranationalist Fratelli d'Italia (Fdl).

But today the FdI is polling as the joint-most popular in Italy along with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) on 21 percent each.

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The 45-year old from Rome is being talked about as Italy's potential first female prime minister in the next elections.

And she is a celebrity, with a viral video about her on YouTube seen by 11 million viewers and a best-selling autobiography out last year.

For Guido Crosetto, an FdI co-founder, voters feel they can trust Meloni because she has: "consistency, reliability, thoroughness. She does not speak by slogans or based on polls".

"We [the FdI party] do well in the polls because our party remains consistent with its ideas," Crosetto said.

"For example, the party agreed with the government's proposal to send weapons to Ukraine and voted accordingly," he said.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is "an enemy of Europe and the West," Crosetto added, highlighting his party's clear pro-Nato line.

"She [Meloni] has risen through the ranks; she has a lot of experience," Andrea Ceron, an associate professor of political science at the University of Milan, also said.

Meloni was just 15 when she became involved in the youth organisation of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), founded after World War II by neo-fascists and veterans of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic (a Nazi-Germany puppet state).

The FdI's popularity comes amid a broader shift to the right in Italian politics in recent times.

Until 2019, polls were dominated by Matteo Salvini's far-right and sovereignist League party, now down to 15 percent.

But FdI is gaining some of Salvini's votes and even making inroads in northeastern Italy, a League bastion since the 1990s.

Putin and Nato aside, the Fratelli are focusing on the Italian economy and businesspeople in northern Italy asked by EUobserver said they liked Meloni's anti-tax, anti-bureaucracy style.

"There is too much red tape, whether imposed by Rome or Venice [the regional capital]. Maybe Meloni has realised that," a business source in Vicenza, a northeast Italian town said.

FdI voters are no longer just government officials and employees, but also entrepreneurs and professionals in the medium-sized towns of northern Italy who are hostile both to the statism (actual or alleged) of the centre-left and to the League, which, according to many, talks a lot and delivers little.

"For us, the priority is Italy's economic, industrial, manufacturing, and financial survival," the FdI's Crosetto said.

And even some of those on the centre-left have come to grow fond of leading FdI personalities, such as Adolfo Urso, a senior MP who was savaged by pro-Russian accounts on social media due to his pro-Ukraine comments.

For all that, FdI is a decisively right-wing party, however.

Its literature contains slogans such as "Italy and Italians first" and aims to protect Italian identity from Islamisation, while calling for the largest family and birth support plan in Italy's history.

Some elements in the party have not let go of its MSI roots.

And for years, Italian media have reported that some militants and local party leaders performed the Roman salute or displayed fascist memorabilia.

Crosetto denied that FdI was xenophobic.

But he acknowledged it had a "very tough" line on immigration from Africa. "In 20 years, Africa could have a larger population than China. Probably everyone in Europe should ask themselves how Africa will survive population growth," he said.

It remains to be seen if the party will be able to keep its political allure as Italy heads for elections next year.

"Some of the people Meloni surrounds herself with are prone to gaffes", Milan university's Ceron said.

Convincing moderate voters to switch to a party with radical roots is "not an easy bet", Ceron added. "Meloni is trying, though," Ceron said.

Divisions inside Italy's right-wing bloc could also be an obstacle on Meloni's path to glory, Antonella Seddone, associate professor of political science at the University of Turin, said.

"The FdI's real weakness lies in its relationship with its allies, the League and Berlusconi's Forza Italia," Seddone said.

"FdI is forced to dialogue with the League, which will not easily concede space to it, and with Berlusconi, who keeps favouring the relationship with the League," she said.

Author bio

Valentina Saini is a freelance journalist specialising in Italian social issues and politics, gender issues and the Middle East and North Africa region.

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