Is the EU’s Establishment Trembling?
The New York Times’ Jason Horowitz on Monday correctly stated that “Italy turned a page of European history on Sunday.” Unfortunately, he was wrong in adding that Italy elected “a hard-right coalition.” In fact, the winning coalition led by Giorgia Meloni is a center-right one. But this kind of misunderstanding perfectly reflects the way liberals -- and the mainstream media -- change the meaning of words to suit their own narrative and agenda. Meloni, for her part, describes herself and her Fratelli d’Italia party -- Brothers of Italy, a name that echoes the first line of the Italian national anthem -- as conservative. “There’s no doubt that our values are conservative ones,” she told the Washington Post. “The issue of individual freedom, private enterprise in economy, educational freedom, the centrality of family and its role in our society, the protection of borders from unchecked immigration, the defense of the Italian national identity -- these are the matters that we preoccupy ourselves with.” Of course, she’s very firm on her beliefs and principles. As she said at CPAC 2022:
“We (conservatives) are proud of our identities, of what we stand for. We live in an age where everything it stands for is under attack: our individual freedom is under attack, our rights are under attack, the sovereignty of our nations is under attack, the prosperity and well-being of our families is under attack, our children’s education is under attack. Faced with this, people understand that in this era, the only way to be rebellious is to preserve who we are, the only way to be rebellious is to be conservative. […] I see cancel culture fanatics in our institutions tearing down statues, tempering with books and comics, changing street names, accusing a shared history that they would like to rewrite. […] All of you in America and we in Europe, and our friends on all the other continents, are proud of our identities, of what we stand for. And we know that our opponent is operating globally, applying the same tactics and with the same ideology, to destroy our identities and what makes us who we truly are. […] Only a few months ago, European bureaucrats wrote a document, hundreds of pages long, telling us that in order to be inclusive we have to exclude all references to Christmas, Jesus, Mary and that all Christian names should be removed from all communications.”
Meloni concluded her speech with a quote from G.K. Chesterton, “’Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.’ The time of that battle has come, but they will find us ready for the battle.”
However, it’s true that Brothers of Italy has its roots in Italy’s far right. Founded in 2012, the party is the ideological descendent of the Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano) founded in 1946 by former supporters of fascism, and continues to use its symbol: the tricolor flame. But, as Meloni said in a campaign video, “The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.” Meloni visited Yad Vashem in 2009 when she was a minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s last government. Writing in her 2021 memoir I Am Giorgia, she described the experience as evidence of how “a genocide happens step by step, a little at a time.” In a speech disavowing fascism she compared herself to “the British Tories, the U.S. Republicans and the Israeli Likud.” In her book, she frequently namechecks the British arch-conservative philosopher Roger Scruton.
There is nothing extremist in the above-mentioned concepts. And please take note that Fratelli d’Italia is the most right-wing party of the coalition. Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is a moderate party and a member of the European People’s Party, which includes Christian-democratic, conservative, and liberal-conservative member parties, while the League is a pragmatic populist party with both left-wing and moderate roots -- former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema (ex-communist Democratic party), once labeled the League as “a rib of the left.”
As for the worries about Meloni’s anti-EU views, at a rally in Milan’s main square earlier this month, she said, “In Europe people are worried about Meloni. What will happen? What will happen is that the gravy train will come to an end. Italy will defend its national interests like others do -- looking for common solutions but always starting on the basis of defending their interests.”
It is well known that Meloni is not alone on this path. Apart from her closeness to Hungary’s Viktor Orban, she is the president of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a political group in the European Parliament established in 2009 under the founding principles of the Prague Declaration. It includes Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party as well as center-right parties on the rise in countries like Spain (Vox) and Sweden (Sweden Democrats -- which after the results of the 2022 Swedish general election is the largest member of Sweden’s conservative bloc and the second largest party in the next Swedish parliament -- and Independent).
Lastly, unlike her friend Orban, Meloni has staunchly supported Ukraine and its right to defend itself against Russian aggression and has vowed to supply Kyiv with arms if she were prime minister.
Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021). He is Italian and lives in the Venice area.
Image: Vox Espana