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Impact of Italy’s far-right government will first be felt abroad

Leader of Italian far-right party "Fratelli d'Italia" (Brothers of Italy), Giorgia Meloni takes a selfie on October 1, 2022 during a visit to the "Villagio Coldiretti" in Milan, a three-day event orga
Leader of Italian far-right party "Fratelli d'Italia" (Brothers of Italy), Giorgia Meloni takes a selfie on October 1, 2022 during a visit to the "Villagio Coldiretti" in Milan, a three-day event organized by the Italian Italian Farmers' Association. (Photo: AFP)
Leader of Italian far-right party "Fratelli d'Italia" (Brothers of Italy), Giorgia Meloni takes a selfie on October 1, 2022 during a visit to the "Villagio Coldiretti" in Milan, a three-day event orga

Faisal Al Yafai

The writer is currently writing a book on the Middle East and is a frequent commentator on international TV news networks. He worked for news outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC, and reported on the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. ©Syndication Bureau.

The election victory of Giorgia Meloni in Italy has left journalists scrambling around for adjectives. Is her Brothers of Italy political party fascist? (It certainly uses the same logo as a party formed by Mussolini’s lieutenants.) Is it neo-fascist, or far right, or merely populist?اضافة اعلان

This confusion is mirrored in the ambiguity surrounding Meloni herself, who has on occasion struck a more conciliatory tone and, after her victory, vowed to govern for all Italians.

And it is reflected most strongly in the wider questions that are now inevitably asked about Europe’s fourth-largest economy: What does it mean for an openly far-right party to win in Europe in the 21st century?

Meloni’s victory took place just over 100 years after Benito Mussolini formed his fascist political party, amid the invasion of Ukraine that the head of NATO has called the most dangerous moment for Europe since World War II, and with spiraling economic conditions. Journalists who read the tea leaves of history cannot help but see parallels.

Curiously, though, few of these questions are about Italy itself. Instead, they are about the wider context in which the election victory has occurred. There is a good reason for that: The effects of Italy’s far-right government will not immediately be felt inside the country, but in the rest of Europe and the Middle East.

For one thing, the victory of the Brothers of Italy brings with it its own narrative momentum. This is now the third time in six months that a far-right political party has come within touching distance of real power in Europe, after Marine Le Pen came runner-up in France’s presidential election and the Sweden Democrats became the country’s second largest party two weeks ago.

The ideas of the far right are seeping into European politics. Social conservatism, the challenges of immigration, the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine and a cost of living crisis — all have become part of the national discourse in every major European country.

Italy has its own peculiarities, of course, particularly falling birthrates and high youth unemployment, but the challenges that Meloni highlighted in her election campaign are shared across the European continent. Therefore, far-right candidates will also be watching her win for messaging or tactics they can apply to their own countries.

Indeed, that is already happening — the far-right French agitator Eric Zemmour said Meloni’s strategy of presenting a united far-right slate for the election could work in France, too. Considering how close Le Pen came in April, that is a significant threat.

And not merely the far right. Mainstream conservative candidates across the continent have sought to “steal the clothes” of the far right and appropriate and mainstream their ideas. Meloni’s avowed conservatism and preference for the nuclear family is one other conservatives could adopt; the focus on law and order is always a conservative mainstay, though in Italy, and other southern European countries, it has the additional strength of being connected to immigration, and the wars across the Mediterranean fueling it.
The ideas of the far right are seeping into European politics. Social conservatism, the challenges of immigration, the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine and a cost of living crisis — all have become part of the national discourse in every major European country.
All of which means that the challenges that propelled Meloni and her alliance to power exist elsewhere on the continent — and equivalent parties will be eager to offer similar solutions.

That is particularly the case across the EU’s southern flank, because it is here that the external events that have had the most to do with Meloni’s rise to power occurred.

Simply because of geography, the majority of migrant arrivals by boat end up on the EU’s southern border, mainly in Italy and Greece, but also Spain.

Although technically migration is an EU-wide issue, under the Dublin agreement of 2013, the country where asylum seekers first land is the country obligated to deal with and process them. This has, inevitably, placed enormous strain on the southern Mediterranean countries, and pushed them to try many ways of stopping the arrival of migrants.

If Matteo Salvini, the head of the far-right League party, becomes interior minister, a job he held previously, he will no doubt bring back his controversial “closed ports” policy from 2018, under which boats that had rescued migrants at sea were denied access to Italian ports.

That caused a firestorm of criticism within Italy and Europe, but also had a knock-on impact in North Africa. This will be the second place the effect is felt, as smugglers seek alternative routes, or the government seeks separate deals with countries like Libya to stop the boats crossing and crack down on smugglers.

It is, however, a fiercely domestic issue. So much of the right-wing vote is concentrated in northern Italian districts, because these districts have had to deal with large numbers of migrants. Many of those who arrive in Italy prefer to head north to France, the UK or Germany, where economies are bigger and there are more “grey-market” jobs. That means the migrants congregate in northern Italy as they seek to find a way over the border.

EU countries have spoken about reforming the Dublin agreement and imposing a quota system across the bloc, but northern European countries have dragged their feet, happy to delay the issue for another election cycle or another government. Now, however, they may be forced to accept some change as the numbers of migrants northern countries take increases.

She may have been elected to face challenges at home, but the real impact of Italy’s new far-right premier will be felt first abroad.


Faisal Al Yafai is currently writing a book on the Middle East and is a frequent commentator on international TV news networks. He has worked for news outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC, and reported on the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. Twitter: @FaisalAlYafai. Syndication Bureau.


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