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The mainstreaming of Giorgia Meloni – POLITICO

David Broder is the Europe editor of Jacobin and the author of “Mussolini’s Grandchildren: Fascism in Contemporary Italy”.” His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Statesman, La Repubblica and Il Fatto Quotidiano.

As Sunday’s election in Italy draws ever closer, Brothers of Italy co-founder Guido Crosetto doesn’t seem too convinced that his party’s allies will do so well. “I hope they maintain decent scores, because they are part of the coalition,” he told La Stampa newspaper, “they were linked to certain parts of society.”

When asked why he didn’t speak in the present tense, he simply explained, “I read the polls.

To some extent, they were crocodile tears. Italy’s Brethren still need their electoral partners to do well – as long as they don’t challenge Giorgia Meloni’s claim to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

But Meloni owes much to the more moderate forces of what Italians call the “center-right” alliance. They gave her the opportunity to present herself as part of the mainstream, not only because she relaxed her policies – at least in presentation – but also because the center-right politicians who hopped on her bandwagon on the march gave him a veneer of respectability and credibility. . And she needs it.

Meloni and his “post-fascist” Brothers in Italy are the main cause of the weakening of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s La Liga. The party has eaten away at the electoral support of its allies, dropping from 4% in polls in 2018 to around 25% in the latest polls before the election. Currently, about half of the likely voters of the Brethren in Italy are defectors from the League.

Indeed, even as his electoral allies joined recent cabinets alongside technocrats and center-left politicians, Meloni’s party stood on the sidelines, maintaining ideological purity and boasting about what it considered a “monogamous” approach to coalition building. And that tough stance should now be rewarded by right-wing voters on Sunday.

Just as Silvio Berlusconi claimed to have “constitutionalized the fascists” by luring them into his first government when he was Prime Minister in the 1990s, we are now seeing a reversal, with Forza Italia luminaries and former Christian Democrats rallying to Meloni – seeking to play a leading role in his cabinet.

This is in everyone’s interest, as Meloni’s party lacks strength and depth when it comes to seasoned and experienced politicians. His government experience comes from his three years of service as youth minister in the last Berlusconi administration, which collapsed during the sovereign debt crisis.

But while the billionaire tycoon later lent his voice to the “technocratic” government of Mario Monti, Meloni and other right-wingers did not – instead, they founded Brothers of Italy in 2012, uniting the so-called “post-fascists” into a separate party. However, his small nativist force has produced few political heavyweights to date.

The party’s first leader was the rambunctious Ignazio La Russa, a 1970s neo-fascist who served as Berlusconi’s defense minister and is still an important voice in the party today. Prone to outlandish public interventions – whether saluting Romans in parliament or furiously berate opponents on talk shows – his role in the current campaign has been relatively subdued, and he is unlikely to be named to the post. head of a large ministry if the right coalition ends up winning.

Crosetto, one of the few party co-founders who did not come from a neo-fascist background, was more helpful to Meloni. Forza Italia’s legislator in the 2000s, his direct importance has risen and fallen. Eventually losing his seat in the 2013 elections, he then briefly returned to parliament for a year in 2018, when he served as the party’s national coordinator.

Today, Crosetto is president of the aerospace and defense trade association AIAD – part of the employers’ federation Confindustria – and he served as Meloni’s interlocutor with the business world. Italian media reported that he was planning a visit to the City of London for Meloni after the election, an opportunity for her to reassure the captains of “high finance” – the very ones she once denounced.

Crosetto hails from the Christian Democrats, the party that has long dominated Italy. However, a recent poll of former Christian Democrat voters suggests many still lean towards Forza Italia, and seeking more support from that electorate, Crosetto has started talking about Meloni forming an ‘all-talented government’. to the centre-right. Meanwhile, Gianfranco Rotondi, another former Christian Democrat who now represents the Brethren of Italy, described Meloni as Rome’s most effective politician since longtime Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.

The most prominent defector from the Meloni camp, however, is Giulio Tremonti, former finance minister in most Berlusconi governments. While his ministry ended ingloriously during the sovereign debt crisis, he is a strong proponent of free market policies – he advocates rebuilding Italy’s manufacturing base by lifting taxes on companies that invest in restructuring and by ending over-regulation. Now running as the Brothers of Italy candidate, the party has identified him as a respectable face for its economic agenda.

Having such defectors from other center-right forces in his party’s ranks also gave Meloni an opportunity to reassure nervous Western allies. At this month’s Cernobbio summit on Lake Como, she once again tried to present herself as an Atlanticist and supporter of Ukraine. But some Italian media – and her domestic opponents – questioned her sincerity, especially as she stressed the need to back Ukraine in the name of “international credibility”.

Policy toward Ukraine is likely to become a complicated issue for Meloni, as polls suggest right-wing voters are equally divided on sanctions against Russia, and Brotherhood supporters in Italy are mostly opposed.

Likewise, League leader Salvini, a longtime admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, questions the value of sanctions, lamenting the sacrifices ordinary Italians have made in terms of skyrocketing energy prices. Widely seen as the most disruptive force, he may well be tempted to use sanctions to harass Meloni after the election, seeking to undermine his authority.

But Salvini has his own problems. Although he is desperate to reassert himself as a national leader, many in his party blame his leadership for eroding support for the League. And his party’s northern regional governors are more concerned with getting their hands on EU recovery funds than Salvini’s posturing.

Although Meloni is selling himself to Italy’s allies as a relatively safer bet, his party is no monolith either. Crosetto has repeatedly suggested that his government could inherit insurmountable economic tragedies, which could clearly create problems as small businesses and households face rising energy bills.

However, so far, Meloni has had real success in airbrushing her image, even in the international media. And next to the soft pedal of her registry of racist conspiracy theories, this operation also allowed his profile to become more autonomous in relation to the legacy of his party. But it remains far less clear whether this can last, or whether a government facing immediate crises will give free rein to its most poisonous instincts.

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