Date: 21 November 2022 Author: István Nagy, supervisor: Liliana Śmiech
Spaghetti Eastern – What does the Meloni Government mean for European politics?
She came, she saw, and she has already caused headache for some high-level European leaders. Even before winning the 2022 Italian General Elections and becoming the first female Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni and her party have already received some hard comments.
Although most of them were just general worries about her party’s and her allies’ history, there was one statement that could be interpreted as a serious threat. Few days before the elections during a conference at Princeton University, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen gave the following answer to a question that stated that there are “figures close to Putin” among candidates for the upcoming legislative election: “We’ll see. If things go in a difficult direction – and I’ve spoken about Hungary and Poland – we have the tools” (Politico, 23. 09. 2022.). It goes without saying, that these words were not met with overwhelming positivity among the Italian politicians. Still, it is a statement that is worth to analyze, especially after the victory of the Italian Centre-Right parties. What “tools”? And how do Poland and Hungary come into picture?
The return of the Right: A prelude to the elections
If there was a ranking based on political stability among European countries, Italy would not rank too high. In fact, it would be probably at the bottom tier. Indeed, since 1946 the Italian have witnessed the rise and fall of 67 cabinets, with Meloni’s becoming the 68th to form. This means that the life expectancy of an Italian government is roughly over 1 year.
Between the last general election in 2018 and the 2022 general election there were three formations of government in Italy, with the last one, the Draghi Cabinet, being a technocratic national unity government, consisting of basically all the large parties in the Italian Chamber of Deputies. The Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), Meloni’s paty, was not included in this grand coalition, meaning the FdI became virtually the sole opposition inside the parliament. However, on the long run, this benefited Meloni: during 617 days of the blunders of the Draghi Administration, the FdI has overtaken all the Italian parties in the opinion polls. This popularity resulted a sufficient majority in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to form a Centre-Right government along with the Lega, led by Matteo Salvini, and the Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi.
Political positions and ties to Central-Eastern Europe of the new governing parties
In general, all parties of the Centre-Right coalition can be described as anti-migration, anti-LGBT, and softly Eurosceptic. It is also true, that all three have good relations with Poland and Hungary.
Frattelli d’Italia (FdI)
Having roots in the post-fascist movements of Italy, the FdI became the laughing third – or should I say: laughing first – between the quarrels of the Italian parties. Indeed, during the reign of the Draghi Cabinet, being in opposition paid out for the Meloni led right wing party: winning 26 percent of the popular vote, she gained the mandate to form the government, becoming the first female prime minister of her country.
The FdI’s main programme points are national pride, which often takes on a nationalistic character; an active role of the state in the economy; sensitivity to the problems of Southern Italy and social rights. The programme was fine-tuned at the second congress of the FdI, on 3 December 2017 with the creation of the “Tesi di Trieste per Movimento dei patrioti”. In this, the party refers to the principles of national sovereignty, freedom, democracy, justice and social solidarity, and strongly emphasises its attachment to the national tradition (Sondel-Cedarmas, 2022).
On the European political scale, the party is the member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), with 8 representatives in the European Parliament. The governing party of Poland, the PiS is also the member of the ECR, meaning that the two parties are quasi “allied” from a European point of view. Besides the Polish ties, Meloni can also call Prime Minister Viktor Orbán her ally too (la Repubblica, 25. 02. 2021.), with whom she pledged cooperation to find solutions to the challenges in front of Europe (Hungary Today 24. 10. 2022.)
Originally a North Italian regionalist party, with the cause of “Padanian nationalism” on its flag, the Lega Nord has slowly become a right-wing populist party with a nationwide range of supporters during the second half of the 2010s. After his victory at the party’s 2017 leadership election, Matteo Salvini made the shift official, by rebranding the Lega Nord as simply Lega (Reuters, 09. 02. 2018). Under Salvini, the party formed the First Conte Government with the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), an anti-establishment party. However, in 2019 the Lega had left the coalition, returning to opposition for a while, then joined the Draghi Cabinet in 2021.
During the First Conte government Salvini served Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior. One of his most controversial acts as Minister was the closure of Italian ports on 10 June 2018, to “stop the business of illegal immigration” (AFP, 16. 06. 2018).
Although the party has lost almost half of its supporters during its time spent in opposition after 2019, and as a coalition partner in the Draghi Cabinet after 2021, it still managed to become the second largest party in the FdI led government, with Salvini becoming a Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility. This means, that he will hold a powerful position in the Meloni Governent, and – with overseeing infrastructure – will have a large influence on maritime management.
The Lega is the founding member of the Identity and Democracy Party (ID), an alliance of right-wing populist and nationalist European political parties. The ID has 59 representatives in the European Parliament, 24 of which hail from the Lega. Although neither the Hungarian Fidesz, nor the Polish PiS are connected to this European formation, Salvini has good relations with both parties. During the middle of the Covid Pandemic, on a conference with Prime Ministers Orbán and Morawiecki, he expressed that he plans to restart Europe with the Poles and the Hungarians (Mandiner, 30. 03. 2021.).
Forza Italia (FI)
Finally, the Forza Italia (FI) is the smallest of the three parties in the Meloni Cabinet. Defining itself as center-right, liberal, and Catholic, and a moderate alternative to the political left (Berlusconi, 2016.), the FI is the least radical party of the coalition. It is also with the most experienced leadership, as the party’s leader since its 1994 foundation – and 2013 refoundation– Silvio Berlusconi were able to form four governments, becoming the longest serving Prime Minister of Italy after the fall of Mussolini.
Despite gaining roughly over 8 percent of the popular vote, the FI managed to gain one of the most important positions in the government, with Antonio Tajani becoming a Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. With Tajani, FI brings a highly experienced politician to the table: he was elected a Member of the European Parliament six times; served as European Commissioner for Transport, and later as European Commissioner Industry and Entrepreneurship; moreover, he was also the Vice-President, and later President of the European Parliament. With a resumé such as his, the Meloni Cabinet gained not only a highly accomplished minister, but a person with strong connections within the European political sphere.
As for European politics, the FI is the member of the European Peoples Party (EPP), the largest formation in the European Parliament, and the party, which gives the current President of the European Commission. The EPP is also the party of the Polish Civic Platform (PO), the main opposition of the PiS, and the former party of the Fidesz. And despite always having good relationship with the latter, even Berlusconi’s support (MTI, 03. 08, 2019.) could not stop first the suspension (Politico, 03. 20. 2019) and then the exit of the Hungarian party from the EPP (DW, 18. 13. 2021). Although because of these it may seem that the FI won’t sit well with a stronger cooperation with the current governments of Poland and Hungary, these positions within the European politics could make the FI a sort of mediator between Brussels and the Warsaw-Budapest axis.
Common grounds with Poland and Hungary
In summary, after the 2022 elections, a promising government came to power in Italy. The Meloni Cabinet is made up of parties, that are – unlike the previous governments – really close in terms of ideology and policy, and which parties have stable majority in both Houses of the Italian Parliament. Besides that, they also have influential positions in the European political sphere. Moreover, Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi have strong ties to the current governments in Poland and Hungary, the quasi leaders of the European national conservative politics.
The question arises: How could these three countries – Italy, Poland, and Hungary – benefit from each other?
As established before, it is safe to describe the newly elected Meloni Cabinet as anti-immigration. In fact, Prime Minister Meloni calls for zero tolerance towards illegal immigration, even proposing a blockade of the Mediterranean Sea with the use of the Italian navy to stop the illegal influx of migrants (Sondel-Cedarmas, 2022). The FdI also opposes the so called “Islamisation of Europe”. In fact, their official program has a full chapter on this topic, stating that “Islamisation” is taking place on the European continent through a ‘gentle invasion’, i.e. the mass immigration of a Muslim population. The FdI declares, that whoever wants to live in Italy must accept and respect Italian culture and identity (Le tesi di Trieste, 2017.).
These policies resonate with the policies of both the Fidesz and the PiS, since both parties have been strongly opposing the so called “Wilkommenskultur” and have been advocating for stricter migration policies and stronger border control within the European Union (Gazdag, 2021).
In the case of the FdI (Sondel-Cedarmas, 2022) and the Lega (Martinelli, 2018) there is no doubt that they are at least a bit Eurosceptic. The FI however opposes this term, yet they – while not actively pushing towards federalization –do not like “this model of Europe” either, and are willing to work towards a change, even considering “the reform of the treaties” (EUNEWS, 28. 06. 2017).
The FdI’s programme refers a Europe of nation states bound by a common cultural tradition. They are against a ‘technocratic Europe’, based on an extensive system of EU bureaucracy that tries to create a European superstate. Giorgia Meloni presents her community as patriots and Europeans because they believe in a community of nations, with different languages and traditions, but which nevertheless emphasize their relationship and connections (Le tesi di Trieste, 2017.).
In comparison, Salvini believes that Europe’s common economic governance is excessive: advantageous for some Member States while disadvantageous for others, thus damaging the chances of the whole continent. He therefore sees the future of Europe in strengthening national sovereignty (Donadio, 20. 05. 2019).
Stronger cooperation with Central Europe
Both Meloni and Salvini emphasize in their respective programmes, that a stronger cooperation with the Visegrad Group – so by extension with Poland and Hungary – is needed to reform the EU. As highlighted in the FdI’s programme, in the Central European countries a vision of Europe as an alternative to the progressivism of the West has emerged (Sondel-Cedarmas, 2022,). Besides, when Salvini took control over the Lega, he formed a right-wing party designed on the model of Marine Le Pen’s Front National, with strong ties with the Visegrad Group countries’ governments, that builds its consensus on the secu- rity issue, the promise to stop immigration, and the opposition to the European Union (Martinelli, 2019).
These developments could come in handy for Poland and Hungary. Right now, both countries are under fire by the European Commission, threatening with the denial of the EU funds. A strong ally, such as Italy could be useful on the European political ground. Especially with a well-connected person, like Antonio Tajani as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italy could serve as a mediator between the Commission and Hungary and Poland.
The election of the Centre-Right coalition in Italy presents a unique opportunity for Poland and Hungary on the battlegrounds of European politics. Right now, there is an ideological alignment between the governments of these three countries. Italy, being the third biggest economy of the Union, could weigh in on disputed questions concerning Hungary and Poland. Moreover, the parties of the Centre-Right Coalition are present in three political formations within the European Parliament, which also signifies the weight of Italy in the European decision making.
Although there are some disagreements which, if left unchecked, could cause major problems on the long run – for example the opposing views of the war in Ukraine within the government – a stronger cooperation between Italy, Poland and Budapest would mean a force to reckon with in the European Union.
– “Tesi di Trieste per Movimento dei patrioti” https://www.giorgiameloni.it/tesitrieste/
– Gazdag, Ferenc: Három évtized Magyar külpolitikája (1989-2018). Ludovika Kiadó. Budapest, 2021.
– Martinelli, Alberto: When populism meets nationalism. Reflections on parties in power. Ledizioni – LediPublishing. Milano, 2019.
– Sondel-Cedarmas, Joanna: Giorgia Meloni’s new Europe. In: Sondel-Cedarmas, Joanna – Berti, Francesco (Eds.): The Right-Wing Critique of Europe: Nationalist, Sovereignist and Right-Wing Populist Attitudes to the EU (1st ed.). Routledge, 2022. 61-75 pp. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003226123
– “Berlusconi felhívta Orbán” (08. 03. 2019.) MTI.
– “FdI, Orbán scrive a Meloni: “Collaboriamo, abbiamo una visione comune del mondo: lottiamo insieme”” (25. 02. 2021.) La Reppublica. https://www.repubblica.it/politica/2021/02/25/news/governo_lettera_orba_n_ungheria_meloni-289242084/
– “Hungary’s ruling party quits European People’s Party” (03. 18. 2021.) DW. https://www.dw.com/en/hungary-viktor-orbans-ruling-fidesz-party-quits-european-peoples-party/a-56919987– “Italy bans more migrant rescue boats” (16. 06. 2018.) AFP.
– “Salvini Orbánnal és a lengyelekkel képzeli el Európa újraindítását” (30. 03. 2021.) Mandiner. https://mandiner.hu/cikk/20210330_salvini_orbannal_es_a_lengyelekkel_kepzeli_el_europa_ujranditasat
– Balmer, Crispian (09. 02. 2018): “Italy’s League leaves northern bastions, bangs anti-migrant drum”. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-italy-election-league/italys-league-leaves-northern-bastions-bangs-anti-migrant-drum-idUSKBN1FT1Q9
– Bayer, Lili – De la Baume, Maia (20. 03. 2019.): “Hungary’s Orbán clings on to Europe’s power center” Politico. https://www.politico.eu/article/orbans-party-suspended-from-european-peoples-party/
– Berlusconi, Silvio (25. 04. 2016.): “Ecco dove. va. Forza Italia”. Il Giornale. https://www.ilgiornale.it/news/cronache/ecco-dove-va-forza-italia-1250615.html
– Donadio, Rachel (20. 05. 2019.): “Macron and Salvini: Two Leaders, Two Competing Visions for Europe” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/05/emmanuel-macron-matteo-salvini-europe/589753/
– Őry, Mariann (24. 10. 2022.): “Giorgia Meloni Pledges Cooperation with Hungary” Hungary Today. https://hungarytoday.hu/giorgia-meloni-pledges-to-cooperate-with-hungary/
– Preussen, Wilhelmine (23. 09. 2022.): “Von der Leyen’s warning message to Italy irks election candidates”. Politico. https://www.politico.eu/article/italy-election-candidate-warning-ursula-von-der-leyen/
– Tavola, Paola (28. 06. 2017.) “Tajani: Centrodestra vince se guida Forza Italia. Europa da cambiare, ma non in discussione” Eunews. https://www.eunews.it/2017/06/28/tajani-centrodestra-vince-se-guida-forza-italia-europa-da-cambiare-ma-non-in-discussione/
If content prepared by Warsaw Institute team is useful for you, please support our actions. Donations from private persons are necessary for the continuation of our mission.
All texts published by the Warsaw Institute Foundation may be disseminated on the condition that their origin is credited. Images may not be used without permission.