Is it springtime for fascism in Europe? First, it was Sweden. Now, it’s Italy. To judge by the reaction to Giorgia Meloni’s victory in the Italian elections on Sunday, the moment to say arrivederci to democracy has arrived. “Giorgia Meloni will be a minister-president whose political examples will be Viktor Orbàn and Donald Trump,” Katharina Barley, the vice-president of the European Parliament, declared. Maybe so, but will she actually be able to transform her country?
Fratelli d’Italia, the Brothers of Italy, is a nationalist party that traces its roots back to Mussolini and is led by the charismatic Meloni. It’s about to play a starring role in the Italian political firmament. But unlike Il Duce, at least when it comes to foreign policy, Meloni appears to be taking a cautious stance. She’s right to do so. The truth is that no one has ever overestimated modern Italy when it comes to the martial values. At a dinner with Winston Churchill, Joachim von Ribbentrop said that Germany would have Italy on its side in any war with Britain. Churchill replied, “That’s only fair — we had them last time.”
Meloni isn’t cozying up to Putin like her other potential coalition partners on the right. Instead, she says she believes in NATO. She’s shrewd enough to realize that there’s no point in joining the losing side. She wants to be a winner and knows that Vladimir Putin, mired in Ukraine, is history.
When it comes to history, Meloni is making her own. What her victory signals is the terminus of the post-Cold War order, at least when it comes to barriers against the radical right. During the Cold War, the right was more or less suppressed. Christian Democracy, in Germany and Italy, was the order of the day. No longer. Now it’s the liberals who are starting to quiver.
As Christoph von Marschall points out in the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, the rise of the right is a function of the failure of the center-left. One might add the mainstream political parties more generally. Only 63 percent of the Italian population bothered to vote. Marschall notes that “the electoral successes of populists can promote democracy. They can prompt a course correction, whether it’s Sweden, France — or now Italy.”
Too optimistic? The other course is to thunder, as the EU grandees are doing, about the perils to democracy. Some are even vowing that Meloni simply cannot be at the head of an Italian government.
They should think again. The populists are not the source of the problems Europe confronts but a symptom. Britain is collapsing economically. Germany faces a recession and high inflation. So does France.
With Italy already mired in economic woes, Meloni isn’t going to be able to convert it into a fascist state. Quite the contrary. Given the turbulent nature of Italian politics and the tawdry character of her political allies, she’ll be lucky if she can hold her coalition together for six months. Her Roman Holiday ends the moment she enters office.