Italy has voted - right-wing alliance achieves clear majority

Giorgia Meloni
© picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Gregorio Borgia

Mario Draghi is now followed by Italy's first far-right prime minister

For the first time, a founding member of the EU will be governed by a far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. Her party "Fratelli d'Italia" ("Brothers of Italy"), with partly post-fascist roots, comes in with 26.1% of the vote, followed by the social democratic party "Partito Democratico" with 19.1% of the vote. The left-wing populist Movimento 5 Stelle ("5-Star Movement") has suffered heavy losses, but is still in third place with 15.3%. It is followed by Meloni's alliance partners, Matteo Salvini's "Lega" ("League") and Silvio Berlusconi's "Forza Italia" ("Forward, Italy"), with 8.9% and 8.3% of the vote respectively. Both parties lost heavily, which puts the overall result of the parties to the right of center in perspective. The right-wing alliance, which had formed a pre-election coalition, comes in at 43.8% and can form the new Italian government because of Italy's new electoral law (a combination of majority and proportional representation), which favors pre-election coalitions. However, there is no overwhelming right-wing majority in the country.

The only parties in the political center or further to the left that could come together to form such a promising electoral alliance in the run-up to the election were the left-wing Centro Sinistra alliance and a liberal coalition: the latter includes former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's party, "Italia Viva" ("Italy Alive"), and the "Azione" ("Action") party, founded by Renzi's former economy minister Carlo Calenda. Together, the two parties received 7.8% of the vote, which is a respectable success. It is to the credit of both party leaders that they managed to form this alliance at all, despite considerable personal animosities. The third liberal party in Italy, Emma Bonino's +Europa, was part of the left-wing Centro Sinistra alliance and only managed 2.8%. All other parties running in the election also fell short of 5%.

It is thus clear that the right-wing electoral success is due in part to the inability of the other forces to put vanity and programmatic differences aside in the face of the impending wave of populism from the right. Now, however, we will have to wait and see whether the pre-election peace among the right-wing allies will also prove sustainable in government. The Lega and Forza parties, which have been severely cut back (down 8.5 and 5.9 percentage points, respectively), are unlikely to want to forego making a name for themselves in the government in the coming years out of sheer love of their country. They are now under extreme pressure to prove to their voters that they have a right to exist.

Three Questions, Three Answers on the Italian Election with Nicole Westig, Member of the German Bundestag for the FDP

  • The results of the Italian elections are cause for concern. However, we should not fall into alarmism, but look closely. We must judge Giorgia Meloni by her actions, not her words.  Here in Rome, no change of course is expected about Ukraine and the sanctions. Meloni has always professed this, and her alliance partners from Forza Italia and the Lega have done comparatively poorly, so their influence will remain small.

  • In terms of European policy, Italy is firmly embedded in the EU and too dependent on it for Meloni to take into consideration risky maneuvers like an "Italexit." We should keep a close eye on developments, but at the same time continue to treat Italy as an equal. Advice from Brussels on how Italy should choose, such as that recently given by Commission President von der Leyen, has been received very critically here on the ground.

  • Italian domestic policy could give cause for concern if, for example, women's rights were to be curtailed or minorities discriminated against. That is what our talks with representatives of the LGBTI community revealed. We also must be alert to any signals of cancel culture or signs of restrictions on freedom of the press or freedom of expression.

    While we are concerned about the gains made by the right-wing populists, we must not ignore the good performance of the left-wing populist Five Star Movement, nor the low voter turnout. At least the liberal forces, which contested on different lists, were able to record a slight success with a good 10 percent. As a Free Democrat, I am pleased about this for our Italian partners.

  • Test for Europe: the disruptive right

    It must be described as tragic for the country that the technocrat Mario Draghi, who with his multiparty alliance had won respect throughout Europe for his ambitious reform plans to implement the EU's "next generation funds," is now being followed by a right-wing populist who is likely to let the opportunity for a comprehensive modernization of Italy pass and who is extremely critical of the EU. This is causing unrest in Brussels. Commission President von der Leyen went on record during a stay in Princeton before the election that the EU would cooperate with any democratic government. But in the same breath, with an eye on Hungary and Poland, she also referred to the EU's toolbox should "things go in a difficult direction." That did not go down well everywhere in Italy.

    The extent to which the right's election victory will ultimately be disruptive for Europe has not yet been definitively determined. In this respect, there is some hope that Meloni refrained from making overly shrill noises in the final phase of the election campaign, which obviously gave her another boost in votes from the center - and means that she is now also beholden to less radical voter groups. In the Ukraine war, she clearly sided with Ukraine and the Western alliance. Unlike Salvini and Berlusconi, she is also not close to the Russian despot Putin, which at least provides some relief in these times. However, the sanctions policy could cause strife in the right-wing government if the Italian population and economy suffer even more in the future from high energy prices and declining exports than they have so far.

    Troubled times lie ahead for migrants, LGBTIQ individuals and other minorities. In the end, it could be less official legislative procedures than an incited part of the population that - as elsewhere - is tempted by the political successes of the extreme right to act out verbal or physical hatred in everyday life - Meloni himself spoke of the fact that the previously unspeakable is now allowed to be said. Meloni is very much in tune with the ultraconservative mood of many in the country, because Italy is still lagging far behind its Mediterranean partners such as Spain in terms of sociopolitical legislation and social tolerance. The EU and its European partners should therefore take a close look at whether the Italian state continues to protect its fellow citizens with the verve that can be expected from a founding member of the EU.

    Meanwhile, a new electoral law and the reduction in the size of the two chambers of the Italian Parliament decided by referendum in 2021 did not generate greater enthusiasm among Italians for exercising their right to vote. Despite polling stations being open until 11:00 p.m., voter turnout ended up at just 64% - the lowest in the post-war era.

    The election analysis was written by David Henneberger. He leads the Madrid office with responsibility for Spain, Italy, Portugal, and a new regional Mediterranean dialogue program.

    The interview questions were asked by Rahel Zibner, program manager of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Madrid