FdI, open up

Jayan Luharia - Feb. 7, 2024 - 7 min read - #Politics

It has been over a year since one of the most dramatic political changes in 21st century Europe: a sweeping turn of the tides in which the broad and politically diverse 'national unity' coalition of Mario Draghi was defeated by the firebrand far-right Giorgia Meloni and her party Brothers of Italy/Fratelli d'Italia (FdI). How did such political broadness get dismantled so easily and what factors have enabled such a drastic change in Italian politics and general Italian political opinion? Perhaps, it is best to begin with the leader herself who firmly thrust the FdI to the centre of the Italian political stage.

Giorgia Meloni has quickly established herself as one of the most iconic figures in current European politics for a number of reasons. She is the first female Italian prime minister; she is notorious for her 'political romance' with Rishi Sunak in which they jointly pledged to end illegal immigration; she has drawn attention to herself through the use of patriotic (and potentially neo-fascist) quips and she is also subject of much controversy for her hard line on gay rights. Meloni represents the leader of the most far-right Italian party ideologically since Benito Mussolini's Fascist party of the 1940's and is one part of a broader right-wing wave encompassing modern Europe: in France, the National Rally is growing in strength with Marine le Pen potentially looking to dethrone Emmanuel Macron in 2027. In Germany, fringe parties such as Alternative for Germany (AfD) are on the rise with Alice Weidel being one example of the insurgent femonationalism in the Western European powers. So how did this right-wing wave come to be in Italy?

FdI is currently the largest political party in Italy. It represents the voice of a large proportion of the Italian electorate, currently polling at 29%, ahead of both the Democratic Party (19%) and Five Star Movement (16%). However, there is a grim reality to Brothers of Italy that the party does a good job of closeting away. FdI can be traced back to the collapse of Mussolini's Fascist party where, in 1946, a group of Mussolini's allies formed the post-fascist party MSI (Italian Social Movement). Although Meloni openly denies any hint of post or neo-fascism present within the FdI, the iconography is still reflective of its darker past: take, for example, the party's logo. A tricolour flame consisting of green, white and red (the colours of the Italian flag). The tricolour flame, funnily enough, also happened to be the same logo for the aforementioned post-fascist MSI. Some things never change. 

The rise of the FdI was particularly meteoric: in 2018, the party polled at a mere 3%, resembling a harmless fringe party only 6 years into its life within the political space. The party seemed utterly powerless compared to the leviathan national unity coalition of political parties that made up government as it was the sole outsider party. The only oppositional force to the government at all, and a small one at that. This fringe status didn't remain though, as the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing sense of power-lust amongst the parties saw the dramatic collapse of the Draghi administration. Firstly, a desperation for power saw parties such as Lega Nord (one of FdI's right-wing rivals) shifting their playing ground to the centre in an attempt to get on more comfortably with the government. This decision backfired, with the FdI scooping up all of the neglected right-wing supporters of these parties who felt abandoned by the messy state of centrism that the Draghi administration was trying, and incredibly failing, to create. Furthermore, decision-making during the COVID crisis proved difficult for the national unity coalition. Take Berlusconi's right-wing Forza Italia for example. Part of the coalition, they preached for a restrained use of public spending with a sole focus on tackling the economy, whereas a left-wing counterpart such as the Democratic Party advocated for more spending to tackle poverty additionally. It was precisely this clash of ideology within the same ideological mish-mash of a government that led to the fall of the Draghi administration and the diversion towards the FdI instead. 

FdI succeeded in Italy's mixed electoral system, with Meloni becoming Italy's prime minister in October 2022. On the campaign trail, Meloni advocated for many staple concerns of the far-right, one of which being a naval blockade in order to prevent illegal immigration. Additionally, pro-natalism dominated much of the FdI's policy focus, as they sought to do battle with plummeting birth rates: in 2022, the lowest recorded number of births was received since ISTAT records began in 1861, with a total of 390,000. A final key policy was the proposal to remove birth-right citizenship in Italy entirely, in a strongly nationalistic and potentially racially-biased move. This meant that a German woman and a Danish man's child couldn't automatically qualify for Italian citizenship even if the couple lived and worked in Italy and the child was born there.

So, the question remains, how has the FdI fared? With murmurs and concerns about the radical impacts that Meloni would bring, the truth has been far more muted than what much of the policies and party image promised. Despite radicalism, the party has not turned its back on Ukraine and its NATO allies, still providing Ukraine with support and supplies. Also, the naval blockade idea was a conceptual failure - a country is only legally permitted to create such a blockade unilaterally in specific cases, such as in legitimate defence of an act of aggression from another country. As a result, the lack of materialised anti-immigration policy has seen the reverse of what many hoped to come true: in the January to mid-October period of 2023, the recorded number of migrants entering the country was 140,000. This was double the figure in the same period the year prior. 

In terms of pro-natalism, the FdI has seen steps in the right direction. The government included 1 billion euros in their budget plan to be assigned to projects supporting births in Italy, including tax deductions for companies hiring new mothers. This was a fairly Reagan-esque policy decision in which the FdI's firm vision of the traditional nuclear family can be seen. At the other end of the spectrum, the FdI has combatted queer rights, with queer parents being removed from their children's certificate as the country passed a law saying that only the biological parents of a child could appear on it. Here, the FdI cements itself as a party deserving of the title 'far-right' in this deliberate attempt to undermine alternative familial structures. What's more, surrogacy has been outlawed for Italians - even outside of Italy itself.

Conclusively, FdI's first year in power has been quite a rollercoaster at best: some policies have flat-out failed in practice whereas others have come to light fairly quickly. Regardless, Meloni and FdI remain a notable focus on the political stage in the next few years, with there being much more that Meloni and FdI can look to accomplish given that the next general election not expected until 2026-2027.