Part of the problem is recognizing the real scope of the crisis. Giorgia Meloni, whose far-right Fratelli d’Italia party currently poll headsasserts that the answer need not imply “particularly excessive“New costs for the State. For example, you could simply reduce the tax burden on fuel bills. Entrepreneur Guido Crosetto, Meloni’s adviser, warns starkly that this fall may find the country in a disastrous “Gotham City” scenario, but adds that the necessary options are above politics and must come from the outgoing government even before the next one forms.
However, the measures being discussed in Italy today often seem inadequate for the looming crisis. The pandemic and the resulting closures further worsened the condition of low-paid and informal workers, especially women. One of the few protections for the precarious was the so-called “Citizens’ Income”, a benefit for job seekers introduced in 2019; Starting this July just over 1 million households they were recipients. Now, this protection is threatened.
Payment of up to 780 euros per month is relatively popular in regions with high unemployment and among young people. However, it is strongly opposed by the employers’ body Confindustria and much of the political center and right, who condemn its alleged fraudulent use and its role in discouraging Italians from taking low-paying jobs. It is also controversial among many voters, who qualify this issue as a priority but are divided between 61 and 39 percent in favor of abolishing it. However, the momentum behind his complete abandonment also appears to be fading.
The party that most defends Citizen Income is Giuseppe Conte’s Five Star Movement, which played a decisive role in its implementation in 2019. Five Stars came first in the last general elections of 2018, with 32 percent of the vote. Yet long claiming to be “neither left nor right,” the party followed an erratic course in office, falling to just 10 percent in the polls before this current election was called.
After its 2018 electoral success, Five Star formed two successive but opposing coalitions, first with the anti-immigrant Lega and then with the soft-left Democrats. Former law professor Conte, an independent, was prime minister in both. When this second coalition was brought down by neoliberal hawks in February 2021, its members joined former central banker Mario Draghi’s cabinet of national unity, tasked with distributing EU funds after the pandemic. But in July 2022, claiming their agenda was being trampled, Five Star withdrew from the Draghi government, prompting this snap election.
As leader of Five Star, Conte now emphasizes the “progressive” hue of the party. He affirms that the coalition with the Lega was only transactional, but that he did want a lasting center-left pact. However, Five Star’s many twists and turns have also produced internal divisions. This June brought the departure of Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who led the party in the 2018 elections; he accused Conte of undermining Italian security by rejecting further arms shipments to Ukraine. That line is also unpleasant for the Democrats, with whom Di Maio has now become a minor ally.
An electoral blackout two weeks before September 25 shrouds the end of the campaign in mystery. After a strong uptick in the polls in the early weeks of the race, Five Star is clearly on the rise among voters on the left and in the South. In Conte’s campaign stops, very focused on the mezzogiornoappears focused on re-engaging former Five Star voters tempted by abstention, claiming the party has delivered “80 per cent” of its 2018 program. His own popularity is also key: party founder Beppe Cricket, you haven’t appeared at your rallies.
Even if Five Star beats initial low expectations, it is likely to make little more than its 2018 total. One of the promises it kept, a one-third reduction in the number of MPs, will in any case see many of its representatives lose their seats. .
The big winner is expected to be the right-wing alliance, which is headed for a majority in both chambers. While polls are currently at just under 50 percent, the electoral system disproportionately favors coalitions, with Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia running alongside Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant Lega and tycoon Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
Meloni’s prominence reflects not only her much-vaunted bid for “respectable” status for a party with fascist roots, but also the volatility of the right-wing electorate. While he has attracted some previous abstainers, the majority of his base is recent changers of Salvini and Berlusconi, each of whom, unlike her, joined Draghi’s cabinet. The party has recruited some former allies of Berlusconi, but its leaders are largely veterans of the neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), such as Meloni and co-founder Ignazio La Russa.
Meloni, who joined MSI in 1992 at the age of 15, often praises his leader for a long time. George Admiral—an editor of the biological-racist magazine The Difference of the Razza during Mussolini’s regime, and until his death a proud fascist. While he dismisses attacks on his party’s roots as irrelevant, he also uses pedanticly worded constructions to avoid repudiating this past, for example, claiming to have “sent fascism into history.” When asked if he agreed with former MSI leader Gianfranco Fini’s description of 2003 fascism as “absolute evil”, he replied that he had “did not disassociate” of this. In fact, Fini’s comment referred specifically to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; at the time, La Rusa answered that condemning the “dark pages” of fascism made it easier to discuss the “not a few positive ones.”
Racist conspiracy theories and former neo-fascist cadres still wield considerable weight in Fratelli d’Italia, but the party also deploys the old MSI strategy of carving out space within a broader right-wing front. While taking credit for being Draghi’s only major opposition, the party also stresses that he will not bring major unrest. For this, Meloni today stands out his “Atlanticist” foreign policy. Although defending allies like Viktor OrbánHungary’s far-right government, too, is telling business and foreign leaders that it has no intention of altering Italy’s international position, and will continue with much of Draghi’s agenda. This also creates tensions within the right, given Salvini’s public misgivings about sanctions against Russia and the fact that the majority of Fratelli d’Italia’s own voters want to leave them.
Trying to salvage his ailing lead amid a poll collapse even worse than Five Star’s, Salvini also highlights other differences with Meloni. He combines a call for a flat 15 percent tax with an insistence that Italy will have to increase deficit spending, a proposal rejected by Meloni. For their part, Lega-affiliated governors in wealthy Lombardy and Veneto insist their support for his administration would depend on them having more autonomy over their regions’ tax revenues.
Fratelli d’Italia is “post-fascist”: it distances itself from the Mussolini era, but defends the post-war record of the MSI, from which most of its leaders come. In particular, he honors the MSI as a “social” right-wing party that “always defended the poorest.” But parts of the MSI were heavily influenced by Reaganomics, and the old “social” rhetoric had little political impact when the party joined the Berlusconi governments in the 1990s and 2000s.
Today, Meloni’s employment plan focuses on reducing taxes for bosses who hire staff, while she opposes introducing a minimum wage and promises to lower Citizen Income. Instead, she lays out non-specific alternatives that would help those who “can’t work,” rather than potential workers.sitting on the couch.” Intermediate steps that stop short of abolishing these benefits could include making them more conditional or similar to a “workfare” system.
More broadly, Meloni’s emphasis on his lack of economic radicalism and his concern for a smooth transition from Draghi will be tested by the growing cost-of-living crisis. ace economist Simone Gasperin writeswhile Meloni often promises to “get the state off the backs of growers” and reduce both taxes and tax inspections, soaring energy costs may soon call for a more interventionist approach.
His ally Crosetto condemns Conte’s “populist” agitation on economic issues, accusing him of “playing on the growing collective resentment.” But, quietist on foreign policy and forced to rework its economic agenda, Meloni’s party may well intensify its own identity drive, whether by attacking immigrants and “Soros-funded NGOs” or pursuing a plan to criminalize “apology of communist totalitarianism and Islamic extremism.”
While they provide activists with red meat, such policies are not an answer to the pressing plight of Italians. Meloni is likely to win Sunday’s election. The question is whether his success will stop there.