After the predictable collapse of Italy’s latest government, Italians are heading back to the polls for a snap general election on September 25th. Polling suggests a right-wing coalition is likely to be swept into power after four years involving three different governments with wildly different coalitions since the last election.
Given this likely conclusion, now is a good time to try and understand the often confusing and constantly shifting minefield that is the Italian right.
Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) – FdI
FdI is the party of Italy’s strong national conservative tradition. The party came about following a 2012 split in Forza Italia. It can trace its origins to the Italian Social Movement (a party founded after WW2 by followers of Benito Mussolini). It fervently denies all ties with fascism and is most commonly branded as far-right.
There is little doubt that they are the furthest right of the main players in this upcoming election. Under the leadership of Giorgia Meloni, they have surged in the polls. They have jumped from 4% at the last election to leading the latest polling averages at 24%. They have benefited from being in opposition since the last election, able to freely criticize their right-wing rivals, whilst Lega, The Five Star Movement and Forza Italia have had to take the blame for governmental missteps and political turbulence.
Traditionally Eurosceptic, they have somewhat softened their stance recently due to the need to access EU recovery funds. Recent positions point towards reforming from the inside. They oppose the European Commission and demand new limits on immigration and renegotiation of Italy’s financial contributions. They have not however been advocating for a full-blown EU exit.
Cross Mediterranean immigration has been the hot-button issue in Italy for several years, with the right drawing strength from extreme anti-immigration policies. FdI is no different, having proposed several policies similar to those implemented by Lega during their period in government during 2018-19.
Their populist streak means they’re not unopposed to increasing regulation in the economy. Additionally, a FdI-led government is predicted to be higher spending, something economists warn could be catastrophic due to Italy’s already precarious debt situation which has been carefully nursed over the past year by renowned economist Draghi.
Globally, FdI left the well-trodden path on the European populist right towards soft pro-Russianism after the Ukraine invasion and has always been more aligned with the American right. They have been steadfast in their support of Ukraine since the beginning, backing outgoing centre-left PM Mario Draghi in his aggressively pro-Ukraine stance – something that goes against Italy’s deep-seated post-WW2 pacifism and NATO-skepticism.
It is socially conservative, opposing same-sex marriage and assisted suicide whilst supporting the protection of hate speech and a ban on under-18 gender-transition treatments.
Lega (The League)
Following the election of Matteo Salvini as leader in 2013, Lega was transformed from a northern secessionist centre-right party into an all-Italy populist right party. It established itself as a major political force in 2018, gaining 17% of the vote and subsequently entering government with the 5 Star Movement.
A turbulent four years followed with Salvini in his position of Minister of the Interior cracking down on illegal immigration. Lega surged in the polls up to more than 30% leading Salvini to quit the government and call for an election. However, M5S instead formed a new government with the centre-left PD and Lega has been on the slide ever since. They are now polling at around 14% with FdI having firmly supplanted them as the primary party on the right.
The party under Salvini has always been best known for its intense anti-immigration stance, something which has drawn international attention. With the campaign focused firmly on the cost of living, Salvini has been trying to shift the conversation back to his signature issue with a visit to the Island of Lampedusa where many immigrants make their landing from Africa.
Lega has long been Euroskeptic, particularly eurozone-skeptic although on entering coalition first with M5S, then as part of the Draghi government, they softened their stance in order to sit more comfortably with their governing partners. In the European Parliament, they align with parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France.
Whilst they still support a federal Italy, the regionalist and northern secessionist element of the party platform has faded almost completely and does not define the party in the same way it did before Salvini came to power.
Whilst recently denying ties to Russia, Salvini has previously expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin and has previously worn t-shirts with the Russian president’s face on. Before the war, Lega was strongly opposed to sanctions on Russia.
Forza Italia (Forward Italy) – FI
Following the dramatic collapse of the First Republic in a hailstorm of corruption scandals, TV tycoon Silvio Berlusconi founded Forza Italia, attempting to fill the void left by the five political parties which disintegrated in 1994. Berlusconi led three governments between 1994 and 2008 when the party merged with other right-wing parties to form the Pdl.
He revived the party to replace the PdL in 2013 but was almost immediately convicted of tax evasion. With Berlusconi unable to campaign for the subsequent five years, the party slid backward in the polls and was overtaken as the primary right-wing party in 2018 by Lega with the party’s support dropping from 21% (in its PdL guise) to 14%.
The dramatic fall continues with FI now polling at around 7%, sitting as the third largest right-wing party. The now-85 Berlusconi and his party risk fading into irrelevance this September, unable to compete with FdL and Lega for right-wing voters or the centre-left Democratic party for pro-EU voters.
Ideologically, FI occupies the space of the traditional European centre-right along the lines of Germany’s Christian Democrats. They are steadfast supporters of EU integration despite many personal disagreements between Berlusconi and various big beasts in the European project over the years.
Generally, they are pro-business and pro-free markets whilst maintaining a strong social welfare program for the poorest although the party has long contained disparate factions on the left and right causing periodic splits over these issues.
All three of these parties will be contesting the election under the banner of the Centre-Right Coalition, an alliance aimed at defeating the left which itself is united under the Centre-Left Coalition
Movimento 5 Stella (5 Star Movement) – M5S
Also worth understanding when trying to decipher the dynamics of the Italian right is the 5 Star Movement. Describing the Movement has long been an enigma for political commentators mainly because they have never conformed to traditional left-right libertarian-authoritarian labels. Until recently it has been not so much a big tent party as a massive marquee party.
Originally formed in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo, its central identity has been as an anti-establishment movement with disparate policies of environmentalism, Euroscepticism (something that has softened since 2018), direct democracy, degrowth, digital utopianism and anti-immigration.
The Movement had rapid success early on and in 2018 won the general election, taking 32% of the vote. Much of the right-wing electorate gravitated towards the Movement, attracted by its populism and anti-establishmentarianism after years of austerity following the eurozone crisis. Not having a majority, the party had to break its anti-alliance stance and went into coalition with Lega.
Since then, the party has suffered a dramatic slump in popularity, losing voters to first Lega, then Fdl on the right and to the Democratic Party on the left. In June, a divide in the party rising from party president Giuseppe Conte’s resistance to further Ukraine aid, caused over 50 deputies led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio to split from the party and form their own centrist party.
Just add a nail to the M5S coffin Conte led his party out of Mario Draghi’s coalition after disagreements about economic stimulus. The government collapsed, triggering the upcoming election. Attempts have been made to reposition the party as a left-wing alternative to the Democratic Party but few inroads have been made there, especially with the loss of the Di Maio faction.
The Movement is now polling as low as 9% little hope left for the party which just four years ago dominated national and international Italian political coverage.
Italian voters are famously indecisive with polls fluctuating wildly, but it would take a lot for the current march towards a right-wing coalition to be stopped. It seems that Giorgia Meloni is very likely to become Italy’s first female Prime Minister. She will probably lead a government involving her own FdI, closely aligned Lega and former centre-right big beast Forza Italia. Having dabbled with big-tent populism with M5S at the last election, the Italian electorate is ready to go all in on the hard right.