ROME – Giorgia Meloni’s surprise rise as Italy’s prime minister has focused attention across Europe, examining whether the country’s most right-wing government since World War II is the new wave of European populist nationalism. Will it start a wave or is it just the latest political earthquake? In a country where there is an average of one government every year.

Right-wing nationalism has flourished in Hungary under the leadership of Viktor Orbán since 2010, and a nationalist coalition has run Poland’s government for nearly five years. In September, the neo-fascist Sweden Democrats were invited to participate in that country’s government for the first time, and nationalist parties have been junior partners in existing coalitions since August in Bulgaria and in Latvia since 2019.

But Italy is also a founding member of the European Union and now boasts the bloc’s third-largest economy after Britain’s departure. And, more critically, Italian nationalist movements have a history of initiating trends in Europe: almost exactly 100 years ago, Benito Mussolini’s March on Rome was the start of a continental nationalist movement that would eventually lead to World War II. Helped to give.

“I don’t think we can call what’s happening in Europe a nationalist wave, but it could change,” Eelco Harteveld, a political scientist specializing in extremism at the University of Amsterdam, said in an interview. “For now, we have to say that in Europe, most recently in Sweden and then in Italy, each case has its own unique reasons. But we can also see that the broad support for nationalist parties in Europe has gradually declined over the last ten years. is growing

There are national differences, but far-right parties across Europe share a continental left, an international bent, promotion of “traditional” social values, skepticism about immigration and open borders, resentment of traditional elites and the political establishment, and continental presents a constant criticism of the Left. Strong defense of sovereign rights, expressed mainly against the “intrusive” and unresponsive bureaucracy of the EU.

It has proven to be a powerful political formula, although – until now – it has not been strong enough to win elections and lead governments in the continent’s largest and richest countries.

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Ms Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party – which now heads Italy’s 74th government in 79 years since Mussolini was ousted and executed – was built on the ashes of Europe’s first major fascist movement. Is. According to Mattia Zollinello, a professor specializing in fundamentalism at the University of Trieste in Italy, the political right has a “structural advantage” in Italy because of a complicated history involving the conservative influence of the Vatican and regional empires. United until 150 years ago.

“Italy has always been right-leaning politically, and its opposition to the left has been in decline for some time, except in some geographic areas,” Mr. Zollinello said in an interview. “But the latest national vote is still very remarkable because we now have two radical parties in the same coalition. [Brothers of Italy and the separatist League party]and there’s something about it that hasn’t happened before.”

How Ms Maloney will govern is a vexing question in both Rome and Brussels these days. His party came first in the September election with more than a quarter of the vote. [we give the exact figure, 26.1%, below], in part because she steered clear of the divisive, partisan bickering that marred the previous coalition government headed by venerable centrist Mario Draghi. He also took a major foreign policy question off the table, saying his government, unlike some other far-right parties on the continent, would continue to strongly support Ukraine in fighting Russian aggression.

The new prime minister’s first in-person meeting with a fellow European leader, hours after she took office, was with French President Emmanuel Macron – a staunch “Europeanist” who won his re-election earlier this year. A far-right opponent was stopped. and telephoned Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive European Council, in its early days.

In his first speech to parliament on Tuesday, he delivered the strongest condemnation of classical Italian fascism, calling Mussolini’s racial laws and the deportation of Italian Jews during World War II “the worst moment in Italian history”. He vowed to oppose “anti-democratic regimes, including fascism” and fight “all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination”.

His main message: He was elected not to destroy the EU, but to fix it, by making it less dogmatic and more accountable to the people living in the bloc.

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The new conservative coalition in Rome “does not want to slow down or sabotage European integration, but to push it to be more effective in responding to crises, and to be closer to people and businesses,” he said at one point. said “Those who raise questions are not enemies or heretics but pragmatists who are not afraid to say something when something is not done.”

What next?

Given the political developments in Italy, many are wondering what’s next for Europe, and whether other conservative populist parties can copy Ms Maloney’s blueprint. An early test of European nationalism will take place in Denmark on November 1. But most polls show the Danish People’s Party – which won around 9% of the vote in 2019 – projected to win less than 3% this time around.

However, next year could be crucial. In July, voters will go to the polls in Greece, where the ultra-nationalist party Golden Dawn rose to prominence after the 2008-09 global financial crisis and then all but disappeared within a decade. Earlier this month, former US President Donald Trump joined Ms Maloney and Mr Orban from Hungary to campaign via video link for Spain’s far-right Vox party, but voters there in November or December Will not cast their vote till 2023.

Meanwhile, developments in Italy are almost certain to shift the balance of power in Europe. Although Italy has distanced itself from previous positions critical of the EU, the euro currency and Nato, Ms Maloney has vowed to disrupt “business as usual” in the EU – which thus can affect the agreed European policy regarding the problems of As refugees, energy and environment.

The party (which has seen its share of the vote rise in Italy’s last three national elections from 1.9 percent in 2013 to 4.4 percent in 2018 to 26.1 percent this year) is no stranger to lofty goals.

In addition to campaigning for Vox in Spain, Brethren in Italy had a prominent presence at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando in February and in Hungary in May. Since Italy’s September 25 vote, the party has begun opening affiliate offices around the world, including two in Florida and one in Texas.

According to Edmundo Cerelli, a member of the Brothers’ first small parliamentary delegation in Italy in 2013, who has just been elected to a third term, building international alliances is part of his party’s long-term strategy.

“We are at the center of a third pole in European and world politics, opposed to the left and the populists,” Mr. Cerelli told OlxPraca. “The world is more connected than ever, in politics, in diplomacy. We are trying to establish a kind of international cooperation that will help enforce certain values. This is a development strategy. “

Ms Maloney herself played down suggestions on Tuesday that fellow EU countries would need to keep a “close” eye on her new government, given its history and agenda.

He said such comments “reflect a lack of respect for the Italian people, who do not need lessons.”

Mr Harteveld, a Dutch political scientist, said it had become easier over time for parties like the Brotherhood of Italy or the Sweden Democrats to reinvent themselves, despite their direct links to politically toxic movements of the past.

“These nationalist parties are focusing on parts of their heritage that resonate and, nevertheless, are still of great concern across Europe,” Mr Harteveld said. “But that probably wouldn’t have happened in the 1980s or 1990s because there were still a lot of people who remembered first-hand what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Now those people are gone. And that period only appears in history books.

— David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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