A far-right bloc, led by former fascist Georgia Meloni, barrelled to victory in Italian elections on Sunday (24 September) with up to 45 percent of the vote.
“Grazie Italia” said Meloni on a small banner held up for cameras. “This is a night of pride for Brothers of Italy”, she said, referring to her party, which also scooped the most votes inside the right-wing bloc, putting her in line to be prime minister.
The left-wing bloc of outgoing leader Mario Draghi came second with some 30 percent, trailed by the populist Five Star party on about 17.5 percent.
“This is a sad evening for the country,” Debora Serracchiani, a senior MP from the leftwing Democratic party told press.
The Brothers of Italy has fascist roots, but remodelled itself into a regionalist and anti-immigrant force in modern times.
It is set to rule in coalition with the far-right League party of Matteo Salvini and the right-wing Forza Italia party of disgraced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Meloni spoke softly on Sunday, saying: “If we are called upon to govern this nation, we will do so for all Italians, with the aim of uniting the people, of exalting what unites them rather than what divides them”.
She was also tough on Russia in her election campaign, unlike Salvini and Berlusconi, who spoke well of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
But the advent of far-right power in one of the EU’s founding and largest member states could spell trouble for both Rome and Brussels.
Italy is still waiting for disbursement of EU pandemic recovery funds, even as the EU Commission takes a more hawkish line on withholding money from member states who violate EU values, such as Hungary and Poland.
Meloni has said she wants a second look at reforms promised by Draghi in return for EU money.
And escalating Western economic warfare with Russia will test Meloni’s rhetoric on Putin, as the Italian economy also suffers from rocketing energy prices.
When a far-right party took power in Austria in 2000, EU countries spoke of freezing its voting rights in the EU Council in a political cordon-sanitaire. Some, such as Belgium, even spoke of Austria’s EU exit at the time.
But Meloni’s win could also embolden other far-right parties and their voters in Europe, both on the anti-immigrant side as in France and Germany, and the eurosceptic side, as in Poland.
EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Brussels had “the tools” to handle unpleasant members on the eve of the Italian vote.
And both both Salvini, and later Polish prime minister Matteusz Morawiecki, used her words against her to claim the EU does not respect sovereign states anymore, in a taste of what’s to come.