Friday 23 August 2019

Election could reunite Italy with its bleak fascist history

ELECTION PUSH: Far-right figurehead Giorgia Meloni. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
ELECTION PUSH: Far-right figurehead Giorgia Meloni. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Nick Squires

With Italy mired in political chaos, the heirs of the country's fascist past are poised to play a key role in the likely next government.

A general election appears imminent after Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and head of the hard-Right League, announced this week that the 14-month-old coalition with the Five Star Movement was irrevocably broken because of policy differences.

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Fresh elections could be held as early as October - a prospect which has the extreme-right Brothers of Italy party rubbing its hands with glee.

Fratelli d'Italia, as the party is known in Italian, takes its name from the first line of the Italian national anthem.

It is nationalist, nativist, deeply Eurosceptic and even further to the Right than Mr Salvini's League, which has triumphed in opinion polls with its closing of Italy's ports to asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean.

Brothers of Italy say they are more natural allies for the League than the anti-establishment, vaguely centre-left Five Star Movement ever was.

A hard-right government consisting of Brothers of Italy and the League would "carry out important and politically incorrect reforms that Italy needs", the party's leader, Giorgia Meloni said.

"On immigration, the economy, security, family, relations with Europe, the vision between us and Salvini's party is perfectly compatible."

Like the League, Brothers of Italy wants to introduce a massive public spending programme to try to kick-start the country's moribund economy, which has barely grown in a decade.

Ms Meloni (42) said her party's economic policy was "Trumpian" - they advocate "a fiscal shock", which means spending by the state to stimulate growth, as well as "the defence of Italian companies and products".

Brothers of Italy are the 21st Century heirs of the fascist movement.

First came the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, which lasted from 1946 to 1995, to be succeeded by the National Alliance, which lasted until 2009, then Brothers of Italy.

"They are pretty far to the right, but they are the presentable, institutional face of the far right," said Federico Santi, an analyst with the Eurasia Group, the political risk agency.

Ms Meloni, who became leader five years ago, once said that she has "a serene relationship with fascism" and described Benito Mussolini as "a complex person".

Mr Salvini has managed to more than double support for the League since last year's general election, when it took 17pc of the vote.

It is now hovering around 38pc. Brothers of Italy, by contrast, can count on around 6pc of the national vote.

Together, they could be unbeatable.

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