Severely Bruised Italian Populist Racists

For more than a decade, the coming to power of far-right populists has been expected in Italy. But there is good news. Voters may have stopped the country’s seemingly relentless right-wing drift.

Italy’s center-left wakes up

In the recent round of municipal elections, the Italian political right made a big failure in three of the country’s largest cities, Bologna, Milan and Naples.

The winners were center-left candidates. It is all the more surprising that at the national level, the Italian center-left parties appeared powerless and weak, a bit like the British Labor Party or the French socialists.

The result is sure to leave question marks over long-held assumptions that the right, made up of Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia and Matteo Salvini’s Lega, would be a shoo-in in the upcoming national elections which may be held by 2023 at the latest. Both parties vote regularly at 40% and seem to be prowling impatiently for the next elections.

The Draghi factor

By keeping these parties at bay, the Corona pandemic, which first arrived in Europe so relentlessly in Italy, played its part. This was a key factor for the public opinion to lean favorably towards more technocracy, in the form of the government of Mario Draghi.

Draghi’s handling of the pandemic and the Italian economy over the past ten months has been impressive. Nearly 70% of the population is fully vaccinated, Covid cases have remained low and businesses have been able to reopen. The mood is positive and leaves little room for Salvini and Meloni to exploit.

Next: The Battle of Rome

The municipal elections were to be the occasion for the Lega and the Fratelli d’Italia to consolidate their chances in the next legislative elections.

With Milan, Napoli and Bologna going to center left, all eyes are on the second round in Rome where the result was too close to be announced.

The capital of Italy acts as a microcosm for the political themes of the country. He has seen populism decline as an electoral force, due to the inept management of the city by Virginia Raggi of the 5-star populist movement. She failed to win a second term as mayor of Rome.

Raggi’s replacement will be either Enrico Michetti from the center-right roster or Roberto Gaultieri from the left center. The two took about 30% at the same time.

Rome’s fair takeover should have been easy, especially since it attracted pro-business voters. But the candidate of this camp led a bad campaign.

For example, Michetti advocated the return of the fascist Roman salute and was accused of plagiarizing his campaign agenda of Draghi and Meloni, among others.

What the election of the mayor of Rome has already demonstrated is that the rise of the right to power in Italy is no longer obvious.

And Salvini?

As the flagship of the right, Matteo Salvini entered the scene in the aftermath of the global financial crash and drew attention during the migrant crisis.

His tough right-wing politics based on anti-migrant rhetoric and nationwide Euroscepticism made him Italy’s best-known politician in the middle of the last decade following Donald Trump’s and Brexit triumph in the Anglosphere.

Now part of Draghi’s governing coalition, Salvini has softened his anti-European rhetoric. The political problems facing Italy have profoundly transformed the country’s politics over the past two years.

Draghi’s Call

The emphasis is no longer on political buffoonery or demagoguery, as is so often the case. On the contrary, the Italians hold on to the governmental competence to advance the economic recovery after the pandemic, repair the country’s infrastructure and fight against climate change.

With Italy receiving the biggest share of the EU’s stimulus fund in due course, Salvini, Meloni and the right-wing tip box are buying less than before.

Besides Draghi’s skill, they now have to deal with a resurgence of the center-left in Italy’s most important urban centers. It is up to the left-wing parties to equal this success on the national scene and to question the assumed victory of the right in the next legislative elections.

Beyond Italy

The Italian municipal elections – as well as the victories of the center-left in Germany and the Nordic countries, as well as the ruling left in Spain and Portugal – underscore that populism is fading in its appeal.

Moderate center-right, pro-EU politicians in charge in the Netherlands or Greece support this conclusion more

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