The Irish Times view on Italy’s far-right: a sad day for Italy and for Europe

The new Italian government will be the most politically extreme since 1945

Sunday’s general election in Italy has produced a clear victory, though on a historically low poll, for the “postfascist” party of Giorgia Meloni, Brothers of Italy, and her Lega and Forza Italia (FI) allies. The electoral coalition, which campaigned together and achieved a decisive success by sharing constituencies among its component parties, is often referred to as a centre-right alliance. But this is a misnomer: it consists of one centre-right party and two far-right ones. And there can be no doubt about the relative weight of these three elements after the election, in which the Brothers won 26 per cent of the vote, with the Lega on 9 per cent and Silvio Berlusconi’s FI, a liberal pro-European centre-right party, on 8 per cent.

The new Italian government will be the most politically extreme since 1945. Its largest component will be the only ruling party in Europe that traces its political pedigree back to 1930s totalitarianism. Giorgia Meloni received immediate congratulations on Sunday night from the populist and nationalist prime ministers of Hungary and Poland, Viktor Orbán and Mateusz Morawiecki, and also from France’s Marine Le Pen and Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party. A Kremlin spokesman expressed a welcome for any new political force “outside the mainstream and not consumed by hatred for our country”.

Meloni’s accession to power is likely to be greeted with considerably less satisfaction in Brussels, or by governments in Berlin, Paris, Madrid or almost any other European capital. The far-right bloc’s success owed much to its apparent unity during the election campaign, but also to disunity and lack of co-ordination on the left and centre. The country’s second-largest party, the centre-left Partito Democratico, reached an agreement with two small centrist liberal groupings, but these later walked out when the PD sought to forge a broader alliance bringing in the Greens and the Left. The populist Five Star Movement, an unpredictable ally for any party, which provoked the election by helping bring down the outgoing government of Mario Draghi, saw its electoral support halve, though it retained a significant parliamentary presence by campaigning as the champion of southern Italy.

Despite her victory, the way ahead could prove very difficult for Meloni and her partners. Much of her attraction for voters was that she had not previously been in government and could not be blamed for past failures. That will now change. Italy faces the threat of recession, soaring inflation and an energy crisis, while there remain significant differences between the three parties over Europe, support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, as well as personal rivalries between their leaders. Acknowledging defeat, PD leader Enrico Letta said that Sunday was “a sad day for Italy and Europe”. It is hard to disagree.