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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

Previously almost unknown to voters, the far-right Brothers of Italy are now on course to become the country's largest party at the next general election. Who are they and what does this mean for Italy?

Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy
Supporters of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party hold banners featuring the tricolour flame. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

As Italy’s general election nears, The Local is publishing a series of articles introducing the key parties and political figures you need to know about.

Here’s a quick guide to Italy’s far-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, or FdI), its history, policies, support, and key figures.

Origins

The Brothers of Italy was formed in 2012, but traces its origins right back to the end of World War II.

In 1946, a group of Mussolini’s allies – most of whom had been members of the Italian Social Republic, the final incarnation of Mussolini’s Italian Fascist regime – founded the neofascist Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano, or MSI).

READ ALSO: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

In 1995, MSI merged with more mainstream right-wing elements to become the National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale, or AN), which publicly distanced itself from fascism. AN was absorbed into Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom party in 2009, but in 2012 a breakaway group formed mainly of former AN leaders – including current FdI leader Giorgia Meloni – left to found Brothers of Italy.

These origins, and the fact that Brothers of Italy espouses far-right ideologies while rejecting the label of fascism, means the party is often described by news outlets (including this one) as ‘post-fascist’. 

Giorgia Meloni speaking at a campaign rally on September 20th. Her Brothers of Italy party is set to lead the first far-right Italian government in modern history after coming elections. Photo by Igor PETYX / ANSA / AFP

Ideology

Brothers of Italy is anti-immigrant, anti-gay marriage, and pro the traditional family unit, with leader Giorgia Meloni promoting a public image herself as a “woman, mother, Christian” whose mission is to defend “God, country and family”.

Many of the party’s policies are pro-natalist and aimed at combatting Italy’s plummeting birthrate, which Meloni has described as “a true emergency”. They include increased child benefits; reducing VAT rates on nappies, baby bottles and formula; free childcare provision, and incentivising employers to hire new mothers.

In the lead up to the 2022 elections, Meloni has posted repeatedly on her social media accounts calling for a “naval blockade” to “put an end to illegal departures to Italy”, though it’s unclear what form this would take. The party also wants to create offshore “hotspots” to process asylum applications outside the EU.

Meloni calls for a 'naval blockade' as "the only way to stop illegal immigration" in an August 2022 Facebook post.
Meloni calls for a ‘naval blockade’ as “the only way to stop illegal immigration” in an August 2022 Facebook post.

On Russia, the Brothers of Italy is firmly pro-Ukraine. This puts it somewhat at odds with its right-wing coalition partner the League party, whose leader Matteo Salvini recently called on the EU to “rethink” its sanctions on Russia.

Meloni has furiously denied that Brothers of Italy is fascist. This is despite the fact that FdI recently decided to keep the tricolour flame, the original symbol of the MSI, in its logo, and that up until 2017 the logo also featured the letters ‘MSI’. A 2021 undercover investigation by the Italian news outlet Fanpage showed footage of (among other things) various FdI leaders trading fascist jokes and Roman salutes.

In a recent multilingual video message directed at the foreign press, Meloni implied that her party is not dissimilar to the UK Conservatives or the US Republican party. In practice, its sympathies tend much further to the right: Meloni has said she “gets on very well” with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and in June spoke at a rally held by the far-right Spanish party Vox.

Salvini and Meloni at a press conference in Cernobbio, near Como, northern Italy, on September 4, 2022. (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

Support

The Brothers of Italy has seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the last four years, going from winning just four percent of the vote in the 2018 elections to a 24 percent approval rating as of September 2022.

That makes it the largest party in Italy in terms of support (vying for first place is the centre-left Democratic Party, PD, polling at around 23 percent as of September 2022).

This is largely down to strategic nous on Meloni’s part: her choice to remain in opposition and stay out of Mario Draghi’s previous ‘unity’ government – unlike her coalition partners the League and Forza Italia – seems likely to win it the protest vote.

While 24 percent isn’t enough for Brothers of Italy to rule the country on its own, the right-wing coalition with League and Forza Italia is currently projected to scoop over 45 percent of the vote, and the group could win an absolute majority.

In this graph of Italian political opinion polls from March 2018 to September 2022, the Brothers of Italy are marked in dark blue.
In this graph of Italian political opinion polls from March 2018 to September 2022, the Brothers of Italy are marked in dark blue. Graph: Impru20/Wikimedia Commons

Big Names

Giorgia Meloni
Meloni started her career as a teenage activist with the youth wing of MSI. In 2006, as an MP for the National Alliance, she told a reporter in an interview for Corriere Magazine that she had a “serene relationship with fascism” as a chapter in Italy’s history, adding, “Mussolini made several mistakes… Historically he has also produced a lot, but this does not save him.” Two years later, at 31, she was named minister for youth in Silvio Berlusconi’s government.

READ ALSO: Who is Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s likely next prime minister?

Meloni has recently sought to distance herself from her earlier comments, saying FdI has “no room for nostalgic attitudes” and asserting in her video message that “the Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now”. As the leader of Italy’s largest party, Meloni is on track to become prime minister following the September 2022 elections.

Member comments

  1. As an American who recently purchased a property in Italy, it makes me extremely sad to see the Italians falling victim to their worst instincts. We did it here in 2016 and it nearly destroyed our country. Your economy will suffer and that is the last thing you need right not.

  2. Fellow American and I couldn’t agree with dagdavid more. Don’t Italians see that they’re being emotionally manipulated? And don’t they see how that has worked out in the past?

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MIGRANT CRISIS

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers met in Brussels on Friday to discuss the latest migrant crisis – a move that was precipitated by Italy's controversial clash with France over the handling of refugees.

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers gathered for crisis talks on Friday as an ugly row between Paris and Rome over how to handle would-be refugees forced a EU migration reform back onto their agenda.

New arrival numbers haven’t yet hit the levels of 2015 and 2016, but European capitals are concerned about new pressure on sea routes from North Africa and overland through the western Balkans.

And now, with winter temperatures descending in eastern Europe and Ukrainian cities facing power cuts under Russian bombardment, the European Union is braced for many more war refugees.

The bloc has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but a new dispute has brought the issue to the fore.

READ ALSO: Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.

The row undermined the EU’s stop-gap interim solution to the problem, and Paris called Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.

Migrants in Lampedusa, Italy

Earlier this month, France suspended a deal by which it would take as many as 3,500 refugees stranded in Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Complaints from Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores like Italy and Greece that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants led to the previous plan.

A dozen EU members agreed to take on 8,000 asylum seekers – with France and Germany taking 3,500 each – but so far just 117 relocations have taken place.

‘Nothing new’

After Italy refused responsibility for the Ocean Viking, France has declared that it no longer wants to not only allow ships to arrive from Italian waters but also take in thousands of other migrants.

On Monday, in a bid to revive the mechanism, the European Commission unveiled another action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean route.

“Obviously the meeting was set up following the spat between Italy and France over the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking,” a European diplomat said.

“The action plan that was shared with member states is perfectly fine, but contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”

Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for the aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work”. 

“It is a waste of time,” she said.

The plan would see a closer coordination between EU national authorities and humanitarian NGOs on rescues of migrants whose make-shift, overcrowded boats are in difficulty.

And it would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.

READ ALSO: Italy arrests suspected trafficker over deaths of seven migrants

France would like a new framework within which NGO boats could operate – neither a total ban nor a carte blanche to import would-be refugees.

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse the humanitarian charities of operating without respect to national authorities and of effectively encouraging immigration.

Migrants on a boat arriving in Italy

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse NGOs of operating with disregard to national authorities. Photo by Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

Other member states, including Germany, argue that there can be no limits on humanitarian operations – all seafarers are obliged by the law of the sea to save travellers in danger. 

Ahead of the talks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned: “With almost 2,000 people having already died or gone missing so far this year alone, urgent action is needed.”

Grandi welcomed the European Commission’s draft plan for state-led rescues and predictable ports of disembarkation, adding: “While states point fingers and trade blame, lives are lost.”

Border force

While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.

On Thursday, the Czech, Austrian, Slovak and Hungarian ministers met in Prague ahead of the trip to Brussels to stress that this route accounts for more than half of “illegal arrivals” in the bloc.

Austrian interior minister Gerhard Karner said the EU should finance border protection and give members “a legal tool to return people who come for economic reasons”.

Diplomats said France and Italy would try to dominate the talks with complaints about sea arrivals, while Greece and Cyprus would point fingers at Turkey for allegedly facilitating illegal entries.

Central and eastern countries would focus on the Balkans route and, as one diplomat said, “Hungary and Poland don’t want anything to do with anything in the field of migration.”

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