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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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COVID-19 RULES

Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government

Italy's outgoing government is easing measures against coronavirus from Saturday despite an increase in cases, weeks before handing over to a far-right administration that has criticised the tough restrictions.

Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government said it would not renew regulations requiring FFP2 face masks to be worn on public transport – these expired on Friday.

However, it has extended for another month the requirement to wear face masks in hospitals and other healthcare settings, as well as residential facilities for the elderly.

READ ALSO:  Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?

By the time that rule expires on October 31, a new government led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni is expected to be in place — with a very different attitude to Covid-19 restrictions than Draghi’s.

Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has had some of the toughest restrictions.

Last winter, it required certain categories of workers to be vaccinated and demanded proof of a negative test, recent recovery from the virus or vaccination — the so-called Green pass — to enter public places.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

The pass was strongly criticised by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which swept to a historic victory in elections on Sunday.

“We are against this certificate, full stop,” the party’s head of health policy, Marcello Gemmato, La Repubblica newspaper on Friday.

He said it gave “false security” because even after vaccination, people could get and spread coronavirus.

Gemmato said vaccines should be targeted at older people and those with health problems, but not be obligatory, adding that the requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated would not be renewed when it expires at
the end of the year.

READ ALSO: Italy gives green light to new dual-strain Covid vaccines

Cases of coronavirus are rising slightly again in Italy, likely due to the return of schools and universities.

More than 177,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy since the start of the pandemic.

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