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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Giorgia Meloni’s far right triumphs in Italy’s elections

Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni said on Monday she was ready to govern for "all Italians" after her eurosceptic populists swept to victory in general elections, putting her on course to guide Italy's most right-wing government since World War II.

Projections show Italy's hard-right centrodestra coalition is set to win a majority in parliament.
Projections show Italy's hard-right centrodestra coalition is set to win a majority in parliament. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP.

According to projections around one in four voters in Sunday’s election backed Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which has post-fascist roots.

But the party leads a coalition set to win a majority in parliament.

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

As of Monday morning the count was still in progress, but the centrodestra right-wing alliance led by Brothers of Italy were set to claim over 44 percent of the vote, making it the clear victor.

Coalition partners Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia lagged behind her in the polls, with 9 and 8.3 percent respectively.

Her success represents a seismic change in Italy, a founding member of the European Union and the eurozone’s third largest economy – and for the EU, just weeks after the far-right outperformed in elections in Sweden.

Leader of Italian far-right party "Fratelli d'Italia" (Brothers of Italy), Giorgia Meloni acknowledges the audience after she delivered an address at her party's campaign headquarters overnight on September 26, 2022 in Rome.

Giorgia Meloni, the leader of far-right party Brothers of Italy, is currently poised to become the country’s first female prime minister. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Meloni, who campaigned on a motto of “God, country and family”, is expected to become Italy’s first female prime minister, although the process of forming a new government could take weeks.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens next after Italy’s historic elections?

At a time of soaring inflation, a looming energy crisis and the war in Ukraine, the 45-year-old sought to reassure those worried about her lack of experience and radical past.

Meloni said voters had sent a “clear message” of support for her party to lead their right-wing coalition to power.

“If we are called to govern this nation we will do it for all Italians. We will do it with the aim of uniting people, of enhancing what unites them rather than what divides them,” she told reporters.

Full results are not due until later Monday but the centre-left Democratic Party, the coalition’s main rivals, conceded, saying it was a “sad” day.

Turnout fell to a historic low of around 64 percent, about nine points lower than the last elections in 2018.

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: What’s behind the decline in Italian voter turnout?

Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone but says Rome must assert its interests more, and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

Congratulations came in quickly from her national populist allies across the continent, from Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to Spain’s far-right party Vox.

“Meloni has shown the way for a proud, free Europe of sovereign nations,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal tweeted.

Leader of Italian right-wing Lega (League) party, Matteo Salvini (C) and party militants hold a sit-in in front of the Italian offices of the European Parliament in Rome on September 23, 2022

Earlier this week, Giorgia Meloni’s coalition partner, Matteo Salvini, hit out at EU chief Ursula von der Leyen after she said the bloc had ‘tools’ to manage trouble from Rome. Photo by Giovanni GREZZI / AFP

Meloni had been leading opinion polls since Prime Minister Mario Draghi called snap elections in July following the collapse of his national unity government.

Hers was the only party not to join Draghi’s coalition when, in February 2021, the former European Central Bank chief was parachuted in to lead a country still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

From a “very aggressive” opposition strategy under Draghi, Meloni then chose a “very cautious, very reassuring campaign”, Lorenzo De Sio, head of Italian electoral studies centre CISE, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Meloni, Salvini, Berlusconi: The key figures in Italy’s likely new government

“Her challenge will be to turn this electoral success into a governing leadership… that can last,” he said.

Italian politics is notoriously unstable, with nearly 70 governments since 1946, and Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi do not always agree.

Meloni’s “dissatisfied and essentially defeated allies” would likely be a “problem”, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said.

The League and Forza Italia looked to have performed poorly, taking eight percent each, down from 17 and 14 percent respectively in 2018.

Leader of Italy's liberal-conservative party Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italy's conservative party Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni and leader of Italy's far-right League party, Matteo Salvini acknowledge supporters at the end of a joint rally.

Though the centre-right coalition is expected to claim over 44 percent of votes, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Salvini’s League look to have performed poorly. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

As provisional results emerged, Salvini hailed the coalition’s victory, tweeting “Grazie! (Thanks!)” while Berlusconi called Meloni to congratulate her.

Ukraine support

Brothers of Italy has roots in the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of Benito Mussolini, and Meloni herself praised the dictator when she was young.

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

She has sought to distance herself from the past as she built up her party into a political force, going from just four percent of the vote in 2018 to Sunday’s projected triumph.

Her coalition campaigned on a platform of low taxes, an end to mass immigration and Catholic family values, which critics fear will see a reversal in hard-won rights such as abortion.

A straight-speaking Roman raised by a single mother, Meloni rails against what she calls “LGBT lobbies”, “woke ideology” and “the violence of Islam”.

The coalition also wants to renegotiate the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, arguing that the almost 200 billion euros ($193 billion) Italy is set to receive should take into account the energy crisis.

But the funds are tied to a series of reforms only just begun by Draghi, and analysts say she has limited room for manouevre.

Despite her euroscepticism, Meloni strongly supports the EU’s sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.

However Berlusconi, the billionaire former premier who has long been friends with Vladimir Putin, faced an outcry last week after suggesting the Russian president was “pushed” into war by his entourage.

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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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