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What does Meloni’s EU election success mean for foreigners in Italy?

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
What does Meloni’s EU election success mean for foreigners in Italy?
Supporters of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni attend a rally i Rome's Piazza del Popolo for her Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) party ahead of the EU elections. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her far-right Brothers of Italy party triumphed in this weekend's European elections, but what are the domestic implications of her soaring popularity, particularly for foreigners in the country?

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As Meloni’s party took almost 29 percent of the Italian vote, headlines early this week have focused on the success of the far right in the European parliamentary elections and Meloni’s growing political clout both at home and in the EU.

It was a remarkable result, considering that in European Parliament elections in 2019 her post-fascist Brothers of Italy (FdI) party secured just six percent of the vote.

At the European level, Meloni’s party is now the biggest in the ECR grouping in parliament, and she is one of few European leaders to have emerged stronger from the weekend's vote.

The results were also telling in Italy at national level: Italian voters told pollsters before the election that they intended to vote along the same lines as in domestic elections. Meloni had meanwhile pitched the EU vote as a referendum on her leadership, asking voters to write "Giorgia" on their ballots.

FdI took two percent more of the vote this time than at general elections in 2022, a result which seemed to confirm what polls have long told us: Meloni’s party enjoys strong and growing support.

Headlines about a swing further to the right in the polls however may suggest growing public tolerance for increasingly extreme policymaking in future.

READ ALSO: What we learned from the European elections across Europe

So does this mean Meloni’s growing popularity is a potential cause for concern for foreigners in Italy, who risk being targeted by, or otherwise losing out to, nationalist policies?

Meloni has been in power for more than 18 months already, and so far her ruling coalition hasn’t been quite as hostile to Italy’s foreign residents as some had initially feared. She is keen for her administration to present itself as relatively moderate, while tough on illegal immigration.

Italy's PM Giorgia Meloni speaks following the results of the European Elections in Rome on June 10, 2024. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

And far from there being simply an overall shift rightwards, a closer look at the EU election results in Italy reveals a more nuanced picture.

There was also a good result for Meloni's main opposition, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which secured 24 percent of the EU vote in Italy - higher than expected.

PD leader Elly Schlein on Monday said that her party had seen more growth than any other, and she has since begun renewed efforts to unite Italy's left, calling for an end to divisions between parties and a push to take on Meloni's coalition.

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Schlein's invitation was enthusiastically accepted by the smaller Left and Greens Alliance (AVS), which also saw an increase in support, though it was less clear whether PD and the Five Star Movement would reunite in future after their candidates stood separately this time around.

KEY POINTS: Who are the winners and losers of Italy's EU election?

Overall, increased support for both PD and FdI is expected to mean a less fractured political landscape in future, replaced by a battle between two larger and more moderate forces appealing to the broader political left and right.

Meloni is not expected to revert to more extremist positions anytime soon, as her ongoing success in Italy depends on her ability to appeal to voters across the right-wing spectrum.

Her continued success in Europe and at home will also rest on her ability to maintain her carefully cultivated image as a serious politician able to wield influence at the European level.

By contrast, her coalition partner Matteo Salvini’s lurch further rightwards in an attempt to attract the anti-immigration, anti-EU protest vote saw his League party slump dramatically in the EU polls and has left him potentially facing a leadership challenge.

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For now, Meloni maintains that her election success was a victory for her entire coalition government, as she aims to present a strong front on the world stage.

But the reality is that her allies, Salvini’s League and the more moderate right-wing Forza Italia (FI), each received a far smaller nine percent of the vote, and overall their popularity has waned since the 2022 elections.

League and FI voters are increasingly defecting to support Meloni, polls show. As such, there is speculation that Meloni could decide her party no longer needs the support of these allies and make a bid for greater power at - or before - the next election.

This scenario, along with Meloni’s plans to bring in unprecedented powers for prime ministers in future, would allow a future Brothers of Italy-led government to enact more extreme policies with little impediment, should they choose to.

While this is thought by some analysts to be Meloni’s long-term ambition, it’s far from guaranteed, or even particularly likely, to play out. In the world of Italian politics, the fate of any one party, politician or government can change in a remarkably short space of time.

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R Jaramillo 2024/06/13 08:46
I wish American media wrote such detailed and nuanced analyses as you, Ms. Speak. Your last paragraph is a good caution for all sides. Grazie.
  • Clare Speak 2024/06/13 11:05
    Thank you for reading!

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