by Conor Gallagher * – Naked Capitalism, OtherNews

One burning question following the European parliamentary elections that concluded on June 9: how did Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s ruling Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy – Fd’I) perform so well despite the following:
A lousy economy. That’s the norm in Italy, but…

It was made even worse by Project Ukraine, of which Meloni has been a big backer and to which the Italian public is largely opposed. For comparison’s sake, in Germany, which is the first industrial location in Europe while Italy is the second, the ruling coalition was absolutely hammered. Italy may not have suffered through the humiliation Germany has with the Nord Stream affair, but the economic carnage is similar.

Recently unveiled street art of “Santa Giorgia” in Milan. Here are some possibilities why Meloni and company emerged strengthened from the EU elections.

(1). Italians are used to the woeful economic conditions.

The decline in living standards is new to Germany, however. The biggest drop since WWII will tend to draw a more passionate response. In Italy, a little more than 48 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. In Germany, nearly 65 percent of voters went to the polls – the highest in an EU election since reunification.

Germans have not (yet?) given up on the system the way Italians have, and this is clear from detailed polling data from the European Council on Foreign Relations released in January. Notice the difference between the percentages of people who would not vote or don’t know who to vote for:

This data was reflected in the recent vote. The number of Italians who have effectively given up on the system (51.66 percent) and chose not to vote trounce those that support Meloni who got 13.89 percent of eligible voters (which has the news media declaring her the only popular leader at the G7). And it wasn’t just that it was an EU election; Italy’s voter turnout has been dropping in national elections for decades and hit a post-WWII low of 64 percent in 2022. Still, Meloni and the Fd’I were able to come out on top in the EU race:

German voters’ dissatisfaction with the ruling coalition just hit a record high of 71 percent, and used the European elections to voice their displeasure, which is largely the result of discontent with falling living standards in Europe’s largest economy, as the government deals with the energy crisis sparked by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Both Italy and Germany are suffering from declines in standard of living; the difference is one of timelines. Italy’s is a decades-long drop, while it is newer in Germany.

(2). Feeble opposition in Italy.

Partito Democratico, which formed in 2007 when parties of the center-left and parties that liked to imagine themselves as left, united to form a bourgeoisie group that is currently led by Elly Schlein. She grew up in Switzerland and got her introduction to politics by working as a volunteer for Obama’s two presidential campaigns in Chicago. According to La Repubblica, it was that experience that taught Schlein, as she says, “you don’t need to ask for votes, but mobilize people with ideas.”

Okay, then. She has taken a liberal stance on issues like same-sex marriage, the environment, and the migrant crisis. But Schlein supports Project Ukraine and has little economically to offer the working class. Partito Democratico, which formed out of the rubble of the Italian Communist Party – once the largest in the Western world – is now nothing more than an offshoot of the US Democratic Party with the same lesser-of-two-evils strategy and focus on cultural issues.

“They write about me that I am a communist, anti-capitalist, radical chic from a rich family, Jewish but anti-Israel. A series of untruths…” Schlein said last year on the TV programme Otto e Mezzo on La7. Good to know. The Peace Land Dignity (Pace Terra Dignità, PTD) list launched last year and includes three minor left parties, but failed to take off with only 2.2 percent of the vote.

The Five Star Movement, which formed in 2009 and became a populist force against the establishment, laid down with dogs and got fleas. It has mostly flamed out after a series of missteps in recent years, including getting into bed with the rightwing Lega Nord and Partito Democratico and backing the government of unelected former Goldman Sachs executive Mario Draghi. The party split in 2022 and has endured numerous defections since over its opposition to Project Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Meloni and Fd’I are still riding the wave of opposing the Draghi government (despite Meloni essentially becoming a protege of Draghi upon taking office), which helped propel them ahead of their rivals on the right.

In Germany, the recent vote was partially a reversion to the mean. Part of the reason the traffic light coalition (Greens, SPD, FDP) came to power was the messy succession fight in the CDU following Angela Merkel’s departure. The now seemingly stable CDU under former Blackrock executive Friedrich Merz is back on top.

What’s new in Germany is the presence of at least two parties offering clear and disparate alternatives to the status quo: Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Sahra Wagenknecht’s BSW. These parties plundered the ruling coalition’s support:

(3). The successful blaming of immigrants. It Germany, by the opposition. It Italy, by Meloni and the Fd’I.

In Germany, 31 percent of voters believe immigration is a “crisis” issue, and they overwhelmingly back the CDU and AfD to do something about it. More than three million refugees and asylum seekers live in Germany, which is more than in any other European country. The government tried to get tough on this issue in recent months, including passing a law clearing the way for easier deportations of asylum seekers, and criminalizing certain activities by aid workers who assist them, punishable with up to ten years in prison, but as always, voters tend to prefer the real thing. Voters trust the AfD (45 percent) and the CDU (21 percent) most on the issue they’re most concerned about, and as a result, performed well in the recent election.

Italians, on the other hand, continue to view economic issues as the top source of crisis in the country. And yet 47 percent of Italians believe they have nowhere to go on that issue as we saw above. Meloni and the Fd’I have also done their best sleight of hand trick to blame immigrants for Italy’s economic woes.

There is little to no separation across the Italian political spectrum on the issues of labor, healthcare, education, and public finances. What separates Meloni and the Fd’I is that they claim they have found the culprits behind working class Italians’ declining living standards: immigrants and the threat they pose to national identity. The mission to beat back that threat also creates a sense of empowerment, because while working class Italians have been rendered powerless for decades to stop the selling out of their country, wage suppression, and across-the-board neoliberal reforms, here is an easily identifiable target.

And finally at long last someone is doing something. Even if that something isn’t much at all except making some asylum seekers suffer and using them to further undercut Italian workers. While Meloni has enacted more border control measures, she has also backtracked and now claims that Italy needs labor migration and adopted a target of 833,000 new migrant workers to fit the needs of capital. According to the 2020 IDOS Statistical Dossier on Immigration, the overall average monthly wage for foreign workers was 1,077 euros in 2019, which was 23.5 percent lower than that of Italians’ 1,408 euros. That gap is only widening in Italy, as well as the EU, and masses of Italians under 35 are emigrating abroad as their employment prospects and wages are so dismal at home.

Importantly, Von der Leyen has championed Meloni’s plan to reroute asylum seekers from Italy to cages in Albania as “out-of-the-box thinking.” That’s one way of putting it. Albania is not an EU member state, and the ​​automatic detention migrants are likely to face there is in breach of Italian and EU law. Von der Leyen’s EU sees Meloni’s Albania plan as a template for the bloc, however. The two have apparently bonded over hardline immigration policies, traveling to Tunisia together for an agreement to limit migrant departures and taking a tour of the migrant reception center on the Italian island of Lampedusa together.

Von der Leyen’s promotion of Meloni’s efforts is a stamp of approval for the strategy to shift the blame for economic woes caused by EU neoliberalism and NATO wars to immigrants.

The Prototype

As neoliberal politicians of the globalist center-left are so thoroughly discredited (see Macron, Scholz) it is now the right’s turn to keep advancing the great EU neoliberal and NATO anti-Russia projects. They do this while appealing to nationalism and anti-immigration while leaving economic and foreign policy unchallenged.

The Meloni model likely requires a breakdown of faith in the system and corresponding low turnout, but that is happening across Europe as living standards decline and parties across the spectrum are unwilling or unable to offer alternatives to the EU’s neoliberalism and the NATO-directed Project Ukraine. The Meloni prototype also brings the same foreign policy, being pro Project Ukraine, as well as China hawks.

Here are two potential ways the Meloni prototype can be more successful than the “centrists” like Macron or Scholz in today’s EU:
Davide Monaco at the University of Manchester department of politics had this interesting paper last year titled “The rise of anti-establishment and far-right forces in Italy: Neoliberalisation in a new guise?” While it is focused on Italy, it can increasingly be applied to elsewhere in the EU as well.

His argument boils down to the fact rightwing governments “can further neoliberalisation processes together with a mix of anti-migration and welfare chauvinist measures” and that “far-right parties can advance ‘nation-based’ neoliberalisation processes.” Here’s the real nut of the argument:
The peculiar experiment of anti-establishment and far-right forces in power is best understood against the backdrop of the post-2011 developments, which laid bare the limitations of austerity-based strategies in building sufficiently large and lasting class alliances. Thus, while essentially maintaining the core (neoliberalising) labour market policies of the past, a little additional fiscal room was deployed for measures intended for social groups that had been marginalised during the crisis, namely self-employed and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) mainly located in the North (flat tax and tax amnesty), precarious classes in the South (RdC), and older (male) workers (Quota 100). Moreover, the anti-migration and welfare chauvinist posturing should be viewed as serving the purpose of attracting support from sections of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie by pitting them against the ‘Other’, while hiding an unwillingness to challenge structural socio-economic inequalities. At the same time, welfare chauvinism continued to foster a workfarist logic premised upon the distinction between people ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ of the (supposedly scarce) resources available for social protection, albeit in its nativist variant prioritising Italians as the ‘deserving poor.

The one issue with this is that Meloni and the Fd’I don’t even have a particular interest in prioritizing the Italian oligarchy. Her government is busy selling the country to Americans. the They sold off the fixed-line network of Telecom Italiato New York-based private equity firm KKR, which includes former CIA director David Petraeus as a partner. They are also declaring that “Italy Is for Sale,” with plans for 20 billion euros worth of privatizations, including more of the state rail company Ferrovie dello Stato, Poste Italiane, Monte dei Paschi bank and energy giant Eni. And there could be many more on the way:
More frighteningly, the possibility exists that the Meloni-style right is effectively taking anger at Brussels-Rome economic policy and NATO foreign policy and redirecting it towards immigrants, therefore strengthening both of the former in the process.

Maybe that’s part of what this recently unveiled street art mural in Milan is depicting?
In the written form, Jonas Elvander, the editor of foreign affairs at the Swedish socialist magazine Flamman and a PhD researcher in history at the European University Institute in Florence, makes a compelling argument this is what is happening:
Since the euro crisis of the 2010s, the EU has gone from projecting its soft-power outward to becoming more defensive and inward-looking, according to Kundnani. The union’s leadership today sees it as being encircled by threats, which since the migration crisis have increasingly become synonymous with non-white migrants and political instability in the neighboring regions. This point was illustrated two years ago by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borell, when he described the EU as a ”garden” surrounded by a ”jungle”.

This new rhetoric is indicative of what Kundnani calls the EU’s ”civilizational turn”; the civic and cosmopolitan elements of European identity are increasingly being replaced by an emphasis on Europe’s common cultural and civilizational heritage, that is, a more exclusionary understanding of what it means to be European.

When Ursula von der Leyen was picked as new President of the European Commission in 2019, she decided to show that she had heard the voice of the European peoples, which had just given the far right a large increase in seats in the European Parliament. This was translated into a focus on issues like migration and security, as well as the creation of the new Commission portfolio ”Promoting our European Way of Life”, a phrase first used in the early 2000s by the French socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to describe the West European welfare states. What this new position entailed was not very clear; policy areas included migration, security, education, religious dialogue, and the fight against antisemitism (but not islamophobia). Symbolically, however, the move was significant.

In March 2020 a crisis erupted on the border between Turkey and Greece, with migrants trying to enter the EU before being violently pushed back by Greek border security. Even though the violence broke against the rules of conduct of the European border agency Frontex, Von der Leyen hailed the Greek police as Europe’s aspida – Greek for ”shield”.

Such incidents illustrate the ongoing shift in values that the Commission emphasizes, from openness and tolerance to security and cohesiveness. This turn has made it possible for the far right to rediscover the civilizational aspects of the EU and embrace it in the name of the defense of a common European heritage.

The EU “center” – which is plenty right itself these days – welcomes this “far-right” as long as they can control it, which they think they can. Let’s remember Ursula’s warning to Meloni:
That begs the question, however, if today’s EU, which supports Nazis in Ukraine and genocide in Gaza is one in which the right is under control by the center, what would it would look like with an uncontrolled right?
It’s telling that both center and right are engaged in projects to rehabilitate fascists. The EU in recent years has passed resolutions conflating Nazism and communism and attempting to lay the blame for WWII equally at the feet of the Russians. The effect is to rewrite history so that those who were once considered heroes are now enemies, and those long considered the enemy – fascists – are now heroes.

Italy’s right-wing parties are doing much the same with attempts to depict Italian fascists as victims of some communist’s alleged anti-Italian racism. Their accounts almost always completely omit the crimes of Italian fascism. While the EU helps bring the fascist fringe in from the cold across the Balkans, in Armenia, and of course Ukraine, the Fd’I in Italy has likewise helped rebrand militants on the neo-Nazi fringes as the “mainstream right.”

Could a future bargain between the center in Germany that the AfD be in the works? One that would see the AfD pledge fealty to NATO and the European Commission in return for getting to do a few of its National Socialism fantasies?
France will be telling. How will Marine Le Pen’s vote in the European Parliament, and how will it govern if it comes to power in France? The answer will likely provide a clear indication of whether Meloni and the Fd’I are a new popular prototype for furthering the EU goals of neoliberal economic policy, fascist rehabilitation, and war with Russia or if Meloni is just an one-off opportunist. [1] The fact that Le Pen has turned her back on the AfD and wants to team up with Meloni looks like a clear sign of which way she is leaning.

Italy has cycled through governments from across the political spectrum over the past few decades, none of which could (or wanted to) successfully stop the country’s decline in living standards. As a result, voters have largely given up. Germany, long a model of fragile political stability, looks to be just starting on the path that Italy has tread for years. The outcome will likely be similar.Even when voters cycle through their hard-right parties, as just happened in Finland and Sweden, they’re back to more “centrist” parties, but it’s difficult to see what actually changes aside from the accumulation of more power in Brussels under von der Leyen. That, of course, is the point.

EU governance was supposedly designed to swallow up and extinguish any of the unpredictability of nationalism that had long plagued the continent. But the Brussels Borg Cube is now on its own dangerous flight of fancy with its layers of bureaucracy and “tools” preventing anyone from disembarking.

[1] – If Meloni and the Fd’I had maintained anti-EU and anti-NATO positions, they would have faced all the “tools” from Brussels and Washington and would have quickly been out of power or maybe never would have even formed a coalition at all.

On the cover photo, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni ©Alexandros Michailidis/



* Conor Gallagher is an Irish journalist, Irish Times of Dublin, Ireland, specialized in Crime and Justice