Italians knew it was coming. But, the scale of victory was surprising.Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing national-conservative party Brothers of Italy was the clear favourite right from the start. Rightly so, her alliance, which included Matteo Salvini’s far-right Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s moderate Forzia Italia, romped home to victory. The results of the general election on 25 September show to the credit of Meloni’s conservative coalition around 44 per cent of the parliamentary vote.

This vote share is good enough for controlling both houses of the Italian parliament. Thus, at the end of it, Italy, the third-largest economy in the European Union, will now have its first female prime minister and a government of the right. This will be Italy’s farthest right government since 1945.

The Neo-Fascist Pro-Mussolini Meloni

As the 45-year old Meloni and her alliance partners break into a celebration, the west and the European Union are sitting, hunched and hassled. With reason. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy is a neo-Fascist party with the same symbol of the vanquished lieutenants of Mussolini. Why, Brothers of Italy takes delight in calling itself ‘post-fascist’. The Brothers have won now more than 26 per cent of the votes. Add to this the 9 and 8 per cent respectively of the Northern League and Forza Italia. Like it or not, Meloni’s neo-Fascist Brothers of Italy will be calling the shots soon in this far-right alliance.

Not for long. Meloni may not be able to set the agenda the way she wants. Blame the Italian economy for this. As the spectre of recession looms over, living costs are drilling holes into Italians’ daily lives. Add to this the energy crisis brought on by the Ukraine war. The scenario is too depressing to leave enough time for Meloni to radicalise Italy. Worse, a sliding economy can hurt her ability to deliver the goods necessary to stay on as prime minister.

Sure to Grab the Paddle of Populism

In a bid to stay on at the top, the neo-Fascist Meloni is sure to stir up the embers of fanatical nationalism. Her victory messages are already smelling of radical politico-nationalism. She is a known Europhobe and a self-declared Eurosceptic. Surprisingly, she is professing love now for the European Union. She is a potential threat to the Union’s existence. Yet, she is now assuring Brussels of her commitment to the Union’s wellbeing. As a cherry on the cake, Meloni is extending her unflinching support to underdogs in the Union. Be warned, these could be red herrings, if her radical stands as an EU-sceptic and an anti-immigrant are considered.

Radical politico-nationalism apart, Meloni is sure to grab the paddle of populism ⁠ to move against fierce economic current. For starters, expect her to abolish The Citizen’s Income, an unemployment benefit introduced under the previous populist left-aligned Five Star Movement. She may move further to revalue minimum limits for pension, social and disability payments. She may protect the purchasing power of families during inflation by slashing taxes on energy products. Quite possible considering Meloni’s right-wing coalition is likely to end up with a majority of 35-50 in the lower house and 15-25 in the senate.  Meloni’s coalition may thus assume office end October or mid-November.

May Amend the Italian Constitution

On assuming office, the Meloni-led coalition’s parliamentary dominance is certain. Particularly because of the coalition’s clear lead both in the House and in the Senate and this could be a two-third parliamentary majority.  This dominance gives rise to the scary prospect of Meloni’s coalition amending the Italian constitution to switch over to the presidential form of government without a referendum. Thus, with a bulldozing majority, Meloni and her coalition could ram through dissent and parliamentary minorities to realise her radical nationalist dreams.

Meloni can well do this as she has the attributes of right-wing radical leaders. As any other radical politician, Meloni too is secretive, avoids trusting experts, stays clear of hired advisors and relies solely on a carefully-chosen clique of close confidantes and proximate relatives. She retains her first family in her inner circle. This inner circle includes her advisor brother-in-law and her sister, who is her campaign manager.

Speaking as Putin’s Apologist

There is more to her political side. Going by her penchant for switching positions constantly, she is turning out to be a consummate opportunist. On Ukraine, for instance, Meloni is speaking the pro-NATO language now. This could be her temporary lingo meant to be discontinued when necessary. With reason. Despite her pro-NATO stand, Meloni remains Vladimir Putin’s friend. Plus, her coalition partners are speaking as apologists for Putin. This says a lot about her political doublespeak.

Nevertheless, Meloni will be truly tested on how she balances a far-right Italy’s political relationship with the European Union. Italy’s political relations with Brussels are likely to strain in the years ahead. Meloni is an anti-federalist. She could move closer to the autocrats in Russia and Hungary, besides veering away from the centrists and pro-democracy politicians in Europe. After all, she defends the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and the Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orban.

Facing a Bleak Economic Future

In addition, Meloni’s immediate challenge will be to manage Italy’s economic relationship with the Euro. Italy’s debts are over 150 per cent of its GDP. This has been destabilising the Euro. What happens to this ratio tomorrow is causing concern as a populist right-wing radical government, given to liberal spending, takes over. Not surprising global economists are unanimously saying the future of Italy’s economy is bleak. The overriding fear is government spending will go on unabated under Meloni as output declines. This will squeeze the economy. Thus, Meloni’s radicalism will not be music to the ears of energy-crunched and inflation-hit Italians.

European Union apart, European Commission will be another thorny economic issue for Meloni to grapple with. Italy has been promised 200 bn Euros in grants and loans from the Union’s Pandemic Recovery Fund. This is considered to be the largest injection of funds into Italian economy since the Marshall Plan post-war. This injection is vital as it is needed to push Italy’s annual growth by nearly one hundred basis points for the whole of a decade. These funds will come in, provided Italy sticks to Draghi’s set of reforms which were duly approved by the Union. But, Meloni is saying, as Italy’s prime minister, she will ask for changes to the programme.

If Brussels agrees to this, the programme may be curtailed without an increase in funding. Whatever, Meloni sticking to the reforms schedule is doubtful and Meloni hobbling Italy and its economic growth is certain. One major focus of the recovery plan is on promoting competition through liberalisation. Bad luck for Meloni, the League, one of her coalition partners, panders to small-scale businessmen. Thus, the League will not support Meloni’s liberalisation. Plus, Meloni has a strong dislike for globalisation. She pines for re-nationalisation. She is known to run down foreign direct investments and the capital markets. Willy-nilly, Meloni’s affair with reforms will end in disaster for Italy.

Meloni Culturally Radical Too

Such possibilities make Meloni’s economic programme unappealing to global funding agencies. The European Central Bank too may not come to Italy’s aid with its bond-buying programmes if Meloni succeeds in placing Italy pitted against the Union. In such a situation, a helpless Meloni and her coalition partners would end up leveraging nationalism for distraction.

Culturally too, Meloni is a radical. Her Brothers are against gay marriage and LGBTs, adoption and abortion, euthanasia and surrogacy. She detests the ideology of gender. Her coalition abhors mass immigration on the plank of protecting jobs. In a bid to stop illegal border crossovers, Meloni may call for a naval blockade of the North African coast. She would want to beef up the current cordon offered by the EU’s border-control agency Frontex. In short, Meloni and her coalition partners are likely to go jingoistic holding their flags of nationalism high.

There is one major worrying aspect to what Meloni is likely to do. The worry is Meloni’s propensity to move further right. While doing so, Meloni may slam the doors on global finance and inject extremist notions into business and society. After all, she is a former extremist, who started her career at 15 with the youth wing of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement. This is the party founded post-war by former fascists of Mussolini. In her 2021 autobiography I am Giorgia, My Roots, My Ideas, Meloni says she found her “second family” in this movement.

In Conclusion

These worries are keeping Italian foreheads furrowed today. Sure, Meloni will now need determination more than drive to hop over the hurdles. Italians need a moderate government which is inclusive and consultative in approach. Italians are sure they want a reformist reign and not a revolutionary at the helm. Viewed from these prisms, Meloni is sure to have a formidable task on her hands.  The tunnel ahead could get narrower and the days ahead are dark and dismal. But, Meloni is a determined politician. In her autobiography, Meloni quotes Kipling: “The strength of the wolf is the pack. The strength of the pack is the wolf.” Are Meloni and her coalition partners the new wolves at the European Union’s door?