The Nationalist Right Tries a New Formula to Sell the European Neoliberal Project

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni finally got her visit to the White House, which led to alarm bells going off in the media over her “far-right leanings” as the Washington Post put it. That was accompanied by increasing hyperventilation about the rise of the right across Europe. David Broder, Jacobin’s Europe editor, had an opinion piece in The New York Times ahead of Meloni’s July 27 visit to the White House. Titled “What’s Happening in Italy Is Scary, and It’s Spreading,” the piece is full of dire warnings about the rise of the right across Europe.

I’m not sure why it’s a surprise that the US would host a far-right leader of Italy. After all, the US partnered with rightwing terrorists and the mafia in Italy after World War Two in order to beat back the Communist menace in the country. Meloni is a shining example of how successful that policy was. Why shouldn’t they celebrate?

Focusing solely on a few of the rightwing measures the Meloni government has taken is missing the forest for the trees. Italy might be headed down a fascist path, but it’s because Rome and the rest of Europe are increasingly being folded into the US-led Mussolini-style corpocracy. The Meloni government is throwing red meat to its base, providing an outlet for economic frustration (blame the immigrants) while simultaneously continuing business-friendly neoliberal policies that have been the bane of Italian existence for the past quarter century. Readers familiar with the politics of other countries can correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems to be the case elsewhere in Europe as well where other nationalist parties on the right have risen. In Italy, despite Meloni’s claims of nationalism, she has pleaded fealty to the EU, NATO and the US. Meanwhile neoliberal policies continue apace. On the economic front there is very little differentiation between her and her predecessor, former Goldman Sachs executive and EU central banker Mario Draghi. Meloni, as most Italian PMs do, claims her hands are tied due to EU fiscal rules. She also has the excuse that she needs to get the rest of the $200 billion in EU recovery funds. This is the same old song and dance in which Italian officials rail against the EU while simultaneously embracing their powerlessness.

The Meloni government has even canceled popular programs that were helping the Italian economy because of the possibility they would run afoul of Brussel’s fiscal rules. There was the superbonus for building renovation, under which homeowners could get 110 percent of energy efficiency renovation expenditures covered by the government, which was adopted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to restart the Italian economy. But the Meloni government, strapped by energy crisis spending and tax cuts for big business, slashed the program so it only covers only 90 percent of the cost and lessened its impact on this year’s finances. Former prime minister Giuseppe Conte said the measure created 900,000 jobs and helped homeowners save an average of 964 euros per year. That economic stimulus is now gone.

Italy’s national healthcare system continues to wither on the vine, and so the number of people with private healthcare keeps increasing.

Earlier this year Meloni chose May Day to announce her government’s promotion of short-term worker contracts, as well as the abolition of Italy’s basic income program, which provided the unemployed with an average of 567 euros a month. Despite the program providing a mild stimulus to the economy, Meloni said its elimination will force people back to work. “Where is the slump in the economy and employment?” she asked.

She failed to mention that roughly 40 percent of Italian workers earn less than 10 euros an hour in the country where average wages have fallen 2.9 percent since 1990. Italy doesn’t even have a minimum wage and Meloni’s ruling coalition has no interest in introducing one (nor does the opposition, save the miniscule Potere al Popolo Party).

Unsurprisingly, Italy’s GDP shrank by 0.3 percent on a quarterly basis between April and June, and manufacturing has been in contractionary territory for the fourth consecutive month. Masses of young Italians are emigrating abroad as their employment prospects are so dismal at home. The number leaving continued to grow in the past year, and there are now more Italians living abroad than the number of immigrants in Italy. Meloni, despite railing against immigrants, is increasing the number of work permits to non-EU nationals in an effort to boost the supply of cheap labor.

So a nationalist government that bows before the EU and NATO so much so that its own citizens continue to suffer and many abandon the country? That doesn’t seem very nationalist.

Have any of the other empowered parties on the right in Finland, Sweden or elsewhere taken a stand against the EU or NATO or gotten serious about nationalism other than anti-immigration policies? Have any challenged the economic orthodoxy of the EU?

It doesn’t look like it, and therefore it would appear that since the neoliberal politicians of the center-left have been so thoroughly discredited, it is now the right’s turn to keep advancing the great EU neoliberal project. They do this while appealing to nationalism and anti-immigration while leaving economic policy unchallenged.

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.

That seems accurate to me. There’s also the fact that the right (once in power) has yet to take any sort of stand against NATO or the war in Ukraine. During Meloni’s White House visit Biden thanked her for her support in Ukraine. He added: “And I thank the Italian people. I want to thank them for supporting you and supporting Ukraine. It makes a big difference.”

According to polls, however, the majority of Italians do not support the war in Ukraine. A recent Ipsos survey shows that only 30 percent of Italians are in favor of sending military supplies to Ukraine (compared to 48 percent of Germans, 63 percent of the British, 54 percent of Americans, and 52 percent of the French). Only 42 percent of Italians support sanctions, and 63 percent think that due to the crisis in their country, they cannot afford to financially support Ukraine.

Don’t worry, though. The geniuses at the European Council on Foreign Relations are on the case, and they have found the culprit. You guessed it: Russian disinformation.

It can’t be the energy prices despite the fact Rome spent more than 21 billion euros to help companies and households pay electricity and gas bills in just the first quarter of this year. And it’s working on extending those relief measures for the remainder of this year, and will almost certainly have to extend them further. That comes on top of the roughly 75 billion euros Rome spent on energy assistance last year. It can’t be the fact that the Italian’s living standards continue to deteriorate while money flows into the Ukrainian black hole. No, it is the horror that “in Italy’s most recent general election, three of the main political parties made a point of campaigning on the impacts of the war; two are now in government” (even though they’ve done little to stop the Italian government’s support for the war). The European Council on Foreign Relations’ has a  solution for how the Italian citizenry needs to be prepared for the “long war”:

The government should invest more in monitoring disinformation trends, including by making the most of available EU funds. It should focus on strengthening citizens’ digital literacy, offering them training and equipping them with tools to recognise disinformation, and to train political representatives and civil servants.

Maybe this will work for a time. But what happens after Europeans turn to the right and their economic situation continues to deteriorate? (A shocking 66 percent of the EU working class feel their quality of life is getting worse; only 38 percent of the upper class feel the same way.) Who will they turn to next?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. giandavide

    i just add that meloni coalition earned less votes than m5s+ partito democratico+left allied parties. but enrico letta, the pd leader, refused an alliance with giuseppe conte, so, with an electoral law that advantages coalitions, meloni won the elections. these far right buffoons would never govern Italy without the support of the “democratics” (that thinks in the same way as meloni about many topics, from neoliberalism to ukraine)

  2. Daniil Adamov

    I have long suspected that the far right “alternative” to the centrist status quo in Europe will be the same status quo (representative democracy and liberal economic policies; may as well add American allegiance for the foreseeable future) but with different rhetoric and more gratuitous viciousness towards minorities and immigrants. No radical change for the better or the worse. This seems to bear that suspicion out.

    Broder is right to say that this is not a return to the past, but he may be missing the point since he only uses that to scare readers about the future instead of elaborating on the differences with the past. It’s not a return to the past because it isn’t going to be mid-20th century fascism, with overt authoritarian-for-its-own-sake one party state repression. It is going to be a continuation of early 21st century dysfunctional liberal democracy, maybe slightly better in some respects (if it ever motivates the far right to do more for their working class constituencies, which as we see is not a given), certainly worse in others.

    1. Colonel Mustard

      The only radical thing Meloni has done is draw attention to how France leeches off African former colonies (eg Niger) through financial chcanery. Other than this, she’s signed on to the entire WEF agenda. Outside of a mention by MIcheal Hudson iirc, I’d never know about it before.

  3. panurge

    It looks like the war will last until the strip-mining of any social protection/welfare state in Italy (and elsewhere) is completed or at least unrecoverable.

    In the mean time all the hijacked money is redirected to keep the bills “low”, otherwise the cost of living would be even more expensive by an order of magnitude at least.

    Welcome to the neo-middle age, ugh!

  4. Wæsfjord

    “Blaming the immigrants”

    Yes, this is a problem. But we also have to honestly address the fact that large scale immigration has a negative effect on working class people: increased rents, overstrained social services and decreased earnings (I speak only from personal experience because I’m sure there are neoliberal studies that tell me my eyes are not working properly).

    Is a roll-back to Les Trente Glorieuses possible? I’m not hopeful. I think the damage is too profound, the elites too craven, the proles too propagandized. It would require a European-wide Gilets Jaunes with coherence and discipline.

    1. tricia

      Large scale immigration certainly is disturbing to many- probably not least to those doing the immigrating- and should be.
      But too many seem to think -even if unconsciously- that immigrants just arise out of nowhere like a threatening storm of nature. People- those people – just choose to pack up & leave the comfort & familiarity of their homes, their own countries, children often in tow, and trek off to others’ (often inhospitable) countries.

      We always need to focus on- who has devastated their countries, driven them to flee their homes? From where are the policies that devastate originating?
      Neocolonial wealth extraction (ie from Africa aiding those glorious years of economic growth in France), Western wars, military & economic…while we all are at some level aware of these drivers, we are taught via politicians & the media to see the fleeing people as the problem we must address, and to believe that those people of those countries simply can’t govern themselves. Their poverty is inherent to them while we in the richer countries are exceptional, and they’re preying on our superior ‘way of life.’

      Of course the working class bears the brunt via increased rent, lower wages, taxed social services but the flip side is increased profits (the latter a great opening for privatization) for the very class who’s driving the devastation. We need to keep our focus on the top not the bottom.

      1. Bryan

        Exactly right, tricia. I’ll add that media presentation of immigration as something apart from its root causes amounts to disinformation, just not the kind elites seem all that concerned about because of those opportunities you mentioned.

    2. vao

      Is a roll-back to Les Trente Glorieuses possible?

      You mean the period when France was actively looking for Algerian and Portuguese immigrants, Germany for Turkish and Greek ones, the UK for those from the British Commonwealth, Switzerland for Italians and Yugoslavs…

      1. fjallstrom

        With full employment policies, people quite quickly start to prioritise jobs that they like. Which means you get a lack of workers in jobs that are boring, or dangerous, or repetative, even if higher pay is offered. So more workers needs to be recruited either from groups that haven’t entered the job market or abroad. Being able to command a lot of labour the government can direct some to more housing and social services.

        Without full employment policies you get competition for existing jobs, houses and social services.

        There is a reason why post war analyses concluded that full employment is the key to avoiding facism.

  5. DJG, Reality Czar

    Conor Gallagher: Astute observations about Italy, as always. Thanks.

    With regard to reddito di cittadinanza (guaranteed basic income), it gets even better: The government has done its first “tranche” by sending 170,000 citizens an SMS telling them that their monthly RdC was cut off effective 1 August. Given that most of these citizens would have dependents, we are talking, oh, 400,000 people who were told to go die. Lambert Strether’s rule of neoliberalism.

    A quibble: The gattopardesco opposition by the Partito Democratico doesn’t seem to know how to introduce that bill for a salario minimo. But, heck, those are our Democratici. Meanwhile, bills have been introduced by the Five Stars and the Sinistra Italiana, the parties that are the backbone of the opposition.

    I just checked, and Sinistra Italian was asking for 12 euro / hour. I believe that the Five Starts bill is at 9 euro / hour. And that’s why I voted for Sinistra Italiana in the elections last September.

    Meanwhile, even though the Partito Democratico is rather, errr, gelatinous about salario minimo, they are all in for the proxy war in Ukraine. Viva la guerra!

    [The main opposition to the war is coming from Five Stars, Sinistra Italiana, a number of grassroots Catholic and “lay” groups with broad reach, and, ironically, a group of rightwingers who are committed to peace and a social state (a kind of thinking nonexistent in the U S of A). So there is considerable, and organized, opposition to the Ukraine Project.]

  6. The Rev Kev

    Italy’s banks were already a mess years ago and we read on NC how they were the weak point of the EU and could potentially blow the whole project away. Italy really only had one life-line and that was to China if they played their cards right. But now Meloni is actually hacking away at that life-line with a blunt axe and promising what in its place exactly? More austerity? More money to the Ukraine? Impoverishment of the working class? What is weird is that she came from an impoverished background herself. Maybe she channeled her inner Scarlett O’Hara and shouted when young ‘I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.’ But she is going to lead Italy into a helluva mess. She and Annalena Baerbock should hang out together more.

  7. Mikel

    “Italy’s not-so-fascist leader agrees on everything that the globalists want —

    🔹support Ukraine
    🔹get out of China’s infrastructure deals (BRI)
    🔹spend more money on US weapons and the five U.S. military bases occupying Italy…”

    As if the globalists are in no way fascists?

    I see it’s still a long way to go to calling shit what it is…

  8. Alan Roxdale

    Probably the best example of a right-wing party taking an anti-immigration, for-the-working-man, etc stance for electoral gain, only to hand over the populace to neo-liberalism later is the Tory party in the UK. There is likely a template now for redirecting the electorate’s discontent to suitably pliable candidates. And of course they won’t get mad enough to vote for anyone even wackier!!

    1. pjay

      The Republican party in the US has been using this ploy forever as well. It scapegoats immigrants and marginalized racial minorities to provide a convenient target, then once in office it simply continues the bipartisan policies that have exacerbated the problems of the masses. This “good cop/bad cop” act by the two factions of our Uniparty has been playing for a long time. What Conor describes so well here is not just the template for Europe, but for the “democratic” West as a whole. The “centrist” parties have been exposed as the neoliberal apparatchicks that they are, so now it’s time for the parties of the fake “populist” right to take their turn.

      To borrow a phrase from Daenerys Targaryen, it would would be nice if we could “break the wheel” somehow. But at the moment I don’t see much of a path toward that end.

    2. Futility

      This seems to be the template that the AfD in Germany is following as well. Sternly anti-immigration, superficially for the working man, rhetorically against the war spending, but at heart a neoliberal project as evidenced for example by the high echelon party leaders who were members of the Mont Pellerin Society.

  9. tricia

    Which “far-right leanings” exactly are these psuedo-leftists talking about that aren’t already embraced by & present in the policies of our very own leaders?
    I’m not talking about just the scary Trumpers, but the “progressive” Dems who talk the leftish talk while acting otherwise (albeit more subtly). ‘Far-right,’ (or ‘populist’) has other threatening significance to these neoliberals and I don’t believe for a second they’re really worried so much about the overtly ugly stuff on the ground (indeed that at times can be useful to them).

  10. Dida

    Although I’m your avowed admirer, Connor, I’m going to disagree with the general framing of this piece: Italy is not moving toward fascism because of Meloni. We are all moving toward fascism, each in our own little corner of the world, because the ruling elites have no response to the decay of global capitalism which has accelerated mightily since 2007. Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi, and Meloni are morbid symptoms, not deep causes here.

    As Adam Tooze wrote in 2017 in Prospect, politicians promised after the 2007 crisis that they will ‘take back control’, however “the basic framework of globalisation remains intact”. Scholars wrote extensively about ‘the strange non-death of neoliberalism’, but since none of the actors is powerful enough to change the game, all they can do is try to play it better. So our rulers are still keeping tight to the discredited neoliberal recipe, but have started to complement it with a smattering of developmentalism such as Bidenomics.

    Significantly, the sudden economic nationalism does not constitute any radical or progressive change, just an attempt states make at empowering their own economies to perform better in the mercantilist game of beggar-thy-neighbour through export, which is known to be a zero-sum game. And since all states are trying to protect their economies from the depredations of capital at the same time and within the same predatory system, economic nationalism will only exacerbate inter-state conflicts. We are literally retracing the steps before WWII, as many distinguished historians of the interwar period have remarked.

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      “We are all moving toward fascism, each in our own little corner of the world, because the ruling elites have no response to the decay of global capitalism which has accelerated mightily since 2007. Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi, and Meloni are morbid symptoms, not deep causes here.”


    2. Conor Gallagher Post author

      Thanks Dida. I actually agree with you! But maybe I wasn’t clear enough on that point. I think Meloni is more or less a continuation of Renzi, Draghi, etc. And as I wrote: “Focusing solely on a few of the rightwing measures the Meloni government has taken is missing the forest for the trees. Italy might be headed down a fascist path, but it’s because Rome and the rest of Europe are increasingly being folded into the US-led Mussolini-style corpocracy.”

  11. monosynapsis

    The so called german alternative is even more openly neo- liberal, to the point of reminding me of crude ancap bros from the altright of a few years ago…guess thats not a coincidence. If only voters would actually read the party program only the ultra rich could vote for them.

    Interestingly, in Flanders the VB has taken a few almost socialdemocratic points into its program during the last elections, akin to its Penist brethren in France. Also anti-EU. They suddenly even showed a lot of concern for animal welfare, bc you know, muslims and halal slaughtering of sheep. But in Belgium their neoliberal flank is well protected by its inofficial cousin, the NVA.

  12. FUBAR111111

    Fake “conservatives” are just another arm of the same Globalist ‘Rules Based World Order’.

    Meloni is just another Globalist leader who blindly follows whatever orders come down from Davos HQ.

    Real people with conservative values don’t support this, it’s only the ones who have “conservative” on their business card who do, as they fly off to another conference to make speeches about how bad things are getting.

    “According to polls, however, the majority of Italians do not support the war in Ukraine.” Of course they don’t, but the opinions of people don’t matter to Government, they know what is best for you.

    Of course the general framing is “conservative bad/liberal good”, when isn’t it? FIsh discussing bicycle riding are about as relevant as “liberals” talking about “conservatives”.

    “Who will they turn to next?” I hope it’s the kind of people who will burn the whole present system to the ground, as it needs to be. Incremental phony “change” is not going to solve any issues, and just papering over the ever-widening cracks has about run it’s course. “Hope and Change” indeed.

    1. digi_owl

      In the end the “conflict” between liberals/progressives/buzzword-of-the-day and conservatives are purely focused on the social sphere. Nobody is allowed to question globalist free market orthodoxy. And anyone that dare try needs to be shamed out of public consciousness by dredging up some social faux pas.

      1. cosmiccretin

        “…anyone that dare try needs to be shamed out of public consciousness by dredging up some social faux pas”.

        Clare Daly – and Mick Wallace – being classic (and shining) examples.

  13. Thomas Schmidt

    There was the superbonus for building renovation, under which homeowners could get 110 percent of energy efficiency renovation expenditures covered by the government, which was adopted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to restart the Italian economy. But the Meloni government, strapped by energy crisis spending and tax cuts for big business, slashed the program so it only covers only 90 percent of the cost and lessened its impact on this year’s finances.

    Wow! How could we get something like this in the USA? Even the 90%reimbursement would be a dream; I’m sure most homeowners would make up the 10% cost they paid in saved energy expenditures. Plus it would cut each household’s carbon footprint and probably do so for much less than having everyone go EV.

    When I checked subsidies in the IRA, it turned out that I could deduct maybe 55% of a new solar installation from Federal (30%) and state taxes. This would not make my home more efficient but would instead create “new” manufacturing demand. Give me 90% of the costs of insulation and sealing and I’d do the few parts of my house that currently lack them.

  14. KD

    Italy is part of the EU. Italy has to follow the Maastricht Treaty, which means because it is a net importer, it has to shrink its economy, it cannot deficit spend to keep the economy from collapsing. Italy is stuck, it can’t back out of the euro (that would take years to set up an alternative currency as NC points out), it is in debt in euros even if it did. There is no real escape from the EU austerity roach motel. Vote for a fascist, vote for a banker, vote for a socialist, it won’t matter.

    In addition, Italy is dependent on the US for national security, and it has no means to afford a sufficient military on its own. This means it has to do what Uncle wants on foreign policy, and purchase a few flavor-of-the-month weapon platforms that are overpriced and don’t work like the F-35.

    Short of a Bolshevik revolution, where they nationalized all the big industry and the banks, repudiated the foreign debt, and charted out on their own, there is no alternative to neoliberalism for Italy. This alternative wouldn’t be very much fun either as they would get shut off from foreign capital, their ability to engage in foreign trade would be shut down, they’d be sanctioned to death, the EU would probably mount an invasion, and they would likely end up like North Korea, sovereign but malnourished. Maybe China could turn them into a satellite, but I don’t see that happening. Further, if I wanted to hazard a guess, there are a lot of overt and covert forces that would prevent such an alternative from arising unless we saw something like a new great depression or worse catastrophe, or if Russia ended up recreating the Warsaw pact alliance (which isn’t going to happen).

  15. Piotr Berman

    When corruption and/or fascism is seen in all directions, perhaps it is rational to have “lesser evil” attempt to choose a better outcome. For example, money accumulated with the help of corruption may be invested in a way than increases overall productivity, or moved abroad so corrupt families become rich or even ultra-rich foreigners. That could be a difference between Indian and Ukrainian model (of course, it is a matter of degree).

    When international solidarity is itself corrupted, national selfishness of fascism/authoritarian-nationalism may be a better alternative to politics based on nobler motivations, like defense of democracy worldwide and sharing the sacrifice in that name. In Italy there seems to be a “fascist majority” split between three parties, of which Meloni represents the most fresh and appealing (transiently?) variety. In any case, Meloni’s fascism is predicated on the national necessity of bowing to stronger powers, EU Commission and NATO/USA, and this dependency may be an illusion worth testing. Otherwise you could as well have a commissioner giving directives to the nation as it is done in Kosovo and dispense with the cost of elections.

Comments are closed.