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?
Italy’s not-so-fascist leader agrees on everything that the globalists want —
🔹get out of China’s infrastructure deals (BRI)
🔹spend more money on US weapons and the five U.S. military bases occupying Italy…
Italian PM Meloni with Biden today at the White… https://t.co/GQQTFaXQ56
— S.L. Kanthan (@Kanthan2030) July 28, 2023
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?
The politics costs of austerity: “Fiscal consolidations lead to a significant increase in extreme parties’ vote share, lower voter turnout, and a rise in political fragmentation… increasing distrust in the political environment”
Evidence from over 200 elections in Europe 👇 pic.twitter.com/PjCT08699r
— Philipp Heimberger (@heimbergecon) October 14, 2022