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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

EXPLAINED: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

Giorgia Meloni has worked hard to detoxify her Brothers of Italy party, kicking out those who express extreme views and insisting it is not 'fascist’. But the party is still very much on the far right.

EXPLAINED: Is Brothers of Italy a 'far right' party?
Giorgia Meloni speaking at a campaign rally on September 20th. Her Brothers of Italy party is set to lead the first far-right Italian government in modern history after coming elections. Photo by Igor PETYX / ANSA / AFP

What is a far-right party? 

For some, the term ‘far right’ refers only to overtly fascist or neo-Nazi parties, which are authoritarian, ultra-nationalist, and normally openly racist and homophobic.

But often the ‘far right’ includes other parties that sit to the right of a country’s established centre-right. Examples in Europe include France’s National Rally, UKIP in the UK, Alternativ für Deutschland in Germany, or the Danish People’s Party. 

The influential Dutch politics professor, Cas Mudde, argues in his book The Far Right Today that the far right is set apart from the mainstream right by being “anti-system” and broadly “hostile to liberal democracy”.

He then divides the far right into two parts: the “extreme right”, which rejects the essence of democracy (such as popular sovereignty and majority rule), and the “radical right”, which accepts the democratic system but is opposed to fundamental elements of liberal democracy, such as minority rights, the rule of law and the separation of powers.

In the first camp you find the German Nazis and Italian Fascists of the 1930s and Second World War, as well as newer movements like the alt-right in the US, or the Identitarian movement in Europe.

In the second camp are parties including Spain’s Vox, the Austrian Freedom Party, Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, and Italy’s League (which is closely allied with FdI). These parties are also often described as being ‘radical right’, nationalist-conservative, or hard-right populist parties.

Meloni has a lot in common with the leaders of parties in the second group: she openly supports Vox, has said she “gets on very well” with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and has had a lot of help in raising her party’s profile from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

Within Italy, the label ‘estrema destra’ (far or extreme right) is mostly reserved for neofascist groups like CasaPound and Forza Nuova, which openly revive the symbols, vocabulary and ideas of Mussolini-era fascism.

This is one reason why parties like FdI and the League are often referred to as centrodestra, or ‘centre-right’, in Italian news reports: compared to the likes of CasaPound, they’re seen by some as pretty moderate.

Why is FdI called a ‘post fascist’ party?

While Italian media usually describes FdI as ‘centre-right’ or just right-wing, international media often refers to FdI specifically as a ‘post-fascist’ party.

The reason for this label is historical, and very particular to Italy: FdI is a political descendent of the Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano, MSI) formed by lingering Mussolini supporters after the Second World War.

‘Post-fascist’ then is used to mean that the party has roots in the extreme right and that this history has shaped its ideology. That is as opposed to the League, for example, which may fit the description of ‘far right’ or ‘radical right’ but doesn’t have historical links to fascism.

You don’t have to look far to see the influence of the past in FdI today.

Meloni, one of FdI’s founders, was an activist with MSI as a teenager – during which time she praised Mussolini as a “good politician, the best in the last 50 years” in a French TV interview.

The tomb of Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in the town of Predappio. One hundred years after he took power, the cult of Mussolini persists in Italy and his tomb draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Her party maintains the fascist slogan, “God, family, fatherland”, and FdI’s logo still features the tricolour flame symbol once used by the MSI. 

Even many of the party’s members have said the party should stop using the controversial flame symbol – including Rachele Mussolini. (Yes, a relation: the dictator’s granddaughter is a Fratelli d’Italia councillor in Rome, while his great-grandson, Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini, also stood as a candidate for FdI in the 2019 European parliamentary elections.)

But Meloni has passionately defended the tricolour flame for its historical significance, while on the other hand maintaining that there is no place for fascist “nostalgia” in her party.

While this nostalgia or symbolism is concerning enough in a country where Mussolini is still worshipped by some – and his rule viewed at least somewhat favourably by many – more importantly FdI’s ideology today is clearly influenced by those roots in the extreme right.

Does FdI have fascist elements today? 

Meloni presents herself as a no-nonsense, patriotic “Christian mother”, and angrily denies that her party is “fascist”.

In August, she shared a multilingual video message aimed at the international press in which she said “fascism has been consigned to history”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s far right set for easy victory under Giorgia Meloni

But the recent actions of some senior members of her party suggest that they’re not all on the same page.

In the run up to this election, several FdI candidates have attracted attention for expressing extremist views. The party suspended its regional leader for Sicily, Calogero Pisano, earlier this week after he published a series of Facebook posts praising Adolf Hitler.

Milan’s public prosecutor also this week opened an investigation after a video showed Romano La Russa, the party’s candidate for the Lombardy region, doing a Roman salute. Both he and the party immediately defended the gesture as a “military tradition”, despite the obvious associations in Italy and beyond.

Last October, Carlo Fidanza resigned as FdI leader in the EU Parliament after an undercover investigation revealed his neofascist links and alleged money laundering, and showed footage of, among other things, various FdI leaders trading fascist jokes and Roman salutes.

Are FdI’s policies far-right?

The party has never been in power at a national level, and its election manifesto is vague, so there’s not a lot of policy to judge the party on – but overall it’s clear that FdI holds a strongly conservative, nativist position and any future policies it enacts if in government would no doubt align with this.

Mudde argues the eventual goal of radical right parties is “an ethnocracy”, which he describes as “a democracy in which citizenship is based on ethnicity”. 

“It wants to (re)create this monocultural state by closing the borders to immigrants and giving “aliens” a choice between assimilation or repatriation,” he argues. 

This is a pretty good description of FdI’s ideology.

As well as its proposed anti-immigration policies, which include calls for “naval blockades” at sea, the party regularly suggests that governments should prioritise driving up the country’s plummeting birth rates in order to prevent the “extinction of Italians”.

Meloni’s opposition to naturalisation is well documented. Not only has she spoken out against extending citizenship rights to children born in Italy to immigrant parents, her party is against the widely supported ‘Ius Scholae’ proposal that would bring citizenship rights for children who are born to foreign parents but complete their education in Italy.

Supporters of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party hold banners featuring the tricolour flame. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

As well as telling supporters that the “secular left” and “radical Islam” are “menacing our European roots”, Meloni has repeatedly and explicitly promoted the ‘great replacement’ theory, a conspiracy theory endorsed by the extreme and radical right in many countries.

In one example, Meloni said in 2017 that “left-wing” governments’ response to Italy’s falling birth rate was to “finance the invasion to replace Italians with immigrants and gift citizenship through ius soli” (i.e. citizenship for children born in Italy to non-Italian parents).

This belief, and Meloni’s talk of replacing Italy’s parliamentary democracy with a “democracy of the people”, points to a more extreme underlying ideology.

So are they far-right? 

Yes, Brothers of Italy absolutely fits the profile of a far-right party.

The party fits the description of ‘radical right’, with roots in the extreme right, and some remaining extreme right elements.

Find all The Local’s latest Italian election reporting and analysis here.

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ENERGY

What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

After Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Italy on Saturday, many are wondering what consequences the stoppage will have on the country’s energy supplies.

What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

What’s going on?

Over the past three days, Italy has received none of the gas supplies it expected from Russian energy giant Gazprom. 

The impasse officially started last Saturday, when Gazprom announced it would not be able to deliver gas to Italy due to “the impossibility of gas transport through Austria” – Russian gas supplies are delivered to Italy through the Trans Austria Gas pipeline (TAG), which reaches into Italian territory near Tarvisio, Friuli Venezia-Giulia. 

READ ALSO: Russia suspends gas to Italy after ‘problem’ in Austria

Though Gazprom originally attributed the problem to Austrian gas grid operators refusing to confirm “transport nominations”, Austria’s energy regulator E-Control said that the Russian energy mammoth had failed to comply with new contractual agreements whose introduction had been “known to all market actors for months”. 

Additional information about the incident only emerged on Monday, when Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of Italy’s national energy provider ENI, said that supplies had been suspended after Gazprom failed to pay a 20-million-euro guarantee to Austrian gas carrier Gas Connect. 

Descalzi also added that ENI was ready to step in and deposit the guarantee itself in order to unblock deliveries to Italy.

Logo of Italian energy regulator ENI.

Italian energy regulator ENI said it was ready to pay Austrian gas carriers a 20-million-euro guarantee to unblock deliveries. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

READ ALSO: Italy’s ENI ready to pay guarantee to unblock Russian gas

At the time of writing, however, no agreement between ENI, Gas Connect and Gazprom has yet been reached, with the stoppage expected to continue until Wednesday at the very least.

What would an indefinite stoppage mean for Italy’s upcoming winter season?

Though energy giant ENI appears to be confident that a compromise between all the involved parties will be reached shortly, the “indefinite shutdown” of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in early September is somewhat of a menacing precedent. 

After fears of a long-term supply suspension cropped up over the weekend, outgoing Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani publicly reassured Italians that “barring any catastrophic events, Italy will have the whole of winter covered”.

It isn’t yet clear what exactly Cingolani meant by “catastrophic”, but the latest available data seem to suggest that Italy wouldn’t have to resort to emergency measures, chiefly gas rationing, should Gazprom halt deliveries indefinitely. 

Italian Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani.

Outgoing Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani said that, “barring any catastrophic events”, Italy will have enough gas supplies for the winter. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

In 2021, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Italy received around 20 billion cubic metres of Russian gas per year, which accounted for about 40 percent of the country’s annual gas imports. 

But, thanks to the supply diversification strategy carried out by outgoing PM Mario Draghi and his cabinet over the past few months, Russian gas currently accounts for, in the words of ENI’s CEO Claudio Descalzi, only “about nine to 10 percent” of Italian gas imports.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Draghi criticises Germany over latest energy plan

Granted, Italy still receives (or, given the current diplomatic deadlock, expects to receive) a non-negligible total of 20 million cubic metres of Russian gas per day. But, should supply lines between Rome and Moscow be shut off until further notice, Italy could fall back on existing gas stocks to meet winter consumption demands. 

Last Wednesday, Cingolani announced that the country had already filled up 90 percent of its national gas stocks – Italy has nine storage plants for an overall storage capacity of 17 billion cubic metres of gas – and the government was now working to bring that number up by an additional two or three percentage points.

These supplies, Cingolani said, are set to give Italy “greater flexibility” with respect to potential “spikes in winter consumption”.

Gas storage station in Loenhout, Belgium.

Italy has nine storage plants for an overall storage capacity of 17 billion cubic metres of gas. Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

Finally, Italy is expected to receive an additional four billion cubic metres of gas from North Europe over the winter months – deliveries which will be complemented by the first shipments of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) from Egypt.

Both of these developments are expected to further reinforce Italy’s position in the energy market for the cold season.

What about the long-term consequences of an indefinite stoppage?

An indefinite shut-off of Russian gas supplies would effectively anticipate Italy’s independence from Moscow by nearly two years – Draghi’s plan has always been to wean the country off Russian gas by autumn 2024.

However, the Italian government’s strategy is (or, perhaps, was, as a new government is about to be formed) centred around a gradual phasing out of Russian supplies. As such, although not immediately problematic, a ‘cold-turkey’ scenario might create supply issues for Italy at some point during 2023.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How much are energy prices rising in Italy this autumn?

Granted, Algeria, whose supplies currently make up 36 percent of Italy’s national demand, is expected to ramp up gas exports and provide Rome with nine billion cubic metres of gas in 2023.

But, even when combined with LNG supplies from several African partners – these should add up to a total of four billion cubic metres of gas in 2023 – there’s a risk that Algerian gas might not be able to replace Russian gas on its own.

An employee works at the Tunisian Sergaz company, that controls the Tunisian segment of the Trans-Mediterranean (Transmed) pipeline, through which natural gas flows from Algeria to Italy.

Algerian gas supplies, which reach Italy through the Trans-Med pipeline (pictured above), might not be enough to replace Russian gas in 2023. Photo by Fethi BELAID / AFP

Therefore, should an indefinite shut-off be the ultimate outcome of the current diplomatic incident between ENI, Austria’s Gas Connect and Russia’s Gazprom, Italy, this time in the person of new PM Giorgia Meloni, might have to close deals with other suppliers or ask existing suppliers to ramp up production. 

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