Giorgia Meloni, who is tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister, says she wants an EU fund to help the countries most affected by the energy crisis, and to set up offshore centres to process refugees in Africa.
ROME - A rousing display of nationalistic sentiments marked a joint closing rally by a right-wing coalition which polls say is on course to win Italy’s September 25 snap election.
On Thursday night, flag-waving and slogan-shouting right-wing supporters at Rome’s famed Piazza del Popolo gave enough indications of which way the wind is blowing as the country, reeling under economic distress and staring at a recession, appeared set to elect its first woman prime minister– Giorgia Meloni of Brothers of Italy, which has seen a spectacular rise in its fortunes since the last polls in 2018.
Then, the smallest party in the right-wing coalition with four percent of the vote, it’s tipped to win the election this year with 25 percent of voters backing it -- according to the last available polls published on September 10.
Her coalition includes the Forward Italy party of the octogenarian Silvio Berlusconi, who opened the rally just before 7pm. Italy’s four-time prime minister introduced his allies, Matteo Salvini of the far-right, the anti-migrant League party and Meloni.
However, with 41 percent of voters undecided or planning to abstain, the final results could yet throw up a surprise.
The iconic square, framed by three domed churches with an Egyptian obelisk at the centre, was not full by the time the speeches began. But it was clear from the flags carried by the crowd that most of the hundreds of people gathered here support Meloni. Among them are many under 25s, a demographic that both Forward Italy and the League have a much harder time appealing to, traditionally associated with the neo-liberal, business-friendly right-wing.
“I believe in Giorgia’s vision for Italy,” said Elisabetta Cecchitelli, a 24-year-old activist with Brothers of Italy’s youth wing, National Youth, referring to the leader by her first name.
“An Italy concerned with fighting poverty, helping mothers be mothers and workers, and helping peoples like those in Africa to live in adequate conditions instead of dying at sea,” she told TRT World while brandishing a large flag displaying the party’s symbol – much criticised by its detractors for featuring the tricolour flame, traditionally associated with neo-fascist movements.
“I think that those who still use the term fascism should study history. That was a historical period that ended in 1945.”
Nationalist slogans such as “it’s time for the homeland” abound, but also a series of anti-migration placards that read “no to German slave ships in Italy” and “let’s defend our borders,” the latter at one stage lying on the floor on one side of the square.
While polls put the growing energy crisis and the economy on top of Italians’ concerns ahead of this election, both Meloni and her main rival, Enrico Letta of the centre-left Democratic Party, have similar approaches, backing sanctions on Russia and a cap on the price of gas.
“We want states to distribute equally the burden of sanctions,” Meloni said in her speech, the last and longest, stressing on “a compensation fund financed by western countries to help the worst hit”. She also reiterated her support for Ukraine – an issue on which her allies, particularly Matteo Salvini–have been more ambivalent. While condemning the war, Salvini has argued that the sanctions have damaged Europe more than they have hurt Russia.
But those faultlines in the right-wing coalition were skillfully skirted at the rally, to project an image of unity – the coalition has also presented a common programme – in opposition to the left and centre-left.
Throughout the campaign, Meloni has tried to project a moderate image to reassure international observers and European partners – whose money comes with strings attached.
“They say we are frightening, but who is afraid of us?” she chimed from the stage. “Are you afraid of me?” she asked rhetorically, drawing cheers from the crowd.
But it’s domestic issues rather than foreign policy that draw an ovation, including a reform of Italy’s political system and migration policies.
“We will do what all European countries do: we will defend Italy’s and Europe’s borders,” Meloni said. “We will ask Europe for a mission to negotiate with north African countries to stop the boats from leaving, opening hotspots in Africa managed by the international community, and evaluating in Africa who has the right to asylum.”