Denis MacShane / Oct 2022
The election of Giorgia Meloni as prime minister of Italy pushes Europe further to the right. In England a pointless debate broke out on just how “fascist” Meloni is. Monoligual English leftists shouted “Fascist!” as if it was an incantation that would cure Italy of its wrong turn.
Those who welcome any defeat for the left rushed to say she was just a normal ‘centre-right” politician. As an MEP she was elected in 2020 as president of the hard nationalist right European Conservatives and Reformist Party (ECRP) set up in 2009 when David Cameron led the Tories out of the main centre-right EU wide grouping, the European People’s Party.
In the ECRP she presides over parties like Poland’s Law and Justice party which defies EU rules and is the mortal enemy of Poland’s centre-right Civic Platform party, a leading EPP member.
The Tories were loyal ECRP members and presumably would have shared Meloni’s hardline against refugee migrants. She suggested using the Italian Navy to stop any arriving from Libya and disembarking on the shores of Italy just as Boris Johnson and Priti Patel proposed the Royal Navy could stop small inflatables crossing the Straits of Dover with refugees landing on the beaches of Kent.
But we don’t call, or most didn’t call Johnson or Patel “fascist” and whatever Meloni’s dalliances and utterances in her youth about Mussolini and other big cheeses in Italian fascist history some new language or thesaurus is needed to describe European political parties in the 21st century.
Aged 45 she should be a soul sister for Liz Truss, 47, both rightist nationalist conservative leaders of their countries. But Brexit has been a poison pill for Europe’s populist nationalist parties. First Marine Le Pen in France, then the Swedish Democrats and now Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party have dropped all calls to exit the EU, the Euro or get into the kind of losers’ war that Hungary’s Viktor Orban launched against Europe. This led to his expulsion from the European People’s Party and a threat to block EU money vital for the Hungarian economy.
Meloni is not stupid. Italy is promised €192 billion from EU funds to help make good the ravages of the Pandemic and now the hit from Putin’s war on Europe. She won’t promote Italexit, cutting off Italy from European markets and funds.
And that is the paradox of Europe. Its founding fathers from the mid-century were giant post-1945 christian and social democratic parties. They fashioned a network based on open borders, open trade, open movement with common rules to let market economics flourish. Margaret Thatcher saw Europe as giant free market zone and enthusiastically abolished national vetos and increased Britain’s contribution to the EU budget once she had got a modest rebate to satisfy Tory MPs.
The parties that found this or that aspect of EU membership against the wishes of their more populist or identarian voters could only go so far in denouncing Europe.
The new leftist parties like Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise in France, or Die Linke in Germany could win cheers with populist denunciations of the EU but while that helped win votes there were not enough to lead the new Eurosceptic parties to full power.
Only in Britain where William Hague initiated the long march to full-on anti-Europeanism for the Tories culminating in the Brexit vote of 2016 was hostility to Europe taking to its logical end.
But Meloni and other continental hard right parties look at the state of broken Britain. They see the shambles of UK politics since 2016, the slump in growth, the sharp fall in the value of sterling, the rise in poverty and a collapse in public services as the UK’s economy shrinks deprived of full exchange with its neighbours.
So whatever fraternal feelings they might have had with English anti-Europeans any suggestion of linking with them politically is met with a firm “Non Grazie!”
The European right is split down the middle between the post-1945 left-over christian democratic parties and the post 2000 new identity Islamaphobe anti-immigration right. The French Gaullist heritage right candidate won just 4.8% of the vote in France’s presidential election earlier this year. At least this was better than the 1.8% won by the candidate of Labour’s sister party in France, le Parti socialiste.
So the Italian like the French elections have confirmed that European politics is breaking down into a kaleidoscope of parties on the left and the right.
Britain’s much derided first past the post electoral system prevents this from happening. But identity nationalist politics has taken firm hold in Scotland. Labour even if it wins more seats than Liz Truss’s Tories may find as after 1974 it has no majority to govern.
These complexities are rarely discussed by the London commentariat especially on the monolingual BBC. It is so much easier to announce who’s winning and who’s losing.
But if there are any politicians in Britain who hope that as the Brexit wars of 2016 fade and Johnson, Farage, Corbyn and Cummings fall into history’s dustbin some new relationship with European nations can be shaped a much better understanding of Europe’s new politics and new politicians will be needed.