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High on a hill: Meloni and the five-star luxury of a right-wing victory day

The Journal’s Niall O’Connor reports from Rome.

Image: DPA/PA Images

DURING THE ITALIAN election campaign Giorgia Meloni gathered her supporters in the historic surrounds of the Piazza del Popolo for rallies and a call to arms. 

Above that huge Roman square, and across the ancient steps you can take a walk upwards through a massive, two-kilometre-long park way which contains a largescale dog park and a zoo.

In the leafy suburbs beyond it you reach the plush surrounds of the five-star Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel and Spa. 

It is here, surrounded by police and security, where Meloni and her party faithful have based themselves for the final decisive moments of their successful campaign. 

The Journal called there today to chat to some of those who will now hold the reins of power in Italy’s parliament. 

We arrived just as a press conference began with three of the leaders of Fratelli d’Italia speaking to the gathered Italian media. In a packed events room supporters mingled with the press and clapped loudly as the three speakers completed their answers. 

This was a sophisticated set up – two massive screens fill the space as cameras stream the content of the show to social media amid a backdrop of the party’s blue, white, green and red colours. 

Speaking to party officials about the possibility of a celebratory rally in nearby Piazza del Popolo they said that it will not happen because this would be the wrong message to send the suffering voters. 

IMG_2453 Inside the party press conference. Source: Niall O'Connor/The Journal

One party official told The Journal that the feeling “is low, there is so much work to do”. 

But there were celebrations inside the room where the press conference was taking place with hand shaking and hugs and offers of “complimenti” and “grande” – both used in Italy to say congratulations and well done. 

Elected senator

After the events drew to a close we spoke to two party members, a newly elected Senator Lavinia Mennuni and Marco Marsilio, the President of the Abruzzo region.

Mennuni won her contest to become a senator in the heart of Rome – she said she is tired and spent much of the campaign surviving on four hours sleep. 

She speaks about the country’s crippling poverty which she said some of the blame for this can be laid at high taxation. 

Away and down the hill from the five-star hotel that impoverished society is very obvious – with crumbling buildings, vacant shop fronts and tents of homeless people living underneath the bridges along the banks of the Tiber river.

Most recent statistics from the Italian statistics office said that more than two million households were in absolute poverty (an incidence of 7.7%) with a total of more than 5.6 million individuals (an incidence of 9.4%).

This was a increase from the previous figures associated with 2019 when the incidence was, respectively, 6,4% and 7.7%.

When it comes to taxation rates from the OECD said the average rate Italians pay is 29.6%.

The OECD said that take-home pay for an average single Italian worker, after tax and benefits, was 70.4% of their gross wage, compared with the OECD average of 75.4%. 

For comparison the OECD said that the “tax wedge” for the average single worker in Ireland increased by 0.3 percentage points from 33.7% in 2020 to 34.0% in 2021.

The OECD average tax wedge in 2021 was 34.6% (2020, 34.6%). In 2021, Ireland had the 24th lowest tax wedge among the 38 OECD member countries, occupying the same position in 2020.

“Well, I think that the main thing that is similar in all these political parties is the centrality of the populations needs that have not been looked after by the governments in these years,” Mennuni said. 

“Now we are living in a period of crisis, for example, in Italy, and maybe in many other European countries and so the populations look at us as the only real solution for very important problems.

“In Italy, we have a great poverty at the moment. There is a very high taxation and so we really need to change in this very difficult moment.” 

IMG_2456 (1) Lavinia Mennuni inside the party headquarters. Source: Niall O'Connor/The Journal

The party is well known by its slogan a Christian epithet “God, fatherland and family” – her party leader Giorgia Meloni has spoken about her belief in Catholic teachings. 

Mennuni echoed her party leader and said: “We have always believed in the fact that traditions are very important. That is why we’ve always worked in that direction and we’re going to continue doing so.” 

Mennuni echoed that and claimed that a low birthrate in Italy is also a problem that needs to be solved to help her country recover.

“There is a low birthrate – we don’t have many children and so that is a very important problem.

“Because in the long period, it makes nations poorer and so we need to work on that and it’s one of the main things on which we’re going to work,” she added. 

There have been concerns about Meloni’s rhetoric around the rights of same sex couples and the rights of trans people. 

“Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby! Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology! Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death!” Meloni roared in a speech in Spain in June.

Those Catholic values extend to the privacy of the family home and to Mennuni and her party’s leader’s belief that marriages should only be between a man and a woman. 

“We believe in marriage between people of different sexes, because we think that they have to be helped in doing a family.

“We believe that a child has to have a mummy and daddy. And they’re very simple, actually, things that many, many people believe in, but rather, Brothers of Italy, has always said these things in a very clear way. And this is the result that we’ve just obtained – a very important result,” she added. 

IMG_2460 Police watch over the hotel where Giorgia Meloni is staying. Source: Niall O'Connor/The Journal

The origin story of Meloni is that as a 15-year-old she was already politically active having joined the Fronte Della Gioventù, the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI).

The history of that party harks back to the days of Mussolini as the organisation was formed by Giorgio Almirante, a minister in the fascist dictator’s government.

‘Mystique’

Fratelli d’Italia has had issues with fascism – just a week before the election Meloni sacked a member for praising Hitler.

In her early campaigning for the National Alliance at age 19, Meloni herself told a French television programme that “Mussolini was a good politician, in that everything he did, he did for Italy”.

Marco Marsilio claims that their problem is the fact that there is a “mystique” around right-wing politicians.

He claimed the only reason that Fratelli d’Italia was being called neo-fascist was because the Democratic Party had a communist history. 

“I think that there is a lot of sementalisation and mystification that is natural for our political movement – we have to see that we are a right-wing movement and not far right ultra right,” he said. 

Marsilio adds that newspaper and journalists have accused the party of being fascists for the reason of them being conservatives.

“We are not fascism,” he added. 

The incoming right-wing coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League party have a joint programme for government, including tax cuts and promises to cut mass migration. 

Meloni has called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving north Africa towards Italy.

Meloni has spoken of her opposition to the EU but it is expected that she will offer less resistance given how much Italy takes in EU post-covid funding. 

It’s expected that Italy’s current foreign policy, particularly around support for supplying Ukraine with weapons, will remain mostly the same under Meloni.

That is despite Salvini and Berlusconi both speaking in favour of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The result means that Enrico Letta of the Democratic Party effectively said he would resign after his centre-left formation did worse than expected at 19 percent.

Letta, a former premier who had repeatedly warned Meloni was a danger to democracy, said he would not be a candidate in an upcoming leadership contest.

Across town Letta described the victory of Meloni “as a sad day for Italy and for Europe”.

He strongly criticised the Draghi Government members, particularly Five Star Movement head Giuseppe Conte as Letta sought to apportion blame for his party’s disastrous showing at the polls.

“Hard days await us because of Conte who brought down the Draghi government, handing Italy over to the right.

“Everything stems from Conte’s decision to bring down Draghi. I think this then, as I said, having chosen not to run for the congress, others will manage. To set up the legislature and manage this phase, I believe that it would be the last gift to the right if there were oppositions that go in no particular order.

“I think that to counter this right it is necessary to resume the ranks of relations and not each go on his own,” he said as reported by Italian television station Rai. 

While Letta predicts a disaster for Italy the Fratelli d’Italia movement will quietly celebrate tonight in the plush five star hotel high on the hill.

Whether their mix of old Vatican dogma and Italy-first nationalist rhetoric will lead the country out of its economic quagmire will take longer to see clearly than the impending prosecco bill. 

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