What the “Recomposition” Of The Far And Radical Right in Europe Means For Canada

What can the reordering of European conservative politics show Canada about mainstreaming the far-right?

Peter Smith
Canadian Anti-Hate Network



Giorgia Meloni is the latest Prime Minister of Italy, after the party she co-founded won 24 per cent of the vote in an October election. With messages of congratulations coming in from world leaders across the political spectrum, response to the election of a political party that experts call far-right from abroad has been acknowledgement and often congratulations. This includes a message from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the fellow NATO partner and ally. 

The election itself, however, is the latest seeing a populist, far-right party rising to not just seats of power but influential positions in national government. Their campaigns often do little to hide anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ+, and nativist policies.

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Part of a coalition of right-wing political parties, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia) surged ahead of the previously more popular Forza Italia and Lega party, her main partners in the Right Alliance that now forms the government. 

Brothers of Italy, the country’s largest party, and the right-wing coalition took 43.7 per cent of votes in the Chamber of Deputies, and 44.02 per cent in the Italian senate.

Coverage of the Brothers has been swift in pointing to the party’s “post-fascist” origins. This is not due to its alignment with the radical or far-right, but the party’s direct connections to Benito Mussolini’s last government.

ll Duce met his end after being captured attempting to flee to Switzerland and members of his government went on to form the post-war Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano). This includes the founder, Giorgio Almirante, a chief of staff for Mussolini’s party.

Rising to be the fourth largest party in the country during the 1960s, the Italian Social Movement failed to achieve any significant grasp on the reins of power. In 1995, it rebranded yet again into the Nationalist Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale) as part of attempts to present a more moderate image. Nationalist Alliance retained the tri-colour flame of Italy – a symbol for the Italian Social Movement and now adopted by the Brother of Italy.

Meloni served as the youngest ever vice-president of the National Alliance in 2006

In December 2012, Giorgia Meloni founded the Brothers of Italy with former members of Nationalist Alliance, and The People of Freedom (Il Popolo della Libertà) parties. Meloni said Fratelli d'Italia was created to "embody those values ​​such as participation, democracy, merit.”

Since its founding, the party and its members have expressed numerous views that align with the radical right, including opposition to marriage equality and adoption by LGBTQ+ families. Other members have been exposed as having fascist sympathies or showing support for the reign of Mussolini. 

Some – but not all – of these members have been ousted from the party.

Meloni has advocated on her social media that “the only way to stop illegal immigration is the naval blockade” to turn back migrants. 

Since taking office, one of the earliest actions taken by Meloni was putting forth legislation to ban unlicensed raves, however, critics immediately called out the language of the bill for being broad enough that it could be used to crack down on protests. The proposed law follows a large-scale multi-day Halloween party that was disbursed by police.

The crackdown came while a reported 1,000 demonstrators gathered to commemorate Mussolini’s famous “March on Rome.” 

 

Legitimizing The Far & Radical Right

   

The election has been accepted across the European and North American far-right as a victory, part of a larger trend on the continent.

“Giorgia Meloni is a woman who never gives up. She is Italy's prime minister from today. Congratulations,” Viktor Orbán said on his official Facebook page. 

Orbán, who won his own reelection in a resounding majority in Hungary earlier in the year, has faced numerous attempts to censure his government from the European Union for anti-LGBTQ+ laws, controls of the press, and demonizing of Roma people within Hungary’s borders. Recently, the European Parliament stated that Hungary has suffered a “breakdown in democracy,” which is turning the country into a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy.”

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki offered a “congratulations” to Meloni over social media and the phone.

The Brothers of Italy and Morawiecki’s Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) are both members of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECO), a collection of Eurosceptic parliamentarians focused on “decentralizing” the powers of the European Union.

Despite this association, Meloni denied her party is against the European Union in an interview with Euractiv.

“My party does not have an anti-European wing. We only have one line, which is that of the European conservatives. The pandemic … and the war … have shown us what has not worked in constructing the EU in the last decades,” she said. 

Meloni adds she wants a Europe with “less centralism, more subsidiarity, less bureaucracy, and more politics.”

From national leaders more distant from Meloni on the political spectrum, the response to the news runs the gamut from positivity to pragmatic optimism to silence. 

US President Joe Biden offered public congratulations to the incoming PM after the news of her appointment, but not before making comments about the win in an address discussing the challenges of maintaining democracy in the 21st century  – “You just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election. You’re seeing what’s happening around the world.” 

Canada weighed in as well.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I congratulate Giorgia Meloni on her appointment as Italy’s first woman Prime Minister following the election,” an official statement from the Prime Minister’s office reads.

The PMO also put out a release stating Meloni and Trudeau had shared a phone call.

While many world leaders have received similar accolades as the Italian Prime Minister from Trudeau’s office, not all get the same kudos. The PMO does not issue these edicts for every election. Leaders not to receive congratulations include Orban and Morawiecki. The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to questions about how they select leaders for these official statements. 

 

Warning Signs
  

A standard, banal diplomatic cable for a fellow NATO partner and ally is not controversial. It comes, however, as Europe and the world are seeing an increase in populist, far-right parties rising to legitimate seats of power, often running under a banner of overt racism and anti-LGBTQ+ policies. This legitimizing of far-right rhetoric is an issue in Canada, and is indicative of a salient and growing problem in Europe – where Sweden, Hungary, Poland, and now Italy have all seen electoral wins for the far-right to positions of power. 

The rise of the Brothers, and similar parties in other parts of Europe, is analogous to the path seen of the far-right in Canada. Both countries faced taxing health restrictions imposed by their governments during the pandemic, but Italy in particular suffered greatly under some of the harshest lockdowns and economic damage. 

Canada’s own far-right People’s Party of Canada managed to lose in every riding during the 2021 federal election but did eke out pandemic discontent into 4.90 per cent of the vote, more than doubling their previous totals in 2019. 

Both governments faced issues of unrest during the pandemic. Protests against the Italian “Green pass” previously required at the country's restaurants, cinemas, theatres, stadiums, clubs, or gyms hit a peak in the early fall and winter of 2021. The Government of Canada continues to try to reckon with its own health policy-related backlash throughout the pandemic.

The PPC is likely never to rise to power in the same sweeping motion as Meloni’s party, and Canada and Italy have notably different election and governing structures. Certainly, coalitions do not have a good track record in Canada. Current polls show the PPC dropping between one and 3.5 per cent as the Conservative Party of Canada makes gains under Leader Pierre Poilievre. 

“[Brothers of Italy] went from 4% to 25% in, in less than five years,” said Giulia Sandri, an Associate Professor in Political Science with the European School of Political and Social Sciences in the Catholic University of Lille. “Clearly, there's a recomposition restructuring of the electorate of the right and the far right.”

Despite sometimes seeming to be a ubiquitous term, fascism is a clearly defined political philosophy and worldview. Meloni herself, despite statements from her youth praising Mussolini, does not meet the definition of a fascist or neo-fascist, Sandri told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

“The party is clearly populist radical-right. It accepts the rule of democracy. It doesn't propose to subvert democracy. It's not anti-system, but some elements are less distant from the fascist past than others.”

She adds that the Brothers of Italy “clearly rebranded in a way that dissociated itself with the previous neo-fascist formations of [the Italian Social Movement] to the Nationalist Alliance.”

Part of the Brothers’ electoral success, according to Sandri, has also been strategic image management abroad and symbolic efforts at home that focus on civil rights.

“The ability of Meloni and her campaign staff was really to go on two parallel tracks. One for institutional European international partners and the other for the core electorate on identity politics and those kinds of issues that are clearly owned by far-right parties.”

“The first measures being adopted by the government are clearly symbolic measures to reassure the core electorate, but which have important impacts on rights and social rights, but they have no big impact on, on economic or societal transformations or problems. 

“She has no room for maneuver on that; on energy prices, energy policy, international relations with Russia. She's bound by European rules and European negotiations. She cannot promise to put a cap on energy prices if Europe does not agree to do that.”

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