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Why Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is better than her reputation

When the former radical Juso Olaf Scholz and Giorgia Meloni, who is considered a post-fascist, have walked the honorary formation in front of the Federal Chancellery this Friday afternoon, they will strive for German-Italian normality.

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Why Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is better than her reputation

When the former radical Juso Olaf Scholz and Giorgia Meloni, who is considered a post-fascist, have walked the honorary formation in front of the Federal Chancellery this Friday afternoon, they will strive for German-Italian normality. Both countries are founding nations of the EU, Italy has always been very proud of it.

Because Italy has been in a tailspin economically and budgetary for some time and Germany sometimes clearly emphasizes its superiority and its dominance in European policy, the relationship between the two countries has cooled. While the Italian left, including Mario Draghi, always remained pro-EU and saw a good partner in Germany, the Italian right has long criticized the EU as a disciplinarian and has accused Germany of wanting to use its economic power to impose a Germanic Europe.

A clear right-wing coalition has been in power in Italy for about 100 days now, which – in addition to Prime Minister Meloni – includes a number of personalities who recently indulged in anti-Teutonic rhetoric quite uninhibitedly. This polemic has now almost died down. This is just one example of how the new Italian government has so far failed to live up to fears that Italy is on the way to right-wing totalitarianism.

Meloni herself has long downplayed the aversion to everything German that is said to be her. Her dislike is only due to the fact that she was not tested in French for the oral Abitur, but in German, which she spoke less well.

There can be no talk of a right-wing conservative turn in Italy. Those who consider Meloni to be an almost fascist must also take note of this. These critics have come up with an explanation for the fact that she is emphatically pro-EU and continues to support Ukraine against her two coalition partners that cannot be refuted by empirical evidence. They claim that Meloni is only pretending, lulling Europe's public. They approach state authoritarianism on velvet paws.

However, there is little evidence of this. Because the most important feature of their previous government policy is that this consistency is lacking. Everything looks piecemeal. And seems to deny her always powerfully formulated claim that she stands for strong and relentless leadership. In fact, this government is sometimes astonishingly headless. The first measure was the ban on unregistered rave parties. These may cause annoyance - they are not a central security problem. One asked oneself: Aren't there more important things?

Equally strange is the government's egg dance on the phone tapping issue. The Minister of Justice wants to restrict them. And not because he shares the concerns of the left about the surveillance state, but because he is on the side of Silvio Berlusconi, whose dubious business practices also became public through phone tapping. The prime minister, on the other hand, praises the recent arrest of mafia boss Messina Denaro thanks to phone surveillance. Which, in turn, hasn't stopped her from suing anti-mafia writer Roberto Saviano for calling her a "bastard."

This back and forth, this internal contradiction of the Meloni government is an indication that it is just as entangled in clientelism and party politics as so many of its predecessor governments. A particularly enlightening example of this is the "differentiated autonomy" currently being discussed by Parliament. The law was introduced by Roberto Calderoli, Minister for "Regional Affairs and Autonomy" and member of the Lega. It used to be secessionist and wanted the richer north to be separated from the poorer south as strictly as possible.

Centralist Meloni, who wants to transform the country into a presidential republic, doesn't like the law at all. But since it is a favorite project of the Lega, they let the matter run for now. And in the hope that it will be ground beyond recognition in the course of the legislative process.

She can count on the fact that protests against the law are already very massive in the south of the country. 200 mayors have already lodged violent protests. In the end, the whole thing will probably end like the Hornberger shooting. The problem of Italian unity has existed since 1860 and will continue to exist.

Nevertheless, one cannot say that Meloni is letting the reins slip. Basically, the three governing parties have little in common apart from the fact that they are against the left. Three ideas or obsessions are gathered: a tight, strict central state (Fratelli d'Italia), socio-politically emaciated northern egotism (Lega) and spending-friendly, unprincipled anti-state populism (Forza d'Italia). Nothing actually goes together.

The fact that Meloni has leadership strength is shown by the fact that she makes (must) make peripheral concessions to her two coalition partners, but consistently asserts herself on core issues: no friendly blinking in the direction of Putin, and a budget that was decided extremely quickly and, above all, is compatible with the EU. And despite the nationalist rhetoric, no attempt at self-sufficiency. But, for example in questions of international relations and Africa policy, a decidedly multilateral approach.

No one can know whether Meloni is pursuing this course out of inner conviction. Just as no one can know whether they will be able (or willing) to hold their ground against the broad-legged self-promoters and igniters Salvini and Berlusconi in the long run.

Certainly, this government is sending signals to the far-right corner. For example, when Senate President La Russa is proud not to take part in anti-fascist commemorations. Or when the culture minister casually claims that Dante Alighieri is the forefather of the Italian right and the Italian cultural nation – even though the nation didn't even exist when he was alive.

And even Meloni herself lacks insight when she continues to claim in ambiguous language that Mussolini may have made various mistakes, for example with the racial laws and entering the war, but he “also achieved a great deal historically”. The land consolidation of Meloni's party is still pending. And if she wants to assert herself in modern Italy, in the EU and in the complicated world of states, she will not be able to avoid it.

Meanwhile, a new bogeyman is looming. The "European Conservatives and Reformists" (ECR) group in the European Parliament, to which Melonis party belongs, is trying to merge with the "European People's Party" (EPP). Manfred Weber, the EPP chairman, does not seem to be averse. Immediately there was a fear that a radical right-wing bloc would form in the European Parliament after the next election. You can also see it differently.

It is quite possible that Meloni will succeed in freeing her party from the fascist-authoritarian legacy and making it the clearly dominant party of the Italian Conservatives. That would fill a gap and possibly help stabilize the country.

It is now widely accepted that conservative parties fundamentally endanger democracy. A few years ago, American political scientist Daniel Ziblatt presented a different perspective in his book Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy. Using the example of the Weimar Republic, he shows that it wasn't just the parties of the extreme right and left that destroyed democracy.

It was even more important that there were no strong conservative parties that were clearly committed to the republic. As a point of reference for that large number of Germans who thought and felt conservatively, they could have prevented the bourgeoisie from slipping into contempt for the republic. If that's true, a strong Conservative group in the European Parliament would not pose a threat. Rather the opposite would be the case. It could help tame the considerable potential for populist resentment floating around across Europe.

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