Italy will elect a new parliament on Sunday. Everything indicates that the right around nationalist Meloni is celebrating a clear victory. This can be a turning point. There is concern in Europe.
"Am I scaring you?" asks Giorgia Meloni off the stage into the crowd. "No!" screamed the people in Rome's Piazza del Popolo. Meloni smiles. Then she, too, gets louder and lists why not her supporters, but many other compatriots and especially Europe, are looking forward to the elections on Sunday with great concern.
The legal alliance around Meloni is the clear favourite, only a huge surprise can prevent victory. With the populists, nationalists, Orban friends, Putin fans, EU-Skeptics, law-and-order politicians, anti-immigration, anti-abortion and anti-LGBT people, the country faces a tough change of direction.
After a good year and a half under the well-respected Mario Draghi and his multi-party government Italy violently to the right, as all surveys suggest. And Meloni has a good chance of leading the 68th government in the Republic's history since World War II. The 45-year-old would be the first woman to hold the office.
Italian version of "Make America Great Again"
"Ready to get Italy back on its feet" is written on stickers, buses, posters and leaflets from Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia party, the brothers of Italy. It sounds like the Italian version of Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again". Critics fear that Meloni could change and isolate the EU heartland in a similar way to Trump as President of the United States. At the same time, Italy experienced just below Draghi an economic boom and felt on par with Germany and France. "The fun is over!" Meloni said towards the EU.
The favored right is partly openly opposed to Brussels, European laws, for example, are to be subordinated to national ones again. Meloni is friends with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Her party voted in the European Parliament in Strasbourg against a report according to which Hungary is no longer a full-fledged democracy.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen indicated on Thursday that her authority had "tools" should Italy, like Hungary or Poland, disregard principles of the European Union. Lega boss Matteo Salvini, one of Meloni's allies, complained that this was a "shabby threat" and that the comment was "disgusting and arrogant".
Insults outweigh factual issues
That's roughly the tone of the short summer election campaign in the Mediterranean country following Draghi's resignation in July. Insults and insinuations outweighed factual issues. This was mainly due to the polarization that provoked the right, which had long been united. The centre-left around the Social Democrats largely concentrated in public perception on warning against Meloni and Co. and portraying the right as a catastrophe for Italy. According to polls, the left is far behind.
The Fratelli top candidate wants to ward off Mediterranean migrants with a naval blockade off Africa, is against adoptions by homosexual couples and has already grumbled against an alleged "LGBT lobby" - the abbreviation LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. She also wants to "extend" abortion rights - critics say: restrict them. But their partners also worry many: Lega boss Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi from Forza Italia.
Because the two right-wing populists had close ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin, some fear that Italy will cave in to joint EU action against Moscow. Berlusconi only caused an uproar on Thursday evening when he said that Putin had been "urged" to invade Ukraine. The 85-year-old also claimed that his longtime friend in the Kremlin wanted to install a "decent people" government in Kyiv.
Until the outbreak of war, Salvini was an ardent supporter of Putin and had put on a T-shirt with Putin's face both on Red Square in Moscow and in the European Parliament. He wants to end the West's current sanctions against Moscow, which, according to Salvini, hurt the Europeans more than the Russians.
As a former shooting star, the former interior minister has been overtaken on the right by Meloni in recent months and has been left far behind. This was also visible on Thursday evening in the Piazza del Popolo, where, alongside Meloni, all the other speakers looked like extras. Berlusconi, for years the face of Italy's centre-right, was the first to speak of all party leaders. The mood was like at a rock concert when one of the first support bands appears in the late afternoon and most of the listeners are still standing around at the drinks stand.
Meloni: "Italy is not afraid!"
Meloni is the leader, her Fratelli provided most of the fans on the pitch. The fact that the "Brothers of Italy" is a successor party to the fascists in Italy and that Meloni is "proud" to have a blazing flame in the party logo - which reminds many of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini - worries abroad more than in Italy. The fact that, according to experts, the financial plans of the right, including tax cuts or the proposal to take on further debt, can hardly be realized is often lost in the emotional debates.
Meloni is slowly finishing her speech in the Piazza del Popolo. She has railed against the health ministry's measures to combat the coronavirus, announced constitutional reform without a broad consensus if necessary, and promised to build new prisons for thieves, dealers, mafiosi and rapists. Then she says the right is ready for victory and the government: "Italy is not afraid!"