Current elections in Europe are revealing a move to the right in politics. In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (dodgy extremist origins, now mainstream centre-right nationalists, anti-liberal immigration and somewhat EU-sceptical) are poised at the time of writing to become the largest partner in a new-right-wing bloc government, ousting the left-wing, progressive administration by the slimmest of margins.
In Italy, the similarly minded Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, fascist origins in the dim and distant past, now long since renounced) are surging in the polls and there is a distinct possibility that its leader, the photogenic Giorgia Meloni, will become Italy’s first-ever female Prime Minister. Of course, the centrist status quo faction and the left have been fighting back, accusing these parties of being ‘fascist’ and ‘alt-right’ so as to rally ‘civilised’ and ‘respectable’ people in opposition against them, as they did against Trump. Assuming they don’t succeed, should right-thinking people everywhere rejoice?
Well, if so, just a tiny bit. But it won’t be worth getting out the bunting and popping the champagne corks. The reality is that any right-wing successes are most unlikely to make any significant, lasting difference to European politics. It feels almost too late for that. The reason is, as is so often the case, the grip of the EU on its continental fiefdoms.
Brussels is a draconian and unforgiving overlord of its subsidiary states’ finances. Remember the cries of Greece crushed in the EU’s financial straight jacket during the Euro crisis epoch, and its neutering of the Greek government’s ability to act? Remember how it engineered events in a coup to unseat Silvio Berlusconi undemocratically in 2011? Italy’s recently resigned PM, Mario Draghi, was the brains behind that one, so there is at least some poetic justice in his recent departure. It is the consequence of that departure that has resulted in the forthcoming Italian general election on 25 September which, on the surface at least, offers most hope to right-wingers.
What is on offer? There is the usual rallying talk of stemming immigration and Islamisation and, in support of family values, withdrawing support of the LGBT lobby, which Meloni professes to detest. It all sounds quite lively, but would the Brothers – or any right-wing party – really do much about any of it? Matteo Salvini, right-wing populist poster boy of the League, made a considerable splash against illegal immigration, but when he and the radical left-wing Five Star Movement went into government coalition they quickly transformed from anti-establishment agitators into pro-establishment rulers.
It is unlikely that the Brothers would be much different. Indeed, reporting on the forthcoming election in the French press, Le Figaro recently recorded how Italy’s right-wing parties, Brothers and all, pledged ‘full adhesion to the European integration process’. So their rightism extends to little more than the EU’s corporatist neo-liberalism with a few minimal economic add-ons that Brussels might condescendingly grant.
They are unlikely to place in jeopardy the billions of euros from the European Covid Recovery Plan coming their way if they behave themselves. (Indeed, the euphemistically named plan is just another blatant push for greater EU control of nation-state members.) It is hard to envisage Italy, the EU’s fourth most populous country, standing up to the EU and going even half as far as the refreshingly recalcitrant governments of Law and Justice in Poland or Orbàn’s Fidesz in Hungary; the powerful and fanatically pro-EU elites in Italy would simply prevent that from happening.
Voter turnout is expected to drop below 60%. Those abstaining can’t be criticised for thinking their votes will make no difference. They are all too familiar with the phenomenon of radical parties berating the establishment in order that they might win entrance to it. Besides, a right-wing coalition led by Meloni would probably not last long anyway.
And all the while the EU is still paying the piper.