Quips are good for applause lines, and in politics those are needed as well. But Giorgia Meloni’s barb — “Speranza and Di Maio are ministers and they’re saying our party has a problem with its leadership?” — doesn’t actually solve the problem, the stumbling block that the leader of the number one party of the right, and perhaps the country, must overcome if she wants her project to be more than just a dream. She outlined this goal in front of the 4,600 delegates gathered in Milan for the programmatic convention of the Brothers of Italy (FdI): “Today, conservatives are where real things are happening, this is our time.”
She spoke of a Conservative Party, a Great New Party, something similar to the Republican Party in the U.S. or the Tories in the U.K. — something that has never existed in Italy, and also something very different from the neo-MSI party [i.e. successor of the Italian Social Movement neo-Fascist party] that FdI still is at this point. For such a project, it would take the right political personnel and a social and cultural area of focus which would be at the level of such ambition. Sister Giorgia lacks both one and the other. That’s where the challenge she launched in Milan falters.
Her opening speech was shrewd. The leader aims to shake off the debris of a collapsing sovereignism by reapplying the same recipe, but to the whole of Europe. “We are more pro-European than many Solons in Brussels,” she railed. But Europe must mean an army, common foreign policy, energy independence. If we are defended by the U.S., submission is inevitable, “while we want to be allies and not subjects, so we ask that NATO should have an American and a European column with equal dignity.”
Pro-Europeanists and Atlanticists have lined up without hesitation to support Ukraine because if it capitulated, “it would be the victory not so much of Russia as of China”; while one must not forget the interests of Italy: “We will not be the beasts of burden of the West. In this crisis, there are those who pay in more and those who might gain from it: we ask for a compensation fund in which the entire West would participate, and we ask Draghi to go to Europe to review the NRP in order to intervene on the effects of the crisis.”
She explained the agenda of the party in full: presidentialism; the West has sold out its values; illegal immigrants who “are in Europe without having the right to be there”; the banner of doctrinal coherence against a political class that is “willing to change colors and governments just to save itself.”
But what was missing in her long speech was more significant: any reference to allies, to the coalition, to the center-right. One can bet that the party leader will talk about it in the closing remarks, but the decision not to mention the alliance on Friday is a significant one. FdI is playing a lonely game. The coalition may or may not be there. It might last even after the closure of the polls in the next political elections, but this is not a given, and as everyone knows, Giorgia doesn’t have much faith in it. But the important thing is not the alliance, but the party, which, according to her, “will continue to climb, but keeping its feet firmly planted on the ground.”
But the sore point is none other than the party itself. The decision to hold the convention in Milan instead of in the Roman stronghold has a double significance: it is a challenge to the hegemony that the Lega-FI has always had in the north, and also the announcement of an offensive to win over the “productive classes” that so far have always kept away from a party which is considered, with good reason, to be centralist and statist, part of the legacy of the old MSI. Subverting that ideological structure and widening the ranks of a political staff that is still stuck within the limits of a small neo-MSI party is a necessary precondition in order to hope to succeed. But it is also the most difficult gamble.
The first step is to widen the political-cultural area of focus. This is precisely the real purpose of the convention in Milan: Marcello Pera, Paolo Del Debbio, Giulio Tremonti, Luca Ricolfi are not just there for show. At least according to Meloni’s plan, they are the seed that should transform the political culture of FdI to make it into a liberal and liberalist force, reliable and viewed as such in Italy and abroad. But the issue of the current political personnel remains unresolved, and it is no coincidence that the quip of the day among the audience was: “It would take ten [Guido] Crosettos.” Maybe even more.
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