'Patriotic Opposition': An Interview With Giorgia Meloni
The leader of Fratelli d’Italia reflects on the future of Italy, Europe, and conservatism.
In light of this weekend's Italian election results, we hope you'll revisit this interview with the new prime minister.
In recent years, Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing Italian party Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), has proven herself to be one of the most interesting politicians in Europe. Thanks in part to a change in the party’s direction—and its transformation into a more conservative party—its popularity among voters has grown from 3 percent to 17 percent over the past few years.
In late September 2020, Meloni was elected president of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party (ECR Party), which is represented at the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, Committee of Regions, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Founded in 2009, the ECR Party comprises 44 national parties from around the world. These include Canada’s Conservative Party, the Forum for Democracy in the Netherlands, Poland’s Law and Justice party, Australia’s Liberal Party, Israel’s Likud Movement, Spain’s Vox, the Sweden Democrats, and the Grand Old Party of the United States.
Not limiting her political work to Italy or even Europe, Meloni has developed an international network—a testament to her understanding that to be truly effective, conservative political parties need to work in partnership with fellow conservatives. This has led to her being invited to CPAC as a guest speaker in March 2019, and then being asked to deliver a keynote address at Yoram Hazony’s National Conservatism Conference in Rome in early February 2020. Then, just a few days later, Meloni also spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
Today, the Fratelli d'Italia is the only political party in Italy not to have joined the governing coalition led by the establishment candidate, Mario Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank. For this, Meloni has been lauded and her party has seen a surge in support. We recently had the opportunity to speak with her---and conducted the following exclusive interview.
The globalist left today represents a threat to many of the things that are precious to us: family, religion, tradition. What role can Italy—and, specifically, the Fratelli d'Italia—play in resisting the constant attacks in these areas? What can Europeans do?
MELONI: The values of the Western tradition are under attack all over the world. It is a difficult battle, and on the part of the cultural and political left there is a recrudescence of efforts to suppress dissenting voices. Large financial concentrations, “big tech,” and most of the media are allied with the mainstream attempt to eradicate everything that refers to the concepts of identity and belonging. They seek to replace human beings with de-personalized individuals, and communities with masses—reducing people to perfect global consumers.
In this struggle, Europe is a fundamental battlefield because here lie our civilization’s strongest roots—and it is in these trenches that we must fight. While we know that the common sense of most people [protects them from] the globalist narrative, we must find adequate cultural and political expressions [for our ideas]—so that we can be a majority and change things.
The Sweden Democrats recently started a new conservative think-tank, Oikos, while in Spain, the Vox party has founded Disenso. Do you think there is a need for something similar in Italy—perhaps a think-tank close to the Fratelli d’Italia?
MELONI: I think it is important for us to be aware that it is not enough to have the right ideas. We must also have the right tools to support the “good fight.” So, strengthening the network of conservative think-tanks—also in Italy—is thus also essential for us to win.
Which conservative thinkers—in Italy, Europe, or the United States—do you draw inspiration from? What texts or ideas guide you?
MELONI: Conservative thought is very rich. It would be too easy to answer by quoting the late Sir Roger Scruton, whose absence is really felt. We could go back in time to the works of Edmund Burke or Joseph de Maistre, passing through the Conservative Revolution in Germany; or to the very Italian thinkers, Giuseppe Prezzolini and Giovanni Papini, or Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and Luigi Pirandello … and who knows how many others! At the same time, we cannot forget the teachings of two great popes like St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The best thing about conservative thought is that none of these giants are totally aligned—nor can they be aligned—with one ideological orthodoxy. And that is the great—perhaps the most beautiful—difference between conservatism and the left.
Many commentators claim that nationalist-populism—what Italians call “sovranismo” [sovereigntism]—is waning and being replaced by conservatism. Do you agree with this thesis?
MELONI: I think it is not always easy to clearly distinguish between these two galaxies. In Italy, for example, it is not easy at all—that’s why both words sovranisti (sovereigntists) and conservatori (conservatives) appeared in our party’s logo at the last European elections . They are two terms that do not overlap but can still coexist—and the large patriotic and identity parties have a duty to ensure that they do coexist.
If we think about it, there is no true sovereignty without a defense of traditional values—because the identity of a people rests on them. Similarly, there is no conservatism without a love of country and a defense of national interests. The real challenge then is not to see one outweigh the other, since this would play right into the hands of the globalists but rather to make a virtuous synthesis so that both can grow—to make patriotic parties and their ideas grow.
What role does the United States have in Europe’s future? How do you see the possibility of maintaining an alliance with the U.S. (especially now that there has been a change of government)?
MELONI: Europe and the United States are the two pillars of the West. They must necessarily remain allies. The strategic autonomy of Europe is a necessity, particularly in order to build the [European political landscape]; but this should not be interpreted as friction with the U.S.
Unlike the many fanatical Biden enthusiasts, I do not believe that Europe will particularly benefit from the new U.S. administration. Of course, we must at the very least hope that Biden will not start to inflame—as per Democratic tradition—the Middle East or other crisis scenarios close to us. The consequences of such actions would be anything but positive or friendly for us Europeans.
In international matters, how do you view relations with China?
MELONI: I consider China a great challenge—but also a great threat. I am, of course, not referring to the Chinese people, who have a thousand-year history that I deeply respect. I am referring to the Chinese Communist Party that has built the greatest socialist dictatorship on the planet, combined with the most ferocious system of contemporary capitalist exploitation.
This is why rebalancing the global market—moving from the unregulated globalization of free trade to a balanced market under the banner of “fair trade”—is for us a lodestar. This must be combined with the protection of human rights and a defense of religious freedom: what is happening in Hong Kong or the persecution of Catholic or Uighur minorities is not acceptable.
What is the greatest challenge that Europe and the West will have to face in the coming years?
MELONI: First of all, a return to growth, increasing wealth by distributing it more fairly, defending small businesses and the “real economy”—which risk being crushed by the large concentrations of speculative finance—and pursuing environmental sustainability without forgetting the economic sustainability of businesses. Then, we must rediscover our own identity and defend the foundations of an ordered society—starting with the family and our local communities.
We must also ensure that the West returns to the forefront of global affairs—by building alternatives to the overwhelming power of China; containing regional expansionist attempts like that of Erdogan’s Turkey; not abandoning Africa or leaving it in the hands of a new colonialism—this time Chinese; stopping uncontrolled immigration (instead of encouraging it); and defending religious freedom, and our Christian brothers and sisters being persecuted around the world.
The Fratelli d'Italia is the only party that has chosen not to join the new government headed by Mario Draghi. What is the reason for this decision?
MELONI: We did not agree with the formation of this government because we believe Italy is not a second-rate democracy, and that we could—and should—have gone back to the polls to ask Italians to choose a new government, one that is better than the previous two. We remain faithful to the solemn commitment made to voters in 2018 to not form a government with the left or the [populist] Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement or M5S)—not because we are obstinate but because we believe that with such “traveling companions”—who are, in many ways, quite incompatible—there is no possibility of achieving what the voters expect from us.
We don’t want to be in opposition forever. We are already in government in many important regions and cities, and we are preparing for the national challenge. But the right to be part of government [due to votes obtained] does not mean we should do so with any government. We will enter government only when the voters ask us to with their votes—and only with our center-right allies.
The other center-right forces—the Lega and Forza Italia—have instead joined the government. Doesn't this risk creating a split in the Italian center-right?
MELONI: We have always defended the idea of having a united center-right. In fact, we managed to remain united and together win in many regions—even during the so-called giallo-verde (yellow-green) season (2018-19), with [the Five-Star Movement and] the Lega in government, and the Fratelli d'Italia and Forza Italia in the opposition. We hope to be able to do it again this time, starting with the upcoming regional elections in Calabria and the administrative elections in Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin, and Bologna.
As for the rest, we in parliament will continue to preside over the center-right, and to defend the conservative values and the program of 2018. We will also help center-right ministers to not get crushed by the [left-wing] axis formed by the Partito Democratico, M5S, Italia Viva, and Liberi e Uguali, which currently form the majority in the governmental line-up. And make no mistake: this would have been the case even if the Fratelli d'Italia had been in the majority.
Some commentators have said that by not joining Draghi’s broad consensus government, the Fratelli d'Italia risks being isolated at the international level. Do you think they are right?
MELONI: Look, as president of the ECR Party, which has 44 member parties and solid international ties, I find it difficult to feel isolated. Perhaps it is worth remembering that in all other advanced democracies, governments are chosen by the voters—and not by the palace [of government], despite Draghi’s own personal credibility. None of our conservative partners [across Europe] govern with the left. Paradoxically, had I not chosen to be in the opposition, which is admittedly a difficult path, I would have isolated myself from my own political family.
Earlier this year, the Fratelli d'Italia cast a vote of no-confidence in the new Draghi government. Instead, you announced the mounting of a "responsible opposition." How will this materialize?
MELONI: Actually, I defined it as "patriotic opposition."
When there’s a vote on measures that are truly [beneficial for] Italians, we won’t lack the votes, just as we have never lacked the votes during the previous giallo-verde government [of the M5S and the Lega] or during the failed giallo-rosso (yellow-red) government [of the Partito Democratico and the M5S]. We will form an opposition without bias but also without taking shortcuts. We have chosen to be in the opposition precisely to have the freedom to point out when things are wrong.
This is, of course, a freedom that is diminished when the political survival of your ministers depends on the precarious balance of a heterogeneous majority. But it’s a good thing we have exercised this freedom; otherwise, we would have had a government with no opposition at all—which would have made Italy resemble North Korea more than a Western democracy.
The environment is an increasingly important issue for both left and right. Although the left consistently tries to claim sole possession of it, there is a tradition on the right that supports conservation and environmental stewardship. In your opinion, what should be the agenda for a “green conservatism”?
MELONI: Protecting nature is central to conservative thinking. After all, even the term "homeland"—which indicates the “land of our fathers” in a metaphysical sense—is intimately linked with the term “land,” understood as “territory.”
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I grew up with the ideas of Paolo Colli, founder of the first right-wing environmental association in Italy, Fare Verde. Unlike the ideological environmentalism of certain left-wing parties, I do not consider the presence of man or his activities to be [contrary to the] protection of the environment. The challenge for a modern right-wing government is to combine environmental concern with economic growth. Imposing unattainable targets and ever new burdens and costs on companies risks paying much higher social costs.
We conservatives, on the other hand, believe that companies must be guided towards an ecological transformation. The incentives for renewables need to be put in order and investments in alternative fuels need to be made—but always with a view to technological neutrality and ensuring a broad energy mix. It doesn’t make sense to imagine a world where we buy everything from China—where things are often produced by burning coal and where they don’t even know where to dispose of waste—while we have Italian and European supply chains (such as in natural gas) which can be very useful for an ecological transition.
Once again, ours is a pragmatic and realistic attitude—one that brings together a love of nature, the protection of our landscapes, and the sustainability of ecosystems with the activities of man.