Italy’s long history of politicians relying on EU institutional infrastructure and resources to increase their profiles back home comes to the forefront in upcoming national elections, where 12 out of 76 Italian MEPs have presented their candidacy.
Fratelli d’Italia, the current frontrunner in the 25 September elections, has been one of the beneficiaries of the Brussels’ ‘cursus honorum’.
According to pollsters Ipsos, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) is leading the polls with 24%, followed by the Democratic Party (23%), Lega and the 5 Stars Movement, both with 13.4%, and Forza Italia with 8%.
Fratelli d’Italia has undergone a significant change in the last years from being a sovereignist party similar to the French National Rally led by Marine Le Pen to a national conservative party moving towards the centre.
Italy’s far-right leads polls, causes EU headaches
Right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) is now leading the right-wing coalition in the polls with 22.2%, according to polling data from EURACTIV’s partner Europe Elects.
The party has seen its popularity grow in recent years from 4.3% in the …
The party’s European path took a new turn when it joined the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) at the European Parliament in February 2019, becoming a leading national member alongside Poland’s Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS).
Party leader Giorgia Meloni then became ECR president in September 2020.
“The legitimacy of Fratelli d’Italia is also being built at the European level via her links with Berlusconi and the European People’s Party”, Edoardo Bressanelli, associate professor of European Politics at Scuola Superiore Sant’anna in Pisa, told EURACTIV.
According to Bressanelli, Fratelli’s European path has also strengthened its links with the centrist conservative European People’s Party, of which Forza Italia is a member.
Fratelli d’Italia is allied with Forward Italy as well as far-right Lega, sitting in the Eurosceptic Identity and Democracy group, for the elections at home.
Meanwhile, Fratelli MEP Raffaele Fitto, now running in the elections in Italy, was previously a member of ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and president of the Puglia region.
Brussels as part of Italian politicians’ ‘cursus honorum’
Brussels gives more visibility and recognition to politicians in their home country and political parties, paving the way for them to get roles as leaders or top politicians, according to Bressanelli.
However, not all do the Brussels ‘cursus honorum’ or succession of offices of increasing importance with the same commitment and for the same purposes.
Some politicians tend to be more “backbenchers” towards their EU mandate without undertaking important responsibilities. Others, however, become famous due to their hard work and roles in the EU Parliament, and they are eventually recognised as top politicians who could fill high-ranking positions, Bressanelli explains.
Silvio Berlusconi and Carlo Calenda can be considered backbenchers of the European Parliament.
Both of them have different political interests that are not related to EU politics. The first one has been among the most absent politicians in the European Parliament, as reported by Europa Today last January.
He is also very involved in the Italian electoral campaign as the leader of Forward Italy. He is campaigning for national interest topics, such as the idea of a general election of the president of the republic, who is currently voted within the Italian Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.
The hard workers
Antonio Tajani, on the other hand, considered the second most important leader of Forward Italy after Berlusconi, served as EU commissioner (2008-2014) for transport and industry & entrepreneurship and European Parliament president (2017-2019).
“Tajani himself, given his role in the European Parliament later and European Commission before, has become a recognisable leader within the European People’s Party group (EPP)”, argued the expert.
Former social democrat EU Parliament Chief “David Sassoli’s name was mentioned several times for high offices, but unfortunately he died prematurely,” explains Bressanelli.
Similarly, social democrat incumbent Mayor of Rome Roberto Gualtieri – who is not a candidate – became a top politician after passing through Brussels.
He has been an EU lawmaker for ten years (2009-2019) and the Italian Economy minister with the second Giuseppe Conte government (September 2019 – February 2021).
Calenda was busy last year with Rome’s mayoral electoral campaign, and now he is the leader, together with Matteo Renzi, of the Action/Italy Alive coalition.
His endless electoral campaign while serving in the EU Parliament makes his prioritisation of local and national politics clear.
But “the regional level may be more rewarding in terms of networking and building up a career within the party than staying in Brussels”, Bressanelli argued.