France and the US have stressed the importance of Italy’s continued commitment to human rights as Giorgia Meloni and her far-right Brothers of Italy party look set to lead a coalition government following Sunday’s general election.
By Monday afternoon, almost final results showed the Brothers of Italy finishing first with around 26% of the vote, leaving it poised to govern and prompting congratulations and expressions of delight from far-right politicians around the world, including from the strongly Eurosceptic governing parties of Hungary and Poland.
France’s prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, said that while she did not want to comment directly on the “democratic choice of the Italian people”, the result meant her country would be monitoring human rights – and, in particular, access to abortion.
“In Europe, we uphold some values and obviously we will ensure, and the president of the commission will ensure, that these values – on human rights, the respect of other people, especially the respect of the right to abortion – will be respected by all [member states],” Borne told French broadcaster BFM TV.
Meloni has said she will maintain the country’s abortion law, which allows terminations but permits doctors to refuse to carry them out. But she has raised alarm among women’s rights advocates by saying she wants to “give to women who think abortion is their only choice the right to make a different choice”.
In a pragmatic and guarded response, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said he respected the Italian people’s electoral decision. “The Italian people have made their democratic and sovereign choice,” he said. “We respect it. As countries that are neighbours and friends, we must continue to work together.”
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, also made a pointed reference to human rights in his message. “We are eager to work with Italy’s government on our shared goals: supporting a free and independent Ukraine, respecting human rights, and building a sustainable economic future,” he said. “Italy is a vital ally, strong democracy, and valued partner.”
Fellow far-right politicians from Europe and beyond were meanwhile quick to offer their congratulations both to Meloni and her party, whose origins lie in neofascism, and to criticise those they saw as their opponents. Jordan Bardella of France’s far-right National Rally directed a jibe at Ursula von der Leyen as he declared that Europeans were “were taking their destiny into their own hands”, saying Italian voters had given the European Commission chief a lesson in humility following her earlier suggestion that Europe had “the tools” to respond if Italy went in a “difficult direction”.
Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) toasted “a further victory for common sense” – and also took a swipe at Von der Leyen. “Despite all the undemocratic warnings from the EU commission president Von der Leyen and other politicians, the Italians have, like the Swedish Democrats before them, decided in favour of a political change,” it said.
Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party, which has forged close links with Meloni, said she had “shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity”. The Italian politician travelled to Spain in June to show her support for Macarena Olona, who launched an unsuccessful bid to win the presidency of the southern Spanish region of Andalucía for the party.
Olona, who left Vox following disagreements with the party’s high command – and who has ruled out founding her own rival far-right party for the time being – also offered Meloni her congratulations. “You did it, Giorgia Meloni,” she tweeted. “The love of the Italian people has proved stronger.”
The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, used the election results to criticise the EU sanctions against Russia, saying they had driven up energy prices. He said the sanctions had “backfired”, adding that angry voters were ousting governments in Europe as a result.
Russia, meanwhile, said the election result offered the chance for what it termed “more constructive parties” to rule Italy. “We are ready to welcome any political force able to show itself more constructive in relations with Russia,” said the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov, according to the Tass news agency.
The rightwing Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, extended his congratulations to Meloni in a tweet.
The 27-nation EU is already beset by challenges, including rising inflation and energy costs, and is wary that a far-right Italian leader might joint a strident nationalist bloc, including Hungary and Poland. European leaders will be watching to see if Meloni takes office as a populist firebrand who rallies against the EU, or, as she has in recent weeks, tones down her rhetoric. Meloni has backed EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine war.
One of the strongest responses from European governments came from Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, who said the country would endeavour to have the best possible relationship with the new Italian government, but went further than many other European colleagues by noting that Meloni’s populist policies offered “miracle solutions”, adding that populism always “end the same way – in catastrophe”.
Meloni’s European opponents also sounded the alarm and warned that immediate action needed to be taken.
“The victory of the Italian far right is about the normalisation of hate speech and the lack of brave social policies to protect the social majority,” said Ione Belarra, general secretary of Spain’s far-left, anti-austerity Podemos party. It was time, she added, for “the most urgent and ambitious” debates.
In Greece, Syriza – the party once hailed as the face of the radical left in Europe – said the ascent of the far right harked back to the some of the darkest days of the continent in the 20th century. “It’s obvious that this development is not a bolt out of the blue,” the opposition party said in a statement.
“It is a consequence of inequalities broadening and the collapse of social cohesion as a result of neoliberal choices by conservative or technocratic governments in combination with the inability of the wider left to give persuasive answers to the insecurity and fear of the working classes. And where fear and insecurity prevails, usually xenophobia, nationalism and far-right populism blooms.”
A still starker warning came from the Italian writer Roberto Saviano. The acclaimed author of Gomorrah said he had received hundreds of messages from Meloni supporters urging him to leave the country.
Saviano has been a vocal critic of Meloni’s anti-immigration stance and is facing a defamation trial over remarks accusing her of a lack of compassion towards asylum seekers dying at sea.
“I can see Saviano is a trending topic,” Saviano wrote on Twitter. “Meloni’s voters are ‘inviting’ me to leave the country. These are warnings. This is the Italy ahead of us. They are already drawing up a blacklist of enemies of the homeland, in spite of those who said that fascism is another thing.’’