Is Italian right-wing populism in decline?

On February 12, 2020, the Italian Senate took a significant step by voting to lift the parliamentary immunity of Matteo Salvini, the former Interior Minister and leader of the League party, a known figure in Italy’s populist radical-right political sphere. This move paves the way for Salvini to stand trial in the so-called Gregoretti case, where he faces allegations of power abuse and the kidnapping of 135 immigrants, including 15 minors. These individuals, rescued by the Italian coastguard vessel Gregoretti, were prevented from disembarking in Italy by Salvini, who aimed to leverage the European Union for the relocation of these migrants outside of Italy. Salvini’s steadfast stance, articulated in a tweet on July 26, 2019, emphasized his refusal to allow the migrants to disembark without a concrete commitment from Europe to take them in. This controversial decision, which left the rescued refugees stranded at sea for six days, could lead to a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for Salvini.

This development raises questions about the potential implications for Salvini’s political career and the future of the League party. Could this trial signify the beginning of a downward spiral for Salvini and the populist radical-right in Italy, similar to the decline of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia following his legal troubles? Despite these circumstances, the League continues to thrive, partly buoyed by the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining its position as Italy’s leading party with steady support.

The case against Salvini highlights the broader tension between radical political movements and the foundational principles of Western liberal democracies, which include the protection of civil rights, minority groups, press freedom, and the independence of the judiciary. The rule of law serves as a safeguard against those who would undermine these democratic principles, allowing for the prosecution and potential banning of individuals and parties that commit crimes or pose a threat to democracy. Examples from around the world, such as the imprisonment of Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the banning of parties that challenge constitutional principles in Germany and Italy, underscore the mechanisms at play.

However, the ascendancy of populist radical-right parties, as seen in Hungary and Poland, challenges the efficacy of these democratic safeguards. In these countries, populist leaders have exerted pressure on independent media and the judiciary, eroding civil liberties and moving toward illiberal democracy.

The situation prompts a critical examination of strategies to counter the rise of populist radical-right parties. The 2017 French Presidential election offers a case study in overcoming radical-right populism through democratic competition. Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen’s National Front demonstrated the potential of direct electoral engagement and the articulation of clear, alternative political visions.

This scenario suggests that confronting radical-right populism requires more than legal actions or exclusion from democratic processes. Instead, it calls for liberal parties to actively address the issues raised by populist movements and to present voters with compelling alternatives. The French experience in 2017 exemplifies how vibrant political competition, rather than avoidance or judicial intervention, may offer the most effective means of preserving democratic values in the face of radical-right challenges.

Direct Your Visitors to a Clear Action at the Bottom of the Page

E-book Title