The key to the success of Europe’s two great political families, the Christian Democrats and the Democratic Socialists, has been their well-developed political and ethical culture. Italy’s Brothers, who will most likely lead the country’s next coalition government, now aim to lay similar foundations for the right
ROMA – For the first time in its post-war history, Italy could soon be ruled by a party with roots in the remnants of Mussolini’s fascist movement. If the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia or Fdl) end up at the top of the ruling coalition, as seems likely, European politics will undergo profound changes.
Giorgia Meloni, the charismatic leader of the FdI, has been accused of being a “neo-fascist” and both her party and the Lega, the second largest member of the coalition, have been branded as “populist”. Both ratings miss the point. Yes, these parties have fed on the enormous discontent felt by some voters and would take a tougher stance on immigration and security. But the Brothers of Italy in no way seek to put an end to liberal democracy.
The FdI’s ambitions lie elsewhere. Recognizing that the key to the success of Europe’s two great political families, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, has been their well-developed ethical-political cultures, Fdl aims to lay similar foundations for the right, with which they could project dominance of power from now until well into the future. This is the pernicious challenge that progressive thinking must face.
The FdI’s goals extend beyond Italy as they hope to reframe European politics. Meloni also heads the Group of European Conservatives and Reformists, which includes dozens of right-wing formations, such as the Polish Law and Justice, the Spanish Vox and the Swedish Democrats.
On what pillars would the new intellectual building of the right be sustained? In a recent interview, Meloni expressed his admiration for the late British philosopher Roger Scruton, a conservative who was neither a fascist nor a populist, and whose views – like Meloni’s – cannot be clearly characterized as pro-state or pro-market. For both, the free market is a necessary institution, but monopoly power has to be limited by rules.
Scruton was not fundamentally opposed to the European Union. He believed that a system of trans-European cooperation was necessary, but not at the cost of national sovereignty in all important areas. Similarly, an FdI-led coalition would not seek to leave the EU or the eurozone, but would see it as a loose confederation of sovereign states, rather than an “ever-closer union” with aspirations of becoming a semi-federal state. . Nationalism and conservatism go hand in hand.
In a 2019 interview, Scruton explained that, for him, conservatism was not about “returning things” to the way they were in the past, but about “preserving” them, and that this was not a matter of ideology, but of love. . “There are things that are threatened and one loves them, because you want them to continue like this… We have something, this country and its institutions and our way of being, and we cling to that.”
What do Europeans love? One of the issues that Meloni talks about is that our identity is defined by our community. A sense of belonging, of being part of society, is central to determining what we “love” and allowing us to express ourselves. This is the basis of freedom.
This vision has noble origins, and has been forged by the ideas of great philosophers such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, but also Karl Marx and Adam Smith. It does not necessarily lead to conservatism, nor does it mean that identity must be defined in national terms.
The FdI’s conception of the EU represents a sharp break with the past: leadership – like the Union’s over other core members – has traditionally supported further integration, despite disagreements over pace and modality. And a break with that would come at a time when deeper cooperation is what is most needed, which will inevitably involve negotiations that will affect national sovereignty, such as in the energy and foreign affairs arenas.
Almost all of the pressing imperatives we face today require some form of centralized decision-making and policies that account for the regional or global nature of public goods, including climate, health, financial stability, and energy security. As a result, the overlap between the locus of decision-making power and that residing in the social body has been diminishing.
The great challenge we are currently facing, and not only in the EU, is to design new forms of governance that allow the interoperability of different levels of government and give voice to civil society, thus combining a top-down approach with a bottom-up approach. The case of the EU could be seen as a permanent experiment that can guide others towards an effective model.
The new conservatives have understood something essential: without a European society, the project of an “ever closer union” rests on shaky foundations. But the solution is not to stop, let alone undo, progress. Instead, we must achieve a distribution of power in society that can serve as the foundation and underpinning of European governance institutions.
Conservative forces like the FdI seem hell-bent on doing the opposite. By attempting to “preserve” existing systems and define identities by race or religion rather than promote broader political or cultural affiliations, conservatism appeals to people’s fears, dividing rather than uniting. Cultural and political integration is replaced by policies that exacerbate the marginalization of vulnerable groups and fail to address widely shared challenges.
If it is true, as conservatives claim, that a functional vision of the EU is doomed to failure, it is also true that the functional and the political interact, helping to redefine the contours of the social body. In an ever-evolving world, a static and defensive concept of community will inevitably lead to economic failure, and can fuel racism and social conflict.
And yet, it is precisely this concept that is likely to govern the EU’s third largest country, which will involve an intense battle of ideas within it, with potentially serious consequences for the integration process. To win the fight, Union supporters must not demonize conservative leaders like Meloni or distort their views.
Instead, they must meet the criticism head on and devise credible ways to strengthen a European social organization whose strength is crucial to the success of the European project.
Lucrezia Reichlin, a former director of studies at the European Central Bank, is a professor of economics at the London Business School and a trustee of the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation.
Translated from English by David Meléndez Tormen
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 1995 – 2022
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