Screening the Italian right’s Atlanticism is no mere formality. Considering the bond between Rome and Washington and the ongoing confrontation with Russia, the foreign policy stances of Italy’s centre-right parties – en route to winning the September elections, according to the polls – are under intense scrutiny.
- Onlookers saw the fall of Mario Draghi’s government and noted that it had been caused by the parties closest to Russia. That connection was further reinforced when the Italian press revealed the diplomatic pressure that Russia had exerted on Matteo Salvini’s League to provoke it.
THE LEAGUE: so what’s with Salvini? Unsurprisingly, the international press focussed on the League leader, a longtime admirer of Vladimir Putin. The evidence is stacked against him: the political agreement that still unites his party with that of the Russian president, “United Russia”; the ranting against EU sanctions, the opposition to sending weapons to Ukraine, and so on.
- Nevertheless, the League’s Russian connection is essentially embodied by Mr Salvini alone. It hinges on the personal relationship he built over the years with environments that are only apparently central to Moscow: the secretariat of United Russia, the ultra-Orthodox entourage of the oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, and the many trade associations linking Italian and Russian companies.
The League’s more Atlanticist side, on the other hand, is alive and well. The party’s foreign policy team comprises its second-in-command and current minister for Economic Development, Giancarlo Giorgetti, who spent years presenting the Atlanticist face of the League abroad. Not always successfully, despite himself, and without ever contradicting his leader’s line, as is his style.
- Rather than an act of loyalty, the League’s Atlanticism is manifested by opposition. Instances include hostility to China and its economic penetration, as well as towards Iran, and an iron bond with Israel regardless of who’s in charge.
Several active and influential party members toe this line, such as Paolo Formentini, a combative member of the Foreign Affairs Commission, and Raffaele Volpi, former president of Parliament’s Intelligence Committee. And there’s more:
- Guglielmo Picchi, a former undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who led a parliamentary delegation to Washington in November;
- Marco Zanni, leader of the Identity and Democracy party in the European Parliament, has distinguished himself in Strasbourg – together with colleagues such as Marco Dreosto – as a staunch critic of the Russian and Chinese autocracies.
- Among the administrators, the governor of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Massimiliano Fedriga, boasts a healthy American connection, having just returned from a week of institutional meetings in New York at the beginning of July.
FORZA ITALIA: the weight of the past. These days, Silvio Berlusconi’s Atlanticist curriculum is being overshadowed by his renewed affection towards President Putin, a relationship that’s more nostalgic than pragmatic.
- In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the days of his special link with George Bush Jr have now faded. And the energy crisis affecting Europe underscored the party’s “sin” of endorsing dependency on Russian gas in the past.
Nevertheless, many of Forza Italia’s influential members often walk the halls of the US Embassy in Rome. Names include Deborah Bergamini and Valentino Valentini, who has always been Mr Berlusconi’s foreign policy right-hand man. Also, Andrea Orsini, and the newly elected president of the Foreign Affairs Commission Stefania Craxi. And several ambassadors of the old Atlanticist guard, such as Giorgio Mulè and Giuseppe Moles, lieutenant of former minister Antonio Martino, who in turn was the most pro-US among Mr Berlusconi’s ranks.
BROTHERS OF ITALY: balancing the new with the old. Giorgia Meloni, whose party tops the polls and who might as well become Italy’s next PM, has been working for years to overhaul the image of her section of the right – which has historically flirted with anti-US sentiment. The last confirmation came on Thursday when she distanced herself from the League controversy by loudly reaffirming the party’s Atlanticist and “reliable” profile.
- However, a recent Aspen poll shows that Brothers of Italy’s electorate expressed the lowest approval rating for the Russia sanctions policy: only 63% of voters are in favour, compared to 76% among League voters. And in the past, the party condemned the killing of Iranian general Kassem Soleimani at the hands of Washington.
Reinforcing the US connection. That’s what Ms Meloni has been working towards. She enjoys solid standing in the Republican world, somewhat less so with the establishment. And her entourage is working to solve that.
- In Brussels, MEPs Carlo Fidanza and Raffaele Fitto – the leader of the conservatives and the bridge-builder with the Republican wing of the American Congress, respectively – are working on the party’s international standing. As is the ever-present Ignazio La Russa, who was defence minister under PM Berlusconi during the war in Iraq.
- Among those who are committed to reinforcing the Transatlantic link are the Intel Committee’s chairman, Adolfo Urso, and Foreign Affairs chief Andrea Delmastro. More still: the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata and Lucio Malan.
CIVIL SOCIETY: the reservists. Closing the star-spangled picture of the Italian centre-right is a pool of “resources” spread across the party secretariats and civil society. Here’s an overview.
- Paolo Alli, a former leading member of a small centre-right party who led the NATO parliamentary assembly and was an advisor to Minister Giorgetti.
- Simone Crolla, President of the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) who had a brief interlude as an MP in the ranks of Forza Italia and has been the Milanese ambassador in Washington, especially on economic issues.
- Francesco Giubilei, president of Nazione Futura and the Tatarella Foundation, is active in the conservative world.
There are also well-established institutions in the arc of Italian civil society that looks favourably upon the US. A rundown:
- The De Gasperi Foundation, directed by Lorenzo Malagola, the former right-hand man of Maurizio Sacconi, is now very influential on the diplomatic front, especially among Brothers of Italy members.
- Gaetano Quagliarello’s Magna Charta Foundation.
- The Farefuturo Foundation, which refers to Mr Urso.
- Alberto Mingardi’s Bruno Leoni Institute.
- The Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), an influential US anti-tax lobby founded by Grover Norquist. The latter has a direct line with the Italian centre-right, thanks to ATR’s VP, Lorenzo Montanari.
- Loredana Teodorescu, the evermore influential head of European Affairs at the Sturzo Institute.
- The International Republican Institute (IRI), an important Republican-inspired think tank founded at the time of Ronald Reagan, led in Italy by Thibault Muzuergues, head of the Europe Programme.