The French feel a complex mixture of irrepressible sympathy for their Italian neighbours—aren’t they Latin brothers?—and condescending contempt for those who are labelled ‘Ritals’—messy, showy, and not serious. But given the result of the recent Italian parliamentary elections, the Gauls would do well to shed some of their arrogance and learn for themselves from the success of the ‘Ritals.’
The election on Sunday, September 25th, saw the victory of the centre-right coalition, and its return to power for the first time in ten years. The French press, in unison with the other European presses, was bent on describing the winner of the election, Giorgia Meloni, as ‘extreme right-wing,’ fascist, or even ‘post-fascist,’ a neologism whose exact meaning is unclear. These journalists, eager to say the correct thing, would never dare call the parties of the French Left ‘post-Stalinist’ or ‘post-Trotskyist:’ and yet it would be much more appropriate.
For the Italians, there is no ‘fascism’ attached to Meloni. Her coalition is centre-right, full stop. On the other side of the Alps, the repeated use of the word ‘fascist’ dispenses with any fine analysis; few articles actually look at Giorgia Meloni’s programme—a programme that is not at all extreme, and in fact almost (too) wise on a number of divisive issues, such as Ukraine, the euro, or European institutions.
Congratulations came from all directions of the French Right. The bravos, surprisingly, were very discreet from Les Républicains. The enthusiasm from the national Right was more palpable.
Marine Le Pen welcomed the advent of a “patriotic and sovereignist” government, and on Twitter congratulated equally—and this is important—Giorgia Meloni and her ally Matteo Salvini, Le Pen’s long-time friend:
Jordan Bardella, the current interim president of the Rassemblement National, who is very busy campaigning for the party’s leadership, welcomed an Italian victory that has put to bed the notion that Ursula von der Leyen could dictate the Italian vote:
Éric Zemmour vigorously congratulated Giorgia Meloni, whom he sees as his alter ego, his counterpart, and praised her uncompromising speech on identity:
As for Marion Maréchal, she obviously feels a familiarity, a closeness with this fighting woman who achieved victory thanks to her unfailing determination.
A concert of praise apparently unanimous? Underneath the laudatory French chorus, a cacophony of in-fighting foments. In truth, since Sunday, September 25th, the debate between the Zemmourists of Reconquête and the Marinists of the Rassemblement National has been raging once again, each one blaming and accusing the other of preventing the reproduction of an Italian-style scheme in France.
For Éric Zemmour, the message from Italy is clear. It is the union of the Rights that has won, and he reproaches the Rassemblement National for having denied the obvious need for this union—without questioning his own ability to embody it effectively.
The Rassemblement National, for its part, points out that Giorgia Meloni has not ceased, since 2018, to chase outrageous rhetoric out of her discourse—and then calls out Reconquête for persisting in incendiary polemics, and having never wanted anything other than the death of the Rassemblement National.
There is some truth on both sides but also a number of inaccuracies in these repeated invectives that do not help anyone.
The truth is that the Italian system is a system made for coalitions and they have existed for a long time. Meloni, Salvini, and Berlusconi have not invented anything miraculous. The Italian system has its imperfections but it has one great merit: it maintains a state of mind of openness between the political forces, which is cruelly lacking in the French Right.
The curse of right-wing coalitions in France is not new. The cleverness of the President of the Republic François Mitterrand was to set up a so-called cordon sanitaire around the national Right embodied at the time by the Front National, to prevent any alliance of the Centre and the governmental Right with a party classified as unacceptable. François Mitterrand knew all about unseemliness, having been a member of Marshal Pétain’s government in his time. He knew, better than anyone else, how to play on hearsay, hidden feelings, the perfume of respectability that often counts more than anything else in politics.
Today, the cordon sanitaire skillfully put in place by François Mitterrand persists and has done a lot of damage to the French Right. In 1998, during the regional elections, Charles Millon, the candidate of the Rassemblement Pour la République (the ancestor of today’s Républicains) in the region of Lyon, was booed because he had benefited from the votes of the Front National to be elected—a crime in the eyes of the politically correct. Year after year, the curse continues to make its effects felt.
The alliance between the Rights in France is impossible. It is waved like a kind of mantra, but remains unattainable. Éric Zemmour has said he wants it with all his soul but has not been willing to give his discourse the appeal to allow him to expand his influence beyond the core of convinced diehards; he remains locked into the mentality of a closed club whose members like to repeat that they are better than the other options. The Le Pens, father and daughter, proudly insist on thinking they can conquer power on their own, by sheer force of will. But the signals they send are incantatory, dreams of a ‘union of patriots’ supposed to be beyond Left and Right but which has no flesh. As for Les Républicains, they remain terrified of being reproached for being too ‘Right.’
The problem is that in France, the union of the Rights is constantly called for, but nobody really wants it. Everyone says they want it, but they put their energy into keeping it fractured.
Another question to consider is, is it true to speak of a ‘union of the Rights’ in Italy? It is rather a coalition in which each unit retains its own individuality, and which certainly does not exclude competition, sometimes fierce, between members of the coalition, as witnessed by the merciless but close-knit war between Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini. Nevertheless, the dialogue exists and is constantly renewed. The election of the President of the Republic, for example, gave rise to meetings, negotiations, and sometimes arguments, but as in turbulent families, there is talk within the Italian right-wing family. This is the first and most important lesson that the Italians can teach the French.
Rather than a union of the Rights, which in France is for the moment pure fantasy, we would like to advocate a ‘dialogue’ between the Rights. This would already be a first constructive step, but, given the exchange of pet names that we see in the press and on social media between the members of the three parties that make up the French Right, we are still quite far from the result.