Europe keeps reminding us that geopolitical interests trump ideology.
European politics is the prime example of how states and political parties are willing to ditch their very ideological foundations to hold onto power, even if briefly.
The unmistakable political shift of attitude in Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Fratelli d’Italia party is the latest evidence that European politicians use ideology merely as a vehicle. Once in power, they are governed by the same neoliberal policies that control the rest of Europe.
This assertion applies equally to the Right and the Left.
For example, in 2015, Greece’s Radical Left-Progressive Alliance shocked Europe and the world by winning nearly half of the parliament’s seats. It was a success story that invigorated the Left everywhere.
For years, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the once small radical left party, Syriza, has raged against the neoliberal policies of Europe, blaming it for much of the financial crisis in 2008.
Once in power, however, Tsipras’s leftist ideology began shifting, whether by choice or under pressure. At the end of his term, in 2019, the new icon of the European Left contributed to the very undoing of any leftist resurgence in Europe, as the Greek economy became hostage to powerful European governments and multinational corporations.
That ‘pragmatism’ which tamed Syriza, turning it into yet another mainstream European political party, is at work in Italy today. The irony is that Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia – ‘Brothers of Italy’ – has occupied the seat of power in Rome from the very extreme political Right, not Left.
Meloni became Italy’s Prime Minister in October 2022. Her party has won the largest share of seats in parliament, but could only rule through a coalition comprising equally or more extreme right-wing parties – Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and Matteo Salvini’s Lega.
Though far-right political tendencies have been increasing throughout much of Europe recently, Meloni’s government was the starkest and most alarming manifestation of this phenomenon.
Soon after forming her government, Meloni’s rhetoric intensified, suggesting a serious departure from mainstream European political discourse. This was exemplified in a fiery speech by Meloni in November, where she shockingly attacked France’s exploitation of African resources, peoples and financial institutions. Her words were blistering to the extent that many in the Left nodded in agreement.
Posing as the alternative to France’s unfair trade and economic practices, Meloni flew to Algeria in January to sign a landmark gas deal.
As the US-led economic war on China began intensifying in recent months, Italy found itself in a difficult position, one that cannot be resolved through hardened far-right ideology or angry rhetoric.
It must now choose between the US and China.
Writing in the Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa, on May 3, Italy’s former NATO ambassador, Stefano Stefanini declared that Rome’s “international balancing act is over” and “there are no safety nets”.
Since Italy signed a Memorandum of Understanding to join China’s massive maritime economic ‘Belt and Road Initiative,’ in 2019, the Italian government has come under attack.
Neither Washington nor Brussels was happy that Italy had joined what they chose to understand to be a Chinese push to dominate the global economy.
Although many other countries had already joined the lucrative Chinese deal, the inclusion of Italy set a dangerous precedent from the West’s perspective. Italy is a member of the EU, NATO, the G7 and is the third-largest economy in Europe. It was the first major Western power to join BRI.
Though the MoU is not a politically binding document, granting China access to Italian ports is both a symbolic and strategic victory for Beijing over its US-western rivals.
On May 28, however, Meloni told Il Messaggero daily newspaper that her country is thinking of abandoning its partnership with China.
“Our assessment is very delicate and touches upon many interests,” she said.
But are these ‘interests’ Italian ones?
Even before joining BRI, Italy raked in massive profits from its growing trade relations with the Chinese. Between 2001 and 2019, total trade between the two countries jumped from $9.6 billion to $49.9 billion.
These numbers are critical for the Italian economy, especially as it continues to teeter on the precipice of inflation, stagnation and dwindling wages.
The growth rate has slowed down in recent years, but that happened mostly as a result of a global recession and rising energy costs resulting from the COVID pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, respectively.
Much can also be said about Italy’s mismanagement of its own economy, corruption and the EU’s failure to stimulate European-wide growth.
Certainly, Meloni had threatened to leave BRI even before she became prime minister. But her rhetoric, then, was motivated by her political program that breached full Italian independence from any foreign influence.
However, her views on the matter now are motivated by something else entirely: the fear of repercussions by Western allies, mainly the United States. Following their G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 19-21, Western leaders and Japan agreed to a strange formula, ‘de-risking’ without ‘decoupling’ from China.
To Meloni’s understanding, this means having “good relations … with Beijing, without necessarily these being part of an overall strategic design,” she told Il Messaggero.
Meloni has now become the ideal ‘pragmatist’, speaking the fine, archetypal language of a well-behaved European leader.
In Europe, ideology proves, again, to be mere rhetoric, utilized for domestic, electoral purposes. When national politics is confronted with geopolitical interests, however, neoliberal policies emerge as the winner, from Greece to Italy, to all the rest.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is ‘Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out’. His other books include ‘My Father was a Freedom Fighter’ and ‘The Last Earth’. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net