These were the questions asked in the latest edition of the "Democracy in a Stress Test" series, co-hosted by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and Zentrum Liberale Moderne. The event was opened by political philosopher Roberta Astolfi and former WELT editor-in-chief and renowned expert on Italy and Italian politics Thomas Schmid.
Meloni's position is consolidated
Two developments can be noted: Giorgia Meloni is firmly in the saddle after two important regional elections - in Lazio and Lombardy her party enjoyed a clear victory. The government has also followed quite a little from the usual "populist playbook" – the media is free, civil society or the courts are not under attack. Unlike most right-wing populists, the Italian government stands by Western ties, NATO, supports Ukraine and the EU. So, is it a normal, conservative government in a country that has not sufficiently dealt with its fascist past? Or is our assessment only so positive because the Italian government clearly stands by the West?
Discipline or techno-populism?
Why does the government govern so inconspicuously? Two theses have been discussed. One assumes the Italian government is being disciplined by (functioning) institutions. The government must now deliver - not just produce impressive election results. As a government, one has to abide by contracts, keep promises, the administration makes legally binding legislative proposals, the economy has to run, and the public watches - all of this limits Meloni's ability to act.
The other side countered: Meloni's government was an expression of the phenomenon of techno-populism, a combination of populism and technocracy. Meloni and her party had set out from the beginning to shape things through co-government, not through populism from the opposition. So was populism just electioneering, coupled with the unaddressed legacy of the fascism of Fratella d'italia and Italy?
A strong civil society gives hope
The strength of the right in Italy, the participants agreed, is actually rather a weakness of the left. The conservative bloc is united whereas the left is torn by disputes. In addition, there is a high number of non-voters and a perceived representation gap, especially on the left. Many people have difficulty finding their political position along the party spectrum.
However, Italy has a broad, active civil society, vital local politics, and intellectuals are increasingly getting involved in political debates again instead of remaining in their ivory towers. All of this - in addition to functioning institutions and the government's strong ties to the EU and the West - gives hope for a resilient democracy in Italy.