July 30, 2021 - 3:29pm

The Brothers of Italy, the national-conservative party led by Giorgia Meloni, has surpassed Matteo Salvini’s League for the first time. They now lead the polls by a small margin, with 20.4 per cent of potential votes.

In this head-to-head competition between the two main parties of the Italian right, there is an important question to consider. The League started out as a regionalist and independentist party and was then re-fashioned into a national party by Matteo Salvini. Brothers of Italy, on the other hand, was created in 2012 following a split of The People of Freedom, Silvio Berlusconi’s party, in opposition to the latter’s support for Mario Monti’s government, and has been a staunchly national party from day one.

How did this big shift happen? Quite simply, the Brothers of Italy have increasingly gained credibility over the course of the past two years. Now, the choice of many right-wing voters — particularly in the south of the country — is Giorgia Meloni’s party.

This isn’t the only reason for Brothers of Italy’s rise. To better understand this phenomenon, consider the last national election of March 2018. Then the Brothers of Italy gained 4.4 per cent of the vote, and entered parliament with a handful of MPs. Giorgia Meloni faced an uphill struggle: at the start of the first Conte government — comprised of the League and the populist Five Star Movement — polls showed Brothers of Italy in decline.

The party appeared destined to play a marginal role for years to come. Matteo Salvini dominated the Right-wing stage, skilfully managing to sway many voters from the ranks of the Five Star Movement towards the League. The result? The League was Italy’s leading party, with almost 40 per cent of the votes, following the European elections of May 26th, 2019.

But it all went wrong for Salvini when he decided to pull the plug on the Conte I government — a move that caused the League to lose the political centre stage and kickstarted a slow but steady shift in votes towards Brothers of Italy. This trend continued throughout the entire duration of the Conte II government, supported by the Five Star Movement and the parties of the centre-Left, most notably the Democratic Party.

On February 13, 2021, the new government led by technocrat Mario Draghi, the former president of the European Central Bank (ECB), took office. It enjoys the support of practically every party in parliament, including the League, with the exception of Brothers of Italy. Being the only opposition party has allowed Giorgia Meloni to capture the attention of Italians who are sceptical of Draghi.

It’s been suggested that Meloni’s cautious approach to Covid-19 vaccines contributed massively to the party’s rise. I’m less convinced. Especially given that the portion of the electorate most sceptical of vaccines supported the League and Brothers of Italy to start with.

Ultimately, the position of the Brothers of Italy on the vaccine is far from clear-cut. Many leading exponents of the party have spoken out in favour of the vaccination campaign (Giorgia Meloni was vaccinated), but are against compulsory vaccination and the introduction of a Green Pass that will require people to be vaccinated in order to enter restaurants and other public spaces.

This ambiguity has allowed Meloni to fend off criticism of encouraging anti-vaxxers without squandering the support of the sceptical crowd. Ultimately, however, Meloni’s success should largely be seen as a consequence of the latest plot twist in Italian politics, which landed her in an enviable position: being the only viable opposition to Mario Draghi.

Paolo Cornetti is a policy adviser. He is head of communications for the Italian magazine and blog “La Fionda”.