September 23, 2022 2:20 pm
Villa d’Este in Cernobbio is one of the most luxurious and refined places on the shores of Lake Como, which is saying something. Built in the fifteenth century and surrounded by a lush 25-hectare park, this renaissance paradise surrounded by mountains was transformed into a luxury hotel in the late nineteenth century, and has maintained an aura of sophistication and discretion ever since.
Once a year, at the beginning of September, this very secret place of power opens its doors and suddenly becomes the object of great attention. It is here, in fact, that the Ambrosetti forum is held, often described by the Italian media as a Lombard “little Davos”. For three days, diplomats, business leaders and politicians from all walks of life meet and exchange views on global issues.
But beyond these considerations, Cernobbio is also the best place to take the pulse of the country’s economic elites. The 2022 edition of the meeting, which took place from 2 to 4 September, in the middle of the election campaign and in a context of global uncertainty, was the subject of even greater attention than usual.
Rather consensual atmosphere
One person in particular attracted all the attention: the leader of the post-fascist group Fratelli d’Italia, Giorgia Meloni, given as the probable winner of the elections of 25 September, which will be held following the resignation, last July, of the Prime Minister Mario Dragons. Nothing in Meloni’s personal itinerary suggested that she would find a land of conquest in Cernobbio. A long personal history of activism in post-fascist groups, a long-standing euroscepticism and, perhaps the main flaw, its Roman origins: the obstacles were not few. But the leader of the Brothers of Italy came out with all the honors.
“Last year, in Cernobbio, Mario Draghi was in charge and the Italian economic elites wanted above all to make it last as long as possible. Draghi is out this year [rimarrà capo del governo fino alla formazione di un governo, dopo le elezioni] and the general feeling is that there is not much to be concerned about because of the internal political context. There is no shortage of problems to worry about, from inflation to the return of the war in Europe, but Giorgia Meloni does not seem to be one of them ”, confides a regular visitor to the Ambrosetti forum, surprised by this rather consensual atmosphere.
The continued weakening of right-wing partners in recent months has not stopped favoring it
Two weeks earlier, at the meeting in Rimini, organized by the powerful Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, deeply rooted in the economic circles of Northern Italy, the leader of the post-fascists had already been warmly acclaimed, only passed the test of applause by Mario Draghi himself. In Cernobbio, the welcome was a little less unanimous, but more than cordial.
How to explain this phenomenon, given that until recently the possibility of post-fascists coming to power was considered a catastrophic scenario? First of all, there is the continuous weakening of the candidate’s right-wing partners, who have not stopped favoring her in recent months. The former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, once an idol of the business community, is now a shadow of himself and his Forza Italia party has long ceased to be the natural point of reference for economic decision-makers, and many of the its leaders took up arms and baggage and swelled the ranks of the Brothers of Italy.
As for the other component of the right-wing alliance, the Lega, its leader Matteo Salvini has multiplied scandalous proposals that make it, in the eyes of the business community, a worrying factor of uncertainty. “After all, her extremist position helped to give credibility to Giorgia Meloni, making the post-fascist perspective, by comparison, quite acceptable”, explains the Italian historian and political scientist Giovanni Orsina, of the Free International University of Social Studies in Rome, specialist on the right Italian.
Giorgia Meloni speaks English and French very well, she has never succumbed to anti-elite rhetoric, unlike Matteo Salvini, and does not give the impression of evading budgetary issues. Asked in Cernobbio on the Lega’s proposal for a drastic tax cut (introduction of a flat tax at 15 percent, which replaces the progressive tax), she clearly distanced herself from her competitor: “Be careful not to make promises that do not we can keep. We have to take our public accounts into consideration ”, she replied, underlining the seriousness of her proposals and their considered nature.
And then there are the geopolitical issues, on which the positions of the Brothers of Italy are unequivocal. Heir to a political tradition (the Italian Social Movement, born in 1946 from the ashes of the National Fascist Party) that resolutely chose to side with the United States in the Cold War, Giorgia Meloni is a convinced atlantist, who in the past has never shown complacency against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on 24 February last, the Brothers of Italy, despite being in opposition, have shown constant solidarity with the positions expressed by the government (unlike the Lega and the 5-star Movement, two formations that are part of the coalition led by Mario Draghi and that have never lost an opportunity to make their voices heard). When asked in Cernobbio on the issue of sanctions against Russia, Giorgia Meloni had an unequivocal answer: “If Italy distances itself from its allies, nothing will change for Kiev, but for us it will”, she said, making Italian solidarity with its partners a question of “credibility”, and recalling that 80 per cent of Italian exports are to Western Europe and the United States and that, in the event of Ukraine’s defeat, “it will not only be Putin’s Russia that will win, but also China “.
No radical rupture
Finally, the last element that helps to calm the concerns of the business community on the eve of the elections is the accommodating attitude of the Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, towards the leader of Fratelli d’Italia. Although the two have different positions on many issues, they never miss an opportunity to show their mutual respect, thus spreading the idea that the coming to power of a right-wing coalition would not be an upheaval.
“In Cernobbio, on the sidelines of the discussions, an insistent rumor began to circulate: Giorgia Meloni intends to keep the current finance minister, Daniele Franco, considered to be Mario Draghi’s closest collaborator, in his place. This went so far that the person concerned was questioned about it, immediately denying it. But the mere fact that such a hypothesis could have been circulated shows that, from the point of view of the business community, the Meloni hypothesis is by no means seen as a radical break “, confided a key witness behind the scenes of the Ambrosetti forum. .
Careful to do his duty to the end, Mario Draghi is careful not to take an open position. It is also a question of not mortgaging the future, in the event that a new opportunity arises in the coming months to run for the presidency of the republic. From this point of view, it is in the interest of both sides that the transition takes place in a peaceful atmosphere. And the business community also hates jolts and skids.
(Translation by Federico Ferrone)
This article appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde.