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Italian right-wingers will dump Euroskepticism in bid for power – POLITICO

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ROME — Italy’s right-wing parties are on the brink of abandoning anti-EU politics, according to a leaked power blueprint designed to reassure international markets and allies.

A draft joint government program of the right-wing parties, approved on Wednesday by representatives of the parties and seen by POLITICO, declared Italy to be “a full part of Europe” and pledged its “full adhesion” to European integration.

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The document also said that, if elected, the next Italian government will seek changes to the terms of its pandemic recovery fund agreement with the EU, as the war in Ukraine and inflation have significantly changed the context.

The pro-EU statement is likely to be widely welcomed by investors and European politicians and officials in Brussels, with polls showing an alliance of right-wing parties led by Giorgia Meloni is on track to win power in the 25 elections. September.

Bond traders and European governments were concerned that the demise of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition would spark a period of turmoil with a new, untested right-wing coalition taking power.

Historically, the far-right League party has held positions hostile to Europe, suggesting that Italy should leave the euro, while its ally, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, has been more ambiguous. The other major partner in the coalition, Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia, was traditionally pro-European.

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Last year, the League and the Brothers signed a statement with other populist parties in Europe calling the EU “an instrument of radical forces seeking to bring about a cultural, religious transformation and ultimately a nationless construction of Europe”, and called for the EU must be reformed with “a set of inviolable powers” which are maintained by the member states.

But with the September 25 elections almost certain to bring a right-wing coalition to power, leaders are trying to reassure financial markets and international allies by making explicit that all previously anti-European tendencies are now a thing of the past.

The draft election manifesto was approved by party representatives ahead of its expected release this weekend. A center-right insider said it was very unlikely this would change.

The manifesto promised “respect for international alliances and strengthening Italy’s diplomatic role in the geopolitical context. Respect for NATO’s commitments, including on defense spending. Support for Ukraine in the Russian invasion [Federation].”

It also pledged to make full use of the resources of the EU’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan, of which Italy is the largest beneficiary.

But the manifesto also indicated that a new right-wing government, while remaining committed to the eurozone and the EU, could push for reforms.

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It pledged full support to the process of European integration, “with the prospect of a more political and less bureaucratic EU”, as well as the protection of national interests and reform of the tax rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, with the aim of increasing flexibility in the expenses.

The election manifesto also promised to review Italy’s recovery plan, in consultation with the European Commission, given “changed conditions and priorities”.

Lorenzo Castellani, a professor of political history at Luiss University in Rome, said Europe’s explicit support in the manifesto marked “a major change” in populist nationalist rhetoric ahead of the 2013 and 2018 elections.

Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy, “has realized that to rule in Italy you cannot take Eurosceptic positions,” he said, adding that in order to rule with the League in particular, “she must let herself be moderate appear”.

The right must appear credible and be ready to rule both internally and internationally, he said. “President Sergio Mattarella, who will give the mandate to the next prime minister, is immovable in Italy’s international alliances.”

Believe in Italy

Having a nationalist, Eurosceptic stance “is a problem in government as it grows” [the] cost of paying off the public debt, because markets have less confidence in Italy.” This can create political problems, as there is little room for spending, leading to loss of support, as Berlusconi experienced during the debt crisis of 2011, when he expelled from government, he said.

“Leaders are trying to get ahead of this problem and make it clear that Italy’s position in Europe is not in question.”

While there is still a nationalist segment of the electorate, the pandemic and the reset of relations with the EU under Draghi’s government were “watershed moments,” he said.

The pandemic helped voters realize that big problems need international answers. The European establishment’s response by awarding Italy nearly €200 billion for its post-pandemic economic recovery plan and the ECB’s program to buy up sovereign debt also helped. “Public opinion now sees European integration mainly as inevitable and positive,” he added.

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