Forza Italia

Forza Italia (lit. ‘Go Italy’), at the time of the last election People of Freedom.

Forza Italia is the personal party of Silvio Berlusconi, and technically the second party to bear the Forza Italia name.

The original Forza Italia was launched in December 1993, winning the general election in March 1993. The party was a broad-based alliance of people aligned around Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi managed to recruit members of almost all the major pre-1991 parties. While most came from the Christian Democrats, or the right-wing Italian Liberal Party, there were also former Socialists such as the former finance minister, Giulio Tremonti.

Members of the party differed widely in their views. There were both social liberals and social conservatives, supporters of laissez-faire economics and massive interventionists. In practice the Northern wing of the party is generally more liberal, both socially and economically and tends to back radical decentralisation, while the Southern wing tends to be more economically interventionist, socially conservative and centralising.

Yet the party was, in reality, based around the personality of Berlusconi who kept a tight rein on his party. Berlusconi often seems to lack any true ideology, moving around the spectrum as a political chameleon depending on what suits him.

Generally, however, the party was Italy’s most pro-market party, and in the main it could be said that the party most closely resembled a fairly typical conservative party. However the party demonstrated a considerable capacity for populism, with Berlusconi retaining a strong anti-establishment edge to his views.

The party led a coalition of parties known as the House of Freedoms, along with Lega Nord, the Union of the Centre and the National Alliance (AN).

The AN was the successor of the Italian Social Movement, Italy’s post-war neo-fascist party. The AN represented an attempt to moderate the former fascist party and turn it into a conservative party. The party’s leader, Gianfranco Fini, occasionally cited the UK Conservative Party as a model of what he’d like the AN to become. The party was generally more interventionist on economics than Forza Italia and had a surprisingly strong base of support amongst civil servants. AN’s internal factions divided between those who supported a liberal-conservative agenda and a minority who were more nationalistic, socially conservative and economically interventionist.

In 2007, Forza Italia and the AN, along with a series of minor parties, began a process of merging into the new party, the People of Freedom (PdL). The PdL represented Berlusconi’s major ambition – to merge the majority of the right into one party behind him. The merger was completed in 2009.

The PdL was triumphant in the 2008 election, with its ally the Lega Nord.

The PdL was, however, hobbled by internal infighting almost from the get go. First of all there was a battle of wills between Berlusconi and former AN leader Gianfranco Fini. Fini was, by now, advocating a more socially liberal stance on issues such as end-of-life issues (the old MSI had actually been rather secularist in some regards) but, also, perhaps more surprisingly, in terms of immigration. He was also a supporter of a more structured party organisation, which would leave Berlusconi less powerful.

Fini eventually departed the party. His new ‘Future and Freedom’ party would take a large number of MPs with it and initially polled well, but the party eventually came to nothing, winning just 0.5% of the vote in the 2013 general election.

However, the split substantially damaged Berlusconi’s parliamentary majority.

As Berlusconi was beset by an increasing number of scandals, and the Italian economy moved closer to the edge, his majority dwindled and then became a minority, and his government was forced to resign, being replaced by the technocratic Monti cabinet.

Polls at this point showed shockingly low figures for the PdL and many wrote Berlusconi off as yesterday’s man. Yet one should never underestimate the chameleon like capabilities of Il Cavaliere. Berlusconi successfully re-transformed himself into a populist with nationalist inklings. Improbably, Italy’s longest serving PM since WWII has reinvented himself as anti-system, anti-elitist right-wing outsider (a position he started in in 1994). He railed against austerity, despite having implemented it himself. In particular he opposed a new property tax implemented by the Monti government to raise revenue, and promised not just to repeal it, but to repay it.

Berlusconi has also become more Eurosceptic. While previously he was always resoundingly pro-European, Berlusconi has become a vocal critic of Angela Merkel (whose diplomatic pressure helped precipitate his resignation in 2011). He has also said that the European Fiscal Compact hampers growth, and that the ECB should only be a lender of last resort.

Berlusconi’s coalition with the Lega Nord did well enough to stop the left winning a majority in the Senate in the 2013 election (an Italian government must have confidence in both houses of parliament).

The PdL eventually joined the national unity Letta government, though Berlusconi stayed outside it.

Berlusconi remained a destabilising force outside the government, however, frequently threatening to bring it down if he didn’t get his way. His criminal cases drew increasing attention. In his hyperbolic style Berlusconi claimed that no political leader had ever been as persecuted as he had and compared the treatment of his family to Jews under Hitler.

Berlusconi then announced the folding of the PdL project and the ‘re-emergence’ of Forza Italia. One day before Forza Italia was due to re-emerge, the PdL split and the ‘doves’ faction of the party, who supported the Letta government, and political stability over Berlusconi, left the party and formed the new party the New Centre-Right (NCD), led by Angelino Alfano, who had previously been Berlusconi’s loyal Justice Minister and his most recent heir-apparent.

The NCD took with it around a third of the PdL’s parliamentary party. Forza Italia subsequently withdrew its support from the government, but thanks to the NCD it maintains a parliamentary majority. Conspiracy theorists occasionally suggest that the split is, in reality, a ploy by Berlusconi to both oppose the government and keep it in power at the same time. Whatever the truth, Berlusconi was subsequently expelled from the Senate over his criminal conviction for tax evasion.

The new Forza Italia is a broadly similar but slightly more right-wing party when compared to the original Forza Italia or the PdL The party continues to have integrated into it a large amount of the former AN, but has lost the more Christian Democratic and Socialist components of the former FI to the NCD. Those components, however, were also more socially conservative, and Forza Italia is more open to gay rights and abortion than its predecessors.

The party is more pro-market, less statist, and more nationalist than its predecessors. The party is also more Eurosceptic.

Forza Italia will run in coalition this year with La Destra (lit. ‘The Right’) a small right-wing populist party that split from the PdL in 2007. La Destra was made up of one of the former National Alliance’s most radical factions.

Forza Italia’s 16 currently remaining MEPs continue to sit in the European People’s Party, where they are likely to remain. La Destra’s single MEP sits in the European Conservatives and Reformists. The series of splits, reformations and general chaos which have engulfed the Italian right since 2009 have made it so that Votewatch.eu no longer has compiled figures for Forza Italia or even for the former PdL. Looking through individual MEPs, they appear to be broadly loyal to the EPP in between 95% and 98% of votes, above average for the European political group.

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