Lega Nord (LN, Lit. ‘Northern League’). The Lega is perhaps one of Italy’s more unique political formations.
As mentioned earlier, Italy was formed out of a series of former city-states and Kingdoms, and has a weak national identity. The Lega’s origins were in a series of regionalist parties which began to arise in the North of Italy in the 1980s, starting with the Liga Veneta in 1983, followed by Lega Lombardy, and other small regionalist outfits. These parties merged in 1991 to form Lega Nord.
The party exploits Northern Italian distrust of the South of Italy and the Italian government. One of its early slogans was Roma ladrona (‘Rome big thief’).
The party has wavered between separatism for the North and a federal Italy. At its most separatist the Lega claims that the North of Italy is a forgotten nation called ‘Padania’. In the late 1990s the Lega went as far as to arrange elections to a ‘Padanian parliament’, a Padanian football team and even a ‘Miss Padania’ beauty contest in order to lay claim to a ‘Padanian’ nationhood.
In reality, however, its support in most of the North appears to be based on economic rather than nationalism.
Since the 90s, the party has more typically been a supporter of federalism. Specifically fiscal federalism, where Northern Italian regions would keep money raised by Northern Italian taxes in the North, rather than send it South (where it would only be ‘wasted’).
The party increasingly became a key component of Berlusconi’s coalition. While the party was initially a rather catch-all party for Northern regionalism, it has become a right-wing populist beast with tough stances on crime and immigration (some of the party’s local councils have banned kebab shops ‘to preserve real local foods’). The party is widely considered to be Italy’s most strongly anti-immigrant party. The party has often been labelled as Islamophobic, and has sometimes been accused of racist rhetoric. . These policies have been a key driver of support for the party.
Otherwise the party is broadly right-of-centre, though it is surprisingly environmentalist, and also takes rather more statist positions on welfare and austerity. On economics, the party supports low taxes, small government and SMEs. Lega is broadly socially conservative.
From its foundation until 2012 the party’s leader was Umberto Bossi, the former leader of the Lega Lombarda. Like Berlusconi, Bossi is a charismatic man who utilises anti-system rhetoric with effect.
The party was polling well due to its hardline opposition to the Monti cabinet before it was hit with a major corruption scandal in 2012. It turned out that Bossi, and his close network of allies (the ‘magic circle’) were embezzling the party’s state funding and paying this money to Bossi’s sons. The scandal involved all sorts of murky details involving mafia links and trafficking in Tanzania.
The scandal was a major blow to the Lega, who had long gained credibility from the view that it was a ‘clean’ party, free of corruption. Its anti-system rhetoric also did not wash when it appeared that the party was as corrupt as the others. In a leadership battle, Bossi was defeated by Matteo Salvini, one of the party’s MEPs.
Salvini is reputedly on the party’s more Padanian nationalist wing. Salvini’s leadership likely heralds a more independent stance from Berlusconi, a more Padanian nationalist stance and stronger anti-immigrant stances. He has called for closer links to parties like the Front National in France. The party’s support has not recovered under Salvini.
The party is Italy’s largest Eurosceptic party. Yet the party supports some positions identified with pro-Europeans, for instance direct election of the European Commission President, Eurobonds and a more powerful European Parliament. It is, however, very anti-Euro. Salvini once decried the Euro as a ‘crime against humanity’.
Lega has been a member of several European parliament groupings but today is the second largest part of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group. With loyalty of 84.5% Lega Nord is the most loyal member of the group, for what little that counts in such an incoherent group. The party provides the EFD’s co-leader Francesco Speroni. The party brought some embarrassment to its fellow group members in the European Parliament when one of its MEPs, Mario Borghezio, praised several of the ideas in the manifesto of Anders Breivik, who perpetrated the 2011 Norway attacks. Borghezio was suspended from his party for three months. He was eventually suspended altogether for making racist remarks about Italy’s first black cabinet minister.