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Euroskeptic far-right parties are squeezing conservatives out of their comfort zone

by Sergio Fabbrini

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Politics is a system. If one piece moves, all the others have to shift place as well. Matteo Renzi's domination of the left has forced the Italian right to re-think its positioning. Big changes are underway.

Above all, the radical right is undergoing a profound transformation. The Northern League is becoming a central point of aggregation for various segments of the nationalist right. It is making Brussels, not Rome, the real enemy.

Led by Matteo Salvini, the Northern League is calling out to an electorate that's much broader than its traditional secessionist base. And, equally crucial, it's an electorate that's spread all around Italy. If the real enemy is the euro, then its appeal can extend to all nationalistic forces, those focused on defending national sovereignty, like Giorgia Meloni and Ignazio La Russa's 's Brothers of Italy party.

There's a new nationalistic right coalescing in Italy that's glued together by anti-European sentiment. In the European Parliament, this right has as its inevitable reference point the National Front of Marie Le Pen.

In Italy, the electoral space occupied by the new national League will be as vast as the current modern center right is amorphous. The center-right zone occupied by Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, by the New Center Right party of Angelino Alfano and by the Centrist Union of Pierferdinando Casini is not reconcilable with the sovereign-focused right wing of Matteo Salvini. The moderate right’s reference point in Europe is the People's Party, the party that created the Union along with the European Socialist Party, and that imposed its “spitzenkandidat” (Jean-Claude Juncker) as chairman of the European Commission.

The more divided Italy's moderate right is, the more it buckles to the initiatives of the radical right. The moderate right can only revive if it manages to sew up its divisions. For that to happen, it needs a credible leader and, even more importantly, an innovative agenda. Italy's moderate right must continue as an important part of the European People's Party, but also find its voice and mission in defense of national interests.

The Italicum (new Italian electoral law) calls for a winners' prize for the party’s list of candidates, not for a coalition. As things stand today, pushing the two different right-wing forces into a pre-electoral block would strengthen the radical right, making it the driving force of an internal split. The reassessment and relaunching of the moderate right requires time and thought. It will be hard-pressed for either one with the nationalist far-right breathing down its neck.