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European nations shift right as economic woes grip continent

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A handful of European nations are shifting to the political right as economic woes throttle the continent. 

“All eyes are on Rome right now,” an EU official recently told Reuters. Italy is just hours from what is expected to be a historic election on Sunday as voters head to the polls to elect a new parliament and determine who will govern the country next.

Polls forecast the country’s right-wing Brothers of Italy Party will take 25% of the vote on Sunday, and elect party leader Giorgia Meloni as the country’s first female prime minister. Meloni is a right-wing candidate who has denounced cancel culture, vowed to curb illegal immigration, and has campaigned on lowering taxes and overhauling the welfare system. 

Italy is the most recent country in Europe on track to take a shift toward the right, following Sweden and the U.K. 

FROM FRINGE LEADER TO FRONT-RUNNER: ITALIANS SET TO ELECT FIRST FEMALE PRIME MINISTER

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy Party, takes a selfie during a rally in Milan, Italy, Sept. 11, 2022.
(Reuters/Flavio Lo Scalzo)

Europe has been throttled by economic woes as countries brace for a continued energy crisis over the winter months and forecasters warn a recession will hit Europe hard. 

“Given the downward risks and the high degree of uncertainty, everything is pushing toward a contraction in economic activity in the eurozone over the coming quarters,” economists at Franco-German financial services company ODDO BHF warned, according to Reuters. 

Inflation reached record highs in nations that use the euro, at 9.1 % in August 2022, which is the highest level since such data was first recorded in 1997. Eurozone inflation has largely been driven by an energy and gas crisis stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Ahead of Liz Truss becoming the United Kingdom’s prime minister this month, the Conservative Party leader touted supply-side economics to help grow the nation’s stagnant economy. 

Liz Truss arrives at Conservative Central Office in Westminster after winning the Conservative Party leadership contest in London, Sept. 5, 2022.

Liz Truss arrives at Conservative Central Office in Westminster after winning the Conservative Party leadership contest in London, Sept. 5, 2022.
(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“The economic debate for the past 20 years has been dominated by discussions about distribution,” Truss said in an interview with BBC television this month

“But what’s happened is we had relatively low growth so we’ve had no more than an average of 1% growth and that has been holding our country back.”

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She has since ushered in a return of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policy of supply-side economics, slashing taxes with the goal to boost production. She has since defended the move, arguing she’s willing to be unpopular in order to revitalize the economy. 

“I don’t accept this argument that cutting taxes is somehow unfair,” she told Sky News.

“What we know is people on higher incomes generally pay more tax so when you reduce taxes there is often a disproportionate benefit because those people are paying more taxes in the first place,” she added.

Giorgia Meloni in Rome, Italy, and Prime Minister Liz Truss at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City

Giorgia Meloni in Rome, Italy, and Prime Minister Liz Truss at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City
(Reuters/Remo Casilli | Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool/Getty)

In Italy, Meloni and a conservative bloc of politicians have vowed to cut taxes, curb illegal immigration and end the country’s current welfare system.

Among the planned initiatives heralded by conservatives is a proposal to overhaul the country’s welfare system and do away with the “citizens income” poverty policy, which gives people up to 780 euros a month depending on their savings and income. 

Conservatives have also promised to “lower taxes for families, firms and the self-employed” with a single tax rate for 100,000 euros for those who are self-employed.

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Analyst Luigi Scazzieri of the Centre for European Reform told Voice of America that Meloni’s rise in popularity is credited to her policy and economic views, as well as her “down to earth” approach to voters.

“In part it’s about her policy platform, her socially conservative views, her economic views – which are also quite social in a way in terms of, for example, raising people’s pensions or benefits,” Scazzieri said. 

“But it’s also in large part due to her own personal appeal. And I would single out here, for example, her way of talking, which is very down to earth. It’s very effective in connecting with ordinary voters,” Scazzieri added. “Finally, she also benefits from not having been anywhere near government for the past 10 years, and so she can credibly say that she represents something new.”

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Sweden also saw a political shift to the right this month when a populist surged to become the country’s second-largest political force after a national election. The Sweden Democrats’ rise in popularity has largely been attributed to their plans to cut down on crime and gang violence and curb immigration. 

The leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson, delivers a speech at the party's election watch in Nacka, near Stockholm, Sept. 12, 2022.

The leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson, delivers a speech at the party’s election watch in Nacka, near Stockholm, Sept. 12, 2022.
(Maja Suslin/TT News Agency via AP)

“Now the work begins to make Sweden good again,” leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson, wrote on Facebook this month.

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“We have had enough of failed social democratic policies that for eight years have continued to lead the country in the wrong direction. It is time to start rebuilding security, welfare and cohesion. It is time to put Sweden first,” he wrote.

European Union leaders at an EU summit in Sibiu, Romania, May 9, 2019.

European Union leaders at an EU summit in Sibiu, Romania, May 9, 2019.
(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

After Sweden’s nationalist party win, European officials have worried that a “populist front” could block EU decision-making if Italy ushers in Meloni as prime minister, Reuters reported. Hungary and Poland are both led by conservative leaders and have often joined forces in going up against the EU executive. 

 

“Right-wing parties are gaining more support than ever before,” Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, a lawmaker from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, told Reuters. “This is a chance to correct European policy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.