2022: The World This Year

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2022: The World This Year
Elections in France, Sweden, and Italy: The rise of the right

  Padmashree Anandhan

TWTW#196, 31 December 2022, Vol. 4, No. 45


What happened? 

On 19 June, the Ensemble coalition headed by French President Emmanuel Macron lost the legislative elections. While Macron won the Presidential elections, winning 245 seats out of 577, though not enough to secure a majority in the parliamentary elections, as the seats split between the left-wing coalition (131) and Marine Le Pen’s far-right (89). The national assembly being the final decider in passing bills and laws, the near win of Marine Le Pen in the Presidential election, and the reduced majority of Macron’s Ensemble in the legislative election becomes a precursor for a dicey French political situation.

On 11 September 2022, the legislative elections in Sweden marked the entry of the country’s right-wing populist party, Sweden Democrats, for the first time in the Riksdag. The incumbent ruling party, the Social Democrats, received the largest percentage of votes (30.3 per cent), and the Sweden Democrats emerged as the second largest political party with 20.5 per cent of votes in their electoral performance. The largest opposition party, the Moderates, received close to 19.1 per cent votes. The left-wing coalition, comprising the Social Democrats and the other Left parties tailed with 48.8 per cent of the votes. The Social Democrats’ Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson conceded defeat, and Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the Moderates became the Prime Minister of Sweden. On 17 October, the Riksdag voted for the centre-right Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson as the Prime Minister by a narrow margin. 

On 25 September, the right alliance, left alliance, the Five-Star Movement, the centre, and other traditional autonomist parties contested in Italy’s snap elections. Among the four coalitions, the centre-right alliance headed by Giorgia Meloni from the Brothers of Italy, the League, Forza-Italia, and Nio Moderati parties emerged as the clear winner. It won with a majority of 237 seats out of 400 in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) and 115 seats out of 200 in the Senate of the Republic (upper house). Whereas the centre-left alliance led by Enrico Letta from the Democratic Party, the Green, Più Europa, and Impegno Civico secured only 85 seats in the lower house and 44 seats in the upper house. The Brothers of Italy, who gained their first representation in 2013 turned out to become the majority in 2022 pushing out the centre-left alliance.

What is the background? 

First, election trends and the rise of the political right. The French elections indicate the rise of the right, which proved right through the centrist party’s failures. The challenge of keeping the confidence among the French business was affected by the slow pandemic recovery and sanctions from the Ukraine war. The Macron backlash over immigration reforms also created space for the opposition to play it right. 

In Sweden, the concerns in the 2022 elections ranged from domestic challenges posed by gang violence to regional challenges due to the war in Ukraine, however, three factors contributed to the salience of the political right. First, the breakdown of the political parties from the left-right milieu as traditional socioeconomic issues depoliticised with a growing convergence among mainstream parties on socio-economic cleavages. Second, there was a simultaneous decline in class-based voting. Third, the emergence of new identity-based cleavages such as gender and climate. 

In the case of Italy, the rise of the right coalition was due to the leadership of the Brothers of Italy and the breakdown of other coalitions than a policy agenda. The quest for power by the League, Forza Italia, and the Democratic Party through big coalitions, new electoral reforms, and corruption scandals questioned the very foundations of every political party. Therefore, the fragmentation in the left has been the key cause for Italy’s right to win the elections and similarly in the case of France which led Le pen to set new record despite election loss.

Second, the domestic focus of the right-wing political parties. Whether it is Le Pen or Meloni, the common focus of the coalitions in 2022 has been on tax cuts, anti-immigrant stance, addressing the business community, breaking of ideological beliefs, measures for the working class, and prioritising domestic policy. Even for the Sweden Democrats, addressing the immigration issue, since the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe remains an electoral agenda. Radicalization and gang violence has equally contributed to the Sweden Democrats in prioritising a stronger inward-looking domestic policy.

Third, the role of regional Euro-skepticism in the rise of the right. The political ascendance of the Social Democrats in Sweden has come in the immediate background of a polarized Europe due to the Ukraine war, social anxiety against refugee influx, foregoing of its foreign policy as a ‘peace exceptional’ and accession to NATO. 

Similarly, in the case of France, EU-NATO defence cooperation, rule of law, and carbon-neutral practices which Macron stood for are under question with reduced support and backing in the national assembly. The rise of the right in the French political landscape will further the Euro-scepticism if the centre party fails to win back the confidence of the people.

Italy’s Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, who seems to be tactical and agreeing in standing against Russia and for the price cap, the priority remains maintaining balance within the coalition and prioritising Italy’s domestic wellness over being Eurocentric.

Hence, the right of the right has deepened the socioeconomic cleavages across the region and widened the North-South divide within the EU as a war inflates in its eastern borders. 

About the authors

Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Sourina Bej is a doctoral candidate and KAS-EIZ fellow at the University of Bonn.

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