• Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni wants to “defend” the family. She kept repeating this catchphrase last week, when she spoke at Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s Demographic summit in Budapest. And I can assume that she really wants to “defend the family”. At least, her own.

    Since the Brothers of Italy party’s leader took charge of the government, Meloni’s family-first policy has begun to form: she appointed her own brother-in-law, Francesco Lollobrigida, as the Agriculture Minister. He first met the Meloni family at the beginning of 2000 because of their common involvement in far-right politics. Lollobrigida is still a supporter of the “Replacement Theory” – a conspiracy theory about migration – and he says it publicly.

    Another striking decision came in August, when Meloni named her sister Arianna as the head of the Brothers of Italy party secretariat, with the role of managing the membership department. Arianna Meloni will almost certainly be a candidate for the European Parliamentary elections, and this is thanks to her surname: voters are regarded as inclined to vote for “Meloni” if that name is on the electoral list.

    Giorgia Meloni is used to blaming journalists and satirists: she accuses them of criticising her family. But the weird thing is that, in her case, her family also represents… Italian politics. Giorgia Meloni trusts in the family, and she uses her family as a trust. She refers to fiduciary relationships with a lack of public accountability. And she wants to keep a monopolistic control of the political processes. It now seems that there is no distinction between Meloni’s government, her party and her family. This triangle reveals an abnormal concentration of power, and it shows how Meloni’s grip on power works: it is designed to prevent dissent. The irony is that Giorgia Meloni loves to talk about turning Italy into a “meritocracy”…

    Now that the 2024 EU elections are getting closer, one question haunts me: has a progressive alternative to the rampant right-wing really been tried? This further obsesses me due to the place from which I write, Meloniland.

    Even before she became Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni negotiated a tactical alliance with the European People’s Party; this so-called moderate right has broken the cordon sanitaire and normalised the extreme wing. Europe could shift to the right in 2024. Faced with this scenario, one would expect an effective and united response from the left.

    When the left joins forces, it works. In Spain, the Sanchez-Diaz duo counterbalanced the surge toward the right. At the European Parliament, the Socialists, the Greens, the Left and part of the Liberals managed to form a majority to defend the Green Deal against right-wing attacks. The French left-wing “Nupes” alliance had a good debut in last summer’s legislative elections. The struggle for social and climate justice is mobilising voters.

    But political leaders are reluctant to act accordingly. At an EU level, the Socialist group’s president Iratxe García Pérez is still hoping for a grand coalition with the EPP, even though its leader, Manfred Weber, is the normaliser of Meloni and the extreme right in Europe.

    Even at the epicentre of the far right, in Italy, the alternative appears weak and disorganised. Were it not for the internal divisions in her opposition, Meloni would not have won the government so easily.

    But now that we are witnessing the Orbanisation of Italy, the country’s Democratic Party has been forced to change: the open race for the leadership was won by Elly Schlein, who promised to give the left a new boost. The proposal for a minimum wage, supported by all opposition forces, is a first positive signal in the Spanish style.

    It remains to be seen to what extent the left will be able to generate new momentum.

    Beware the time trap. The idea of having more time for oneself is extremely appealing, but be wary of those who turn this into private time. We need more social time. We do need to engage more with politics. Let our sofa not be our fate.

    “Italy is a Democratic Republic founded on work”, the country’s Constitution says. As a fact, Italy is founded on precarious work. For decades, our social tissue has been lacerated by precarious contracts, and prime minister Giorgia Meloni made the situation even worse with her “labour day decree“, curtailing limitations to temporary jobs.

    Since the pandemic, work from home has also spread. Even those who have a stable contract are now working as though they are hired on performance-based pay. Colleagues meet less; their ability to resist inequality at work is weakened. In Rome, food delivery workers sleep on grassy roundabouts between jobs. Rights slip away from us. Slavery is now 2.0.

    Will the four-day week really bring back a balance between the 99 percent and the increasingly rich one percent? It depends on the meaning we give to our free hours. Speaking to crowds protesting against plans to raise the retirement age to 64, French left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said we should not merchandise our lifetime. I do agree, but should we conclude we just need more “private time”, as Mélenchon calls it?

    We should also resist the privatisation of time: we are deserting cinemas and shared cultural experiences because everyone has their own Netflix. We are no longer joining parties because politicians have given up representing us. Instead of going to restaurants, we order meals with an app. Do you feel freer or lonelier? Let’s take back our time together. Let’s go back to union meetings. Let’s take back politics. Let’s get angry about climate change. Time is worth nothing if we don’t take back hope.

    Last week students all over Italy started a “tent protest” against high rents. Bologna is Italy’s university town par excellence: home to the oldest university in the world. Emily Clancy is the deputy mayor of Bologna.

    How much does a room in Bologna cost for a student? Is there a housing emergency? Does it infringe on the right to study?

    For a room, a student pays on average 400-450 euro per month, and sometimes hundreds more: even 800 euro. Such costs are unsustainable. Before the pandemic, the municipality received fewer than 2,000 applications for rent subsidies. This year, 11,000 have arrived.

    I do not call it an “emergency” because I do expect structural answers. Housing is currently a priority for the city: Bologna must be attractive without marginalising or expelling the most vulnerable groups.

    Already years ago, as a city councillor and leader of the left-wing movement ‘Civic Coalition’, you promoted a public debate on the impact of Airbnb. What is the role of this platform in the current rental crisis?

    Its role is remarkable. Data tell us that the collapse of agreed rental contracts goes hand in hand with the increase in listings on the platforms for short tourist rentals: until 2016 in Bologna there were around 32,000 agreed rental contracts, today they are down to 26,000. In the same years, listings on Airbnb have risen from around 800 to over 4,000 today.

    Now that you are in government in Bologna, which initiatives are you taking to tackle Airbnb and rentals? And what has Giorgia Meloni’s government done?

    The sporadic resources that used to come for the rent subsidy have been completely cut by this government. We have presented a plan for the right to housing which is unparalleled in Bologna’s recent history: it contains a 200 million euro package with which we intend to finance many strategies, from creating a social renting agency to renovating our public housing stock and regenerating abandoned urban sites.

    The aim is to convert unused places and to reshape them as a common good. We cannot regulate Airbnb directly, as Barcelona has done. So what we are doing is promoting a municipalist alliance with ten other cities like Milan and Naples, and exerting political pressure together for a national law to regulate such platforms.

    “The Partisan attack in Via Rasella was a page in the history of the resistance that was anything but noble. Those who were killed were a music band made up of semi-pensioners, not SS Nazis.”

    This is a quote from Ignazio La Russa, Italy’s President of the Senate. Before being promoted to the second-highest ranking role of the Republic, La Russa was well known for his fascist roots. Not only did he collect Benito Mussolini’s memorabilia, but he also started his political career as leader of neofascist Youth Front.

    La Russa was a co-founder of Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni’s party. As soon as the far-right coalition won a majority, Meloni gave him a promotion. As a result, the president of the Senate is revising history. On 25 April, Italy’s Liberation Day, he didn’t join the President in a visit to anti-Fascist memorial in Piedmont, opting instead for a trip to Prague.

    After attacking media freedom, Giorgia Meloni’s government has taken on rainbow families and disowned same-sex parenthood. The Italian Ministry of the Interior has forced Milan’s progressive mayor Beppe Sala to backtrack in recognising rainbow families, by instructing him to stop registering the children of same-sex parents.

    Sala denounced this problem at a press conference in Strasbourg, while dozens of progressive mayors protested against the government’s decision. This is a further step in the erosion of the rule of law in Italy, the European Parliament stated last week.

    In December 2021, the EU Court of Justice ruled that “a child who has same-sex parents according to a birth certificate drawn up by the host Member State must be issued an identity card or a passport by the Member State of her nationality and must be able to exercise her freedom of movement in the EU with each of her parents”. The “Stolichna obshtina, rayon Pancharevo” case inspired the EU Commission’s proposal for a regulation. It expects that “parenthood established in a Member State of the EU should be recognised in all the other Member States”.

    But for this proposal to be approved, unanimity is needed, and Meloni seems to prefer an “Orbanisation” of Italy.

    It’s not that hard to spot a trend: one year ago, after his re-election as prime minister, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán declared that “gender is the main problem in Europe”. His anti-LGBT laws have become notorious. But he was inspired by the Polish Law and Justice party: in 2020, Andrzej Duda’s presidential campaign was also marked by anti-LGBT rhetoric.

    Now that Meloni is in power, she is using the same tactics, to cover her failures under the veil of propaganda.

    On 3 March, the police arrived at Domani’s newsroom, with the unusual aim of seizing an article that related to Claudio Durigon, an undersecretary in PM Giorgia Meloni’s government.

    The authors, Giovanni Tizian and Nello Trocchia, are authoritative reporters who cover the collusion between politics and organized crime. They are both under state police protection. One would expect the Italian authorities to safeguard their work. They came to seize it, instead.

    “It was so surreal,” says Mattia Ferraresi, managing editor of Domani, where I also work as a reporter. He had to print the article for the police. Durigon had sued us because of that article, which he didn’t even attach to his lawsuit. The piece was publicly available online.

    “There was no need for the raid, this is intimidation!” says Ricardo Gutiérrez, general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists. This is the second alert that Gutiérrez has written related to Domani in a few months: last autumn Giorgia Meloni sued my editor-in-chief Stefano Feltri and my colleague Emiliano Fittipaldi.

    These are “governmental SLAPPs” (Strategic lawsuits against public participation), with an aim to silence journalists. “Every time we write about Durigon, he sues us,” Trocchia says. “He has done this eight times.”

    When the police came, Tizian was on his way to the newsroom. Trocchia informed his colleague by phone: “Come, the police are here!” Tizian’s first thought was to protect sources: “Don’t let them touch our computers!”

    Following the raid, a coalition of media freedom organisations launched an alert at a European level. Progressive groups in the European Parliament (S&D, Greens, Left, Renew) expressed their support, and MEP Sophie in’t Veld asked questions to the EU Commission about the case.

    On 15 March, Rome’s attorney stated that seizing the article was improper and invalid. This made me realise how important it was to have a huge European mobilisation to condemn this act.

    European countries are facing a wave of attempts to repress dissent, although our collective awareness as a continent is still low.

    The debut of Giorgia Meloni’s government was disconcerting. On 31 October, thousands were allowed to gather to celebrate the centenary of Mussolini’s March on Rome, at his birthplace at Predappio. In the same period, the police were beating up students protesting against an event attended by members of Meloni’s party, at La Sapienza University in Rome.

    An ill wind was blowing that gave birth to the so-called “rave decree”. After police evacuated a rave in Modena, the far-right government launched a plan to ban gatherings of more than 50 people, if they “occupy places and threaten public order”. The debate escalated and coalition partner Forza Italia succeeded in smoothing the decree.

    The problem of limiting dissent not only concerns Italy. In February 2022, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, an old friend of the Italian right wing, issued a decree restricting the right to strike. Strikes are not formally banned, but the decree had a concrete impact on teachers who were protesting for a better education system and wage increases:

    “If I want to strike, I am still obliged to teach at least half my lessons, or even all of them for the final year students,” Bea Berta, a Hungarian teacher, told Domani.

    Some who engaged in civil disobedience, like Katalin Törley, a teacher in a Budapest high school, were fired.

    As workers’ protests increase, governments are rushing through anti-strike laws. The Conservative government in the UK has pushed a bill to guarantee a minimum service as a means to indirectly restrict strikes.

    Facing protests against pension reform, the French government has made similar considerations: Transport minister Clément Beaune wants to guarantee a “minimum service” during strikes. Ironically enough, they call it “the Italian model”.

    The European Union has never tried to cancel Christmas. This was a piece of fake news spread by the Italian right wing. In the name of tradition and propaganda, Giorgia Meloni led a crusade against Ursula von der Leyen.

    This happened last winter, when the leader of Fratelli d’Italia wasn’t yet Italy’s prime minister. “That’s enough!” she wrote in a tweet, addressing the president of the EU Commission. “Our history and identity cannot be erased!”

    Did the German Christian-democrat want to profane Christmas? No. Brussels never tried to “erase Christmas”.

    The European Commission drafted some internal ‘Guidelines for Inclusive Communication’ suggesting that officials should “avoid assuming that everyone is Christian. Not everyone celebrates the Christian holidays. Be sensitive about the fact that people have different religious traditions and calendars: ‘holiday times’ would be preferable to ‘Christmas time’.”

    All the noise had an effect: after the Italian right launched its campaign against “political correctness”, the Commission withdrew the document.

    Last month in Budapest I was struck by a human chain of teachers protesting sneaky ways to hit the education system. Viktor Orbán’s government keeps their salaries very low. A young Hungarian teacher earns less than 500 euros a month, while inflation has hit 22.5%.

    A British teacher makes around six times more than a Hungarian counterpart, but the tune is the same: I also came across strikes in Edinburgh. UK teachers rejected a five per cent pay increase: given inflation there is 11 per cent, “these are cuts”, their union said.

    And that’s the point. While the cost of living rises, governments do neglect school and health, our most valuable collective goods and investments. We have seen welfare under attack during the financial crisis. Then we had the pandemic; Italy was the epicentre. But we didn’t learn the lesson: public health continues to be mistreated.

    When Giorgia Meloni’s government launched the budget bill, doctors sounded the alarm. Funds are even more inadequate if you consider inflation; of two billion euros, 1.4 billion will be used to pay for the rise of energy bills in health facilities. Italian doctors predict the exodus of a third of them from the public health system.

    Do we want our life-saving doctors and our passionate teachers to suffer humiliation? Leaving their jobs for being worn out? I do not. I want to give them a voice with our Focus: their stories concern us as Europeans. Are we repeating the same pattern with this crisis? Will governments dump costs on the weakest and let our welfare and our collectivity pay?

    As the poet Audre Lorde wrote, “when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard, nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”