As Italy finds itself mired in political chaos, the heirs of the country’s Fascist past are poised to play a key role in the likely next government.
The country looks like it is heading for a general election after Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and head of the hard-Right League, announced this week that the 14-month-old coalition with the Five Star Movement was irrevocably broken.
There were just too many policy differences between the parties for the government to continue, he said.
With the coalition on the brink of collapse, fresh elections could be held as early as October – a prospect which has the extreme-Right Brothers of Italy party rubbing its hands with glee.
Fratelli d’Italia, as the party is known in Italian, takes its name from the first line of the Italian national anthem.
It is nationalist, nativist, deeply Eurosceptic and even further to the Right than Mr Salvini’s League, which has triumphed in opinion polls with its closing of Italy’s ports to asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean.
Brothers of Italy say they are more natural political bedfellows for the League than the anti-establishment, vaguely centre-Left Five Star Movement ever was.
“We knew this government would bring paralysis and uncertainty,” the party’s leader, Giorgio Meloni, told an Italian newspaper on Friday.
A hard-Right government consisting of Brothers of Italy and the League would “could carry out important and politically incorrect reforms that Italy needs,” she told Corriere della Sera.
“On immigration, the economy, security, family, relations with Europe, the vision between us and Salvini’s party is perfectly compatible.”
Like the League, Brothers of Italy wants a massive public spending splurge to try to kick-start the country’s moribund economy, which has barely grown in a decade.
Ms Meloni, 42, said her party’s economic policy was “Trumpian” – they advocate “a fiscal shock”, which means spending by the State to stimulate growth, as well as “the defence of Italian companies and products.”
Their leader is in buoyant mood. “We must not waste more time. We are ready to govern,” she said.
Brothers of Italy are the 21st century heirs of the Fascist movement which emerged from the ashes of Italy’s defeat in the Second World War.
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First came the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement, which lasted from 1946 until 1995, to be succeeded by the National Alliance, which lasted until 2009.
The torch of neo-Fascism was then picked up by Brothers of Italy.
“They are pretty far to the Right, but they are the presentable, institutional face of the far Right,” said Federico Santi, an analyst with the Eurasia Group, the political risk agency. “They don’t necessarily want to bring down the whole system and they are not openly advocating authoritarian measures.”
Ms Meloni cut her political teeth as a teenager in the youth branch of the movement in the 1990s, before assuming leadership five years ago.
She once said that she has “a serene relationship with Fascism” and described Benito Mussolini as “a complex person”.
She is a staunch admirer of Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary, praising the latter for “defending the Christian identity of Europe and saying no to the process of forced Islamisation.”
Her admiration for Mussolini and his 20 years of Fascist rule is clear.
When it came to choosing a location from which to launch her electoral campaign last year, Ms Meloni opted for the town of Latina near Rome, which was founded by Mussolini in 1932 after malarial swamps were drained.
She called for “a naval blockade” against NGO vessels that rescue migrants trying to flee Libya. “If we need to dig trenches, we will dig trenches”, she said, pledging that “no one enters Italy illegally.”
The party even has a Mussolini in its ranks – Rachele Mussolini, a grand daughter of Il Duce, who was captured and executed by partisans as he tried to flee Italy at the end of the war.
If a hard-Right alliance is formed, Brothers of Italy would be the junior partner.
Mr Salvini has managed to more than double support for the League since last year’s general election, when it took 17% of the vote. It is now hovering around 38%. Brothers of Italy, by contrast, can count on around 6% of the national vote.
But together they could be unbeatable.
“Together, the League and Fratelli d’Italia are likely to achieve an outright majority in parliament,” said Mr Santi, from the Eurasia Group.
Such a government would have “an even more virulently nationalist and Eurosceptic orientation compared to the present one, and a similarly problematic economic policy agenda.”
That agenda would include an insistence on big-spending budgets, which will herald more confrontation with the EU over deficit spending rules.
The new government would no longer be reined in by technocrats such as Giuseppe Conte, the current prime minister, or Giovanni Tria, the finance minister, who have advocated a more prudent fiscal policy.
League figures who openly advocate exiting the euro would be emboldened.
Such is Mr Salvini’s charisma and popularity that he is always likely to overshadow Ms Meloni.
He honed his straight-talking man-of-the-people act on the beaches of Italy this summer, posing for selfies in his swimming trunks, taking a turn as a DJ at a beach club in front of gyrating women in bikinis and receiving kisses on the cheek from both male and female fans.
Mr Salvini uses social media to communicate in a way that has never been seen before in Italy.
He sends out a barrage of tweets and Facebook messages every day.
Journalists are bombarded on a daily basis with endless statements, policy announcements and opinions.
If an election is held, Il Capitano, as he is nicknamed, will probably be Italy’s next prime minister.
And by his side, nudging Italy ever more to the Right, will likely be the inheritors of Italy’s disastrous experiment with Fascism.