As with many right wing parties across Europe, Umberto Bossi’s Northern League’s anti-illegal immigration and anti-Islamic stance is popular.
Economist It is a Leaguer, the interior minister, Roberto Maroni, who has implemented Italy’s controversial policy of turning back migrants in the Mediterranean before they can apply for asylum. Islamophobia is rife in the League. Another minister, Roberto Calderoli, once walked a pig over land earmarked for the building of a mosque.
Yet the party’s anti-Islam platform is in essence a by-product of Mr Bossi’s efforts to create a shared identity among the people he seeks to unite. “One way he does this is by setting up common enemies,” says Alessandro Trocino, co-author of a recent book on the League. “First, it was Italians from the south; then immigrants in general, now Muslims in particular.”
Mr Bossi’s message has proved increasingly attractive to traditionally left-wing voters. Indeed, their support was crucial to the League’s impressive showing in the 2008 election. “We are neither left nor right,” (but we are all ant-Muslim) says Ettore Albertoni, a former speaker of the assembly of Lombardy, the region around Milan.
If the government is brought down next year by divisions among its non-League elements, Mr Bossi and his followers should be the main beneficiaries of any resulting election.
Italian parliamentarians Mario Borghezio and Francesco Speroni — two leading members of Italy’s Northern League Party — have both publicly defended the logic behind Anders Behring Breivik’s Oslo massacre. “Some of the ideas he expressed are good, barring the violence,” MEP Borghezio told Il Sole-24 Ore radio station. “Some of them are great.” “[Breivik’s] opposition to Islam and his explicit accusation that Europe has surrendered before putting up a fight against its Islamisation,” are valid and commendable points for Borghezio, the BBC quotes him as saying.
Fears of anti-immigration alliance as Berlusconi lauds France’s expulsion policy
Independent Mr Berlusconi’s decision to follow his conservative instincts on immigration issues and strengthen Italo-French relations by backing President Sarkozy will also go do down well at home, particularly with the powerful anti-immigration Northern League partner in his coalition government.
Rome has also has clashed with Brussels over a crack down on illegal immigration, notably over its controversial policy of sending boat loads of Muslim illegal alien invaders back to North Africa. In May, Mr Berlusconi was criticised by the Catholic Church and the opposition for saying Italy should not be a multi-ethnic society. He said: “The Left’s idea is of a multi-ethnic Italy. That is not our idea, ours is to welcome only those who meet the conditions for political asylum.”
The impression of a shared hard line on immigration between the French and Italians was reinforced by Gianfranco Fini, a “progressive” centre-right figure and Berlusconi rival, who supported France’s decision to ban the burka in public. “This ban is not only just but opportune and necessary,” said Mr Fini, Italy’s Parliamentary speaker. He cited the Italian constitution’s requirement that “the dignity of women be upheld”, and that they “not be subject to violence or rules outside of the law”.