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Does the Rise of the New Right lead them to power Essay

1.0 Introduction

In this essay I will make a comparative analysis of the rise of the new right in Norway and Italy. These two countries have both experienced a strong rise of the new right in politics the last few decades, and by looking into different factors I will try to find out why this has been, and still is the case. I will go through different levels of analysis trying to find out if the rise of the new right in these two geographically separated countries can be linked, or not.

Due to the limited size of this essay I will concentrate my analysis on four levels. First I will look at the government, the economy, and beliefs systems in each country. Then, I will concentrate on the most populist new right parties in both countries, being The Progress Party in Norway and Forza Italia in Italy, and in the end analyse important individuals in the process of their success.

As mentioned in my last essay, the two countries are very different in many aspects.

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Norway is not a member of the European Union, Italy is. Norway relies mainly on their oil and gas production, and the traditional fishing industry, whereas Italy has a very strong diversified industry. Norway has had strong and stable minority governments since WWII, Italy has had 59 governments through the same period. The two countries seem very different, so why has the new right been such a success over the last few decades?

2.0 Analysis of Countries

As a background I will take a look at the two countries separately through the first three levels of the analysis, and then I will go through the new right parties in each country, and compare the two.

2.1 Government

In Norway, according to Ingebritsen (2001), the centre-right coalition government, comprising the Conservative Party, the Christian Democrats and the small Liberal Party, does not command a majority in parliament and relies on the far right Progress Party to govern. Another election cannot be held until 2005, but it is very likely that the present coalition will not last the whole parliamentary term. In this case, the Progress Party could attempt to enter the government. However, the Christian Democrats might balk at this, in which case it can be expected that a Labour-led coalition to take over.

In Italy, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, it is expected that the Casa delle Liberta, led by Forza Italia’s Silvio Berlusconi, will stay in power until the next general election which will be held early 2006. However, a change of government or an early election towards the middle of the forecast period cannot be ruled out, given the precarious nature of coalition politics in Italy. Berlusconi has had problems with the judiciary and difficulties in resolving the potential conflict between his position as prime minister and his vast business interests. In one of the lawsuits involving Berlusconi, the prime minister was accused of bribing judges in Rome. A guilty verdict would have resulted in calls for Berlusconi to resign, destabilising the ruling coalition and potentially toppling the government (Anonymous, 2002).

2.2 The Economy

The Norwegian economy expanded by 1.4% in 2002. It is anticipated that GDP growth will rebound in 2003 and 2004, reflecting stronger private consumption growth and a recovery of investment. The projected tax cuts should provide a steady stimulus to private consumption, which will be the main driving force of the economy. With offshore investment expected to recover in 2004, GDP growth will peak at 3.7% that year. Positive domestic demand, aided by a resumption of export growth, should allow for annual average GDP growth rates of 2.9% in the period to 2006, slightly above estimated trend growth (Criscione, 2003).

Economic stability should be maintained in Italy, although slower economic expansion and difficulty in controlling public expenditure growth are likely to result in a drift in the government’s deficit reduction targets. Long-overdue economic reforms will be slow, but privatisation should get under way again from 2003, assuming stock market conditions improve. Real GDP growth will be sluggish in 2003 at 1.7%, reflecting the carry-over effects of the global slowdown in 2001 and the need to keep fiscal policy reasonably tight. Assuming external conditions continue to improve, a strong rebound is forecast in 2003. In 2003-06 annual real GDP growth is expected to average a healthy 2.6%, although this is below government projections of 3% per year. Italy’s high level of public debt, which restricts the government’s room to reduce taxation, and its poorly functioning markets in several sectors will continue to act as a drag on growth (Gruber, 2002).

2.3 Belief Systems

The Norwegian Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors (Bruce, 2000). The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway is the state church. It is supported financially by the State, and there is a constitutional requirement that the King and one-half of the Cabinet belong to this church. The relationship between the Church and the State regularly generates discussion.

Church officials have spoken in favour of a greater separation in the state-church relationship (Doerr, 2001). According to Vox (2003), “Most Norwegians do not go to church regularly, but the Christian faith is still practised widely across Norway”. Furthermore she says “In the cities and urban areas we can see that people are turning away from the church, whereas people in rural areas still follow their religious traditions”.

The dominant religion of Italy is Roman Catholicism, the faith of about 84% of the people. However, the Catholic Church’s role in Italy is declining; only about 25% of Italians attend mass regularly, and a law ratified in 1985 abolished Roman Catholicism as the official state religion and ended mandatory religious instruction in public schools, but is still offered as optional. The constitution guarantees freedom of worship to the religious minorities, which are primarily Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish (Grendler, 2003). Catholicism was the official religion of the Roman Empire and as a result, is still the main religion today.

Its principles have greatly influenced the customs, philosophy, art and morals of Italy. The principles of religion are not synonymous with the character of culture. Nonetheless, Christianity has been instrumental in determining the course of some historical events in Italy. The Papacy ruled the country for various periods. However, as technology and the social situation of the country as a whole has improved, the importance of Catholicism has diminished. Yet, it is said that the doctrine of Jesus Christ is still largely present in Italy today (Raffa, 2003).

3.0 Analysis of New Right Parties

So why did the rise of the new right happen? If we look back in time to the 1970s, we can see two major factors that contributed to the rise.

3.0.1 Economics

Inflation and unemployment became major concerns. The public sector was thought to be inefficient and a burden on the private sector. New right economics was seen in practical terms as a way of improving national economic performance. It therefore involved such policy ideas as privatisation, deregulating markets, cutting the size of state activity and tax and benefit cuts. Cutting back on trade union activity was seen as essential (Anonymous, 1995).

3.0.2 Political and social issues

The growth in size and scope of the welfare state was a major concern. Not only was it perhaps crowding out private sector activity, there were some seriously damaging implications of the welfare culture. New Right politicians talked of a “dependency culture” where people were living their lives dependent on the earnings of others. This was bad economics but also undermined individual freedom. State intervention and regulation of economic life was also seen as threat to freedom. Especially when tax rates were as high as 80%! Home ownership, as well as share ownership, was encouraged and increased (Lloyd, 2002).

Those on the conservative side of the New Right were also disturbed by what they saw as societal breakdown. Crime was on the increase, abortion was more prevalent, many people were choosing to live on welfare, marriages were breaking down more often, and religion seemed to be on the decline (Erlanger, 2002).

3.1 The Progress Party and Forza Italia

The Progress Party’s role in Norwegian politics is somewhat different than that of Forza Italia in Italy. During the last election, in 2001, they got 14.7% of the votes. A disappointing score, though in current opinion-polls they have been stable around 25% – 35%. At the same time, the coalition government received only 23% (Hanson, 2002). According to Bernt Aardal, professor of political science at Oslo University, the Progress Party is the one that vacuums up voter discontent. And Norwegians have not been happy over the last decade. They feel let down by governments that promise tax cuts but fail to deliver.

The Progress Party, meanwhile, has both pandered to anti-immigrant sentiment and cast themself as the defender of the creaking but familiar welfare, education and health systems: in sum, here is the defender of the Norwegian way of life (Hanson, 2002). In Italy, Forza Italia has been in power since the 2001 (Goodwell, 2002). Forza Italia is a mass party founded on principles of conservatism and neo-liberalism, which brought together sizeable sections of the Italian Socialist Party and various groups from within the Christian Democracy (Raffone, 1998). For the 2001 election the party said they were committed to the European Union and to NATO, promised tax cuts, and to give priority to job creation (Anonymous, 2001).

3.1.1 Political Views

According them selves; “The Progress Party is a liberal party. Its views are based on the Norwegian constitution, Norwegian and western tradition and culture with basis Christian values”. Furthermore; “The Progress Party’s main goals are heavy reduction of taxes, duties and state interference” (Jensen, 2003). Forza Italia’s chart of values says that they believe in freedom, the person and the family. They also believe in the enterprise, the Italian tradition, and in the Christian tradition (Alessandro, 2003).

3.1.2 Individuals

The two new right parties both have an extremely strong and charismatic leader. The Progress Party has been led by Carl I Hagen since 1978, and has not looked back since (Jensen, 2003). Hagen’s background before entering politics was a Higher National Diploma in Business Studies, and a Diploma in Marketing from London Institute of Marketing. In regards to political views Hagen says “the people can have their tax cuts, cheap booze, better highways, more prisons, affordable cars and fewer alms-seeking immigrants”. All the government has to do, according to Hagen, is spend a little bit more, say 10 billion kroner more ($US 1.33 billion), of its huge “petroleum fund”. This fund, which is expected to reach almost $US 90 billion by the end of this year, is where the state stashes the proceeds of its North Sea oil output (Hanson, 2002). I would say this is a very populist statement, especially when considering the possible inflation and the overall competitiveness of the Norwegian Krone, if these policies were put to action.

Silvio Berlusconi is the leader, and founder, of Forza Italia. He studied law at The University of Milan and befriended Bettino Craxi, a future prime minister of Italy. Business was always his great passion and in 1975 he formed Fininvest, a company that today controls Italy’s three private television stations and Mondadori, the biggest publishing house. Berlusconi is Italy’s riches man, worth an estimated $US 13 billion (Gonzalez, 2003). In 1994, a few months after forming Forza Italia, he became Italy’s Prime Minister, only to resign seven months later. He became Prime Minister again in 2001, and Berlusconi’s self-confidence remains unchanged.

After winning the 2001 elections he said: “When Italians chose between someone whose life demonstrates he’s a doer and someone whose life demonstrates he’s a talker, I believe there are going to be no doubts about Italians’ common sense”. Berlusconi backs this up by trading on his image, flooding the country with posters showing his face and carrying slogans like “safer cities, a job and less tax for everybody” (D’Aquino, 2002). He tells businessmen he is one of them, he tells farmers how he helped his parents in the fields after World War II and he tells craftsmen that he laid the carpet in his first office. The message is clear: I am one of you, a self-made man. What I did, you can do. Most Italians, if the polls are to be believed, believe it (Caferri, 2002).

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