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Europe's nationalists rebrand, and win

Sunday's victory for Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy underscored the anti-incumbency sentiment in Europe, and the ability of formerly fringe parties on the continent to detoxify their brands.

The big picture: The election came two weeks after the far-right Sweden Democrats stormed their way to a second-place finish in a shock result that will force the long-ruling Social Democrats from power.

  • While Meloni's party traces its roots back to neo-fascist supporters of Benito Mussolini, she has brushed off her past praise for Il Duce and branded herself as a mainstream conservative who will be tough on Moscow and reasonable with Brussels.
  • Likewise, the Sweden Democrats have expelled extremists and disavowed the party's past links to white nationalism. Marine Le Pen has carried out a similar re-brand in France, and her National Rally (formerly National Front) finished second in this year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
  • All three parties have sought to broaden their appeal to a wider spectrum of the electorate while retaining hardline positions on immigration. While they've moved toward the center, voters have also moved toward them and away from mainstream alternatives.

What to watch: The Brothers of Italy was the only major party to refuse to serve in a national unity government under Mario Draghi, and thus well positioned to run as genuine outsiders.

  • The party's jump from 4% to 26% in the polls has put Meloni in a position to become prime minister. Her right-wing bloc collectively won clear majorities in both houses of Parliament.
  • Analysts expect her to place respected figures in key ministries, particularly finance, to placate the markets and the EU. But she'll have to adeptly manage the tricky transition from outsider to incumbent if her government is to last longer than its recent predecessors.
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