The turnaround in the fortunes of the MSI-AN since the beginning of the 1990s has been a remarkable one. It has emerged from the neo-fascist ghetto in which it floundered since its foundation in the aftermath of the Second World War, and is now viewed within Italy as a legitimate participant in the new party system that has emerged out of the ashes of tangentopoli. While its initial entrance into government in 1994 caused some consternation in international political circles and was viewed by some Italian observers as marking an end to the post-war anti-fascist consensus, ten years later its participation in government was viewed as fairly non-controversial. The period of democratic consolidation of the party under Fini’s leadership in the late 1990s and its performance in government from 2001 onwards appeared to have assuaged concerns about its democratic credentials. On the international front, whereas the MSI had previously allied itself with the Front National of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the AN was now part of a mainstream centre-right political grouping in the European Parliament. The party’s international rehabilitation was confirmed by Fini’s selection as representative on the convention to draft the illfated EU constitution, and then his appointment as foreign minister and later as president of the lower house. Yet fifteen years earlier, Fini was still proclaiming the need for a return to the values of fascism and Mussolini. How was this transformation possible and is it a real and convincing one? This chapter will assess the development of the AN’s post-fascist project

under Fini’s leadership and explore the nature of the AN, drawing on analysis of the positions taken by the party, and by Fini personally, and of attitudes held within the party. Assessment of the party’s ideology will draw in particular from the frame analysis conducted of the key party programmatic documents. This will facilitate a fuller understanding of the party’s identity and its relationship to academic categorisations of right-wing parties. On this last point, academic observers appear still to be coming to grips with the AN’s apparent transformation, with some studies continuing to place the AN in the broader categorisation of extreme right or radical right parties in Europe (Griffin 1996; Norris 2005). Moreover, while certain studies have focused on the way in which formerly extreme right parties with a fascist heritage have re-invented themselves and enjoyed greater electoral success by adopting new populist

strategies (Ignazi and Ysmal 1992a), the AN’s trajectory appears to have gone beyond this, projecting it into the centre-right mainstream in certain regards. This chapter will assess the extent to which the AN’s success can also be attributed to the populism which appears more obviously present in the platforms of is coalition allies. Does the AN’s core ideology reflect populist principles or is its relationship to populism more peripheral? As the discussion below will show, elements of anti-political and exclusionist discourse remain important to the AN as does a strong personalised leadership, despite the apparent adoption of a quite conventional conservative and state welfare interventionist programme.