Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni, Challenges Concerns About Harming and Clashing with the EU
ROME (AP) — Giorgia Meloni made history as Italy’s first far-right premier, sparking worries in Europe about the country’s potential democratic backslide and resistance to European Union regulations.
Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni – The President of the European Commission sternly warned that Europe possessed the necessary tools to handle any member state, including Italy, if the situation veered towards difficulty. There were concerns within Brussels that Rome could align itself with Hungary and Poland, both known for their strident nationalist ideologies, leading to clashes with EU democratic standards.
However, since taking office, Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party has neo-fascist origins, has defied skepticism from the Western world.
She has consistently supported NATO’s assistance to Ukraine, particularly in terms of military aid to Kyiv against Russia’s invasion. This is no small achievement.
Meloni’s main coalition partners are parties whose leaders were long characterized by pro-Russian sympathies. Matteo Salvini’s League and Forza Italia, founded by the late Silvio Berlusconi, former premier who received vodka bottles as a gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin on his last birthday.
As Italy’s first female premier, Meloni has managed to establish herself independently from Salvini and Berlusconi, two prominent male leaders, as political analyst Massimo Franco pointed out.
Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni – During her election campaign, Meloni vilified Europe and pledged to clash with Brussels over budgetary issues once in power. However, as Tommaso Grossi, a policy analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, noted, she did neither.
Meloni’s initial foreign trip as premier was to Brussels, where she met with the European Union’s top officials, including Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who had issued the democracy warning. Meloni suggested that these meetings helped debunk certain narratives surrounding her.
In July, when Meloni was warmly welcomed at the White House by President Joe Biden, it was partly due to her apparent determination to end Italy’s involvement in China’s Belt and Road initiative, which raised concerns among Western nations.
According to Franco, fears of Italy’s democracy being compromised have been exaggerated. He emphasized the crucial role of Italy’s president as the guardian of the nation’s post-war constitution. He argued that the real risk lies not in authoritarianism but in chaos caused by an incompetent ruling class.
Meloni herself views illegal migration as her biggest challenge.
“In hindsight, I had hoped for better results on the migration issue,” she admitted during an interview on Italian Rai state TV, reflecting on her first year in office.
Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni – During her campaign, Meloni made an unrealistic promise of naval blockades along the coasts of North Africa, where migrant smugglers launch unsafe vessels overloaded with people heading for Italy. As of mid-October, the number of migrants arriving by boat has nearly doubled to 140,000 compared to the same period the previous year.
Von der Leyen stood alongside Meloni in solidarity on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, following the arrival of approximately 7,000 migrants in just over one day last month. Using one of Meloni’s favored phrases, von der Leyen proclaimed, “We will decide who comes to the European Union and under what circumstances. Not the smugglers.”
Tunisian shores have now become the primary departure point for smugglers’ boats instead of Libyan shores. Meloni actively advocated for an EU arrangement with Tunisia that would provide economic assistance to the struggling country, hoping it would curb migrant departures. However, this agreement is currently at risk of falling apart.
Meloni also faces pressure from her ally-turned-rival, Salvini, who aims to position himself as further to the right, particularly concerning migration, in anticipation of the June 2024 European Parliament elections, where the issue is expected to be highly significant.
As interior minister in a 2018-2019 populist government, Salvini kept rescue boats in the Mediterranean waiting for days, even weeks, for permission to dock and disembark migrants.
“With Salvini as interior minister, such situations did not occur,” remarked Roberto Calderoli, the regional affairs minister, taking a swipe at Meloni after she appointed Salvini as her transport minister rather than interior minister, as he had hoped.
Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni criticized Italian judges who defied a recent Cabinet decree allowing for the placement of migrants from so-called “safe” countries, like Tunisia, into holding centers for up to 18 months pending repatriation if they are unable to pay a deposit of almost 5,000 euros ($5,500). Some judges released the migrants, arguing that these restrictions violate the Italian Constitution.
Meloni argues that these judicial decisions support a long-held belief on the political right; that Italy’s magistrates sympathize with the left.
Meloni has also faced other setbacks. A Cabinet decree aimed at taxing banks’ “extra-profits” derived from higher interest rates on mortgages and business loans faced opposition from Deputy Premier Antonio Tajani, who holds a leading position in Berlusconi’s party, which has significant shares in an Italian bank. Consequently, the decree had to be revised.
When Meloni’s government attempted to address the shortage of taxis in Italy, exacerbated by an increase in foreign tourists, by liberalizing the issuance of new cab licenses, taxi drivers staged a nationwide 24-hour strike.
Assessing the premier’s first year, Grossi expressed his observation from Brussels, calling it “bad governance,” though not a catastrophe.
Meloni’s priorities include safeguarding Italy’s traditional families. During her campaign, she vociferously opposed “gender ideology.” A bill, resembling one Meloni introduced while still an opposition lawmaker, is making its way through Parliament. The proposal seeks to criminalize Italians’ use of surrogate maternity abroad.
Despite Brothers of Italy’s roots in a party formed by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s supporters, Meloni has asserted that she does not embrace the “cult of fascism.”
Following the Hamas attack in Israel on October 7, Meloni visited Rome’s main synagogue and pledged to defend Jewish citizens against all forms of antisemitism. Italy is home to fewer than 30,000 Jews in a population of approximately 57 million.
Noemi Di Segni, head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, expressed her desire for Meloni to be more explicit about the harm caused by Mussolini to Jews. “It should be easy for her,” Di Segni asserted in an interview. “It’s history.”
There are indications that Meloni’s perspective on history is evolving. On the 80th anniversary of the roundup of Jews in Nazi-occupied Rome, Meloni issued a statement condemning the “fascist complicity” in deporting 1,259 individuals from the city, almost all of whom perished in Nazi-run death camps.
Since assuming office, Meloni has consistently ranked at the top of voter surveys, with a support level of around 30%, exceeding her party’s 26% vote share in the 2022 election.
Grossi believes that the absence of a progressive, strongly pro-European alternative in Italy contributes to Meloni’s stability.
For her second year as premier, Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni vows to pursue constitutional reforms to enable voters to directly choose the prime minister, aiming to establish more stable governments. Presently, Italy’s president assigns someone capable of securing a parliamentary majority the task of forming a government.