Italy’s far-right leader, Giorgia Meloni, said she would “be honored to break a taboo” and become the country’s first female prime minister.
Opinion polls predicted that her “Brothers of Italy” party would win the largest percentage of the vote in an early general election on Sunday.
The party is led by a right-wing bloc – which also includes the parties of Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi – which is the bloc’s favorite for victory.
This means that Italy, which has seen 67 governments come and go since World War II, can be led by a woman for the first time.
“It will certainly be a step forward,” Meloni told Euronews. “I defined it as breaking the ‘glass ceiling’, the ceiling that still exists in many Western countries, not just Italy, preventing women from taking on important public roles in society.
“It is my honor to be the first to break this taboo in my country.”
Opposing Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi is the left-wing coalition, which is dominated by the Democratic Party (PD) and a few other small parties. Led by former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, the PD enjoys a largely moderate pro-European position, staunchly opposed to Putin and the war in Ukraine.
The Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle; M5S) avoids the left-right political binary, which again operates as an independent party. Former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is its leader.
Who is Giorgia Meloni?
She was largely raised by her mother – her lack of a strong father figure led her to share her views on the disapproval of same-sex parenting – Meloni is a Romanian born and raised.
Meloni was a nationalist conservative from a young age, and grew up in Rome’s Garbatella, a working-class neighborhood with strong leftist traditions.
In 1992, the fresh-faced Meloni joined the now-defunct Italian Nationalist Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano, MSI) at the age of 15 and, after years of spirited activism, carved a space for herself in the Italian political arena.
In 2013, the Brothers of Italy – the indirect heir to MSI – was founded as a party, and Meloni quickly rose through the ranks to become its president, transforming it from a small force crammed between the parties of the larger right-wing coalition, into the largest force of the bloc.
A common comment directed at her is that, as the leader of a small political party, she lacks experience.
“Many of us [in Brothers of Italy] have previously served in the government; I was the youngest minister in the history of the Italian Republic when I served in the last center-right government,” she told Euronews, referring to her role as youth minister in Berlusconi’s government from 2008 to 2011.
“We have an experienced and trustworthy ruling class,” she added.
Meloni’s critics also accuse her party of harboring fascist defenders, an allegation she denies.
A prominent historian and expert on fascist politics, Professor Andrea Mamoni of La Sapienza, described her party as being “in keeping with the neo-fascist tradition”.
Recently, the Italian brothers suspended a Sicilian candidate for his comments on social media Praise Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
“[Ours] It is the Italian Conservative Party. “We are a modern right-wing government wing, which today in Italy governs 15 out of 20 regions and hundreds of municipalities.”
“I am also the leader of the European Conservative Party (ECR), to which the prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic also belong and which has close ties to British Conservatives, American Republicans and Israel’s Likud,” she added.
Meloni’s politics merge the identity politics of religiously enlightened patriotism with the allegedly business-friendly economic policies that hope to breathe life into the Italian economy.
Meloni also rallies against some of the threats it sees as a threat to Western civilization, ranging from “gay lobbyists”, “gender ideology” – the existence of which is mainly opposed by its critics – and radical Islam.
Lita and the Democratic Party, Meloni’s main contender in the election, say they are committed to equal marriage and an anti-homophobic law.
PD MP Lea Quartabile also questioned Meloni’s commitment to women’s rights.
On the 30 individual pages of her statement, the word ‘woman’ is used five times and is always associated with it […] Weakness and fragility.
“I haven’t seen her fight and she hasn’t had any energy for any of these issues in the past.”
What is Meloni’s position on Europe?
Meloni and her fellow Alliance, Salvini of the Northern League, are often portrayed as Europe’s rebels.
They criticized the euro. cheered for UK pro-Brexit Conservatives; rally against the “Brussels bureaucrats”; and support for migration policies, including recently the maritime “bloc” in the Mediterranean, which contradict the position of the European Union on this issue.
The center-left leader she is running against – Letta of the Democratic Party – said Meloni was part of “the first real attempt to break up the European Union,” La Repubblica reported on Thursday.
So is Georgia Meloni an EU skeptic?
“I read experts trying to introduce me in many ways,” she said. “They hardly accept me defining myself and my party.”
The term “European realist” – which European conservatives tend to use – defends the principle of European integration, but not in its haphazard application.
“We do not realize ourselves in the logic of ‘more Europe’ at any cost and in everything,” Meloni declared. “This has so far generated more centralization, more bureaucracy and less dependency, which is instead a fundamental principle of the European Union that we want to respect.”
Euroskepticism is itself a controversial term: while it has been widely adopted by political scientists, some historians view it as creating an ahistorical and artificial dichotomy between supporters and opponents of European integration.
Some prefer to talk about different “models” of Europeanism that sometimes contradict those offered by the European Union.
Meloni does not claim to be “opposing” Europe, but rather sets out a model of integration that may or may not do well in Brussels.
“If we had a European Union more like the one we imagine, we would have developed a more effective defense policy, invested in energy security and kept value chains short to avoid dependence on—often untrustworthy—third countries for gas, raw materials, commodities, chips and other commodities,” she stated.
Could Meloni’s vision of integration represent the “Europe of Nations” model, a model that the European Right has promoted since the 1950s and 1960s?
“What we want is a stronger and more balanced Europe,” she added.
Letta says Putin would be happy if Meloni won the Italian elections
Regardless of whether Meloni can be considered a “Euro-skeptic” or not, the question still looms: Will her vision of Europe put her at odds with Brussels? And what is Italy’s place in the union if it takes over?
The outgoing prime minister – Mario Draghi – is seen as the EU’s favourite, whose visions align closely with those of Brussels and whose policies have led to Italy being nominated “country of the year” by The Economist.
This relationship is likely to continue if Letta becomes Italy’s next prime minister. He considers Europe “the solution”.
“Those who say Europe is the problem simply want to destroy and look for scapegoats,” said Letta, who insists his coalition can still win the election.
“Instead, the solutions have to be found here, and starting with the core energy issue, the solutions have to be found.
“If we win on Sunday, democracies will be happy,” he added. “If the right wins next Sunday, Putin will be the first to be happy.”
Meloni has a different view of Brussels. For example, it opposes Draghi’s resilience and recovery plan – which would inject the battered Italian economy with €190 billion in EU funds.
Meloni notes: “We want to defend Italy’s national interest without tearing but with the same determination with which the Germans and the French defend their interests.”
On the issue of the energy crisis, Meloni calls for solidarity at the European level, but also finds it natural for nation states to defend their interests.
She also has confidence in the Italian economy and how it can emerge from the post-COVID-19 crisis.
“We have high public debt, that’s true, but it’s quite sustainable thanks to the strength of our economy,” she noted.
Some commentators fear that the public spending proposals and the alleged ostentatious attitude toward the Brussels establishment could isolate Italy from its partners. However, others believe that her premiership would not necessarily cause a major rift, and that Italy’s foreign policy, especially toward Russia, would remain largely intact.
While the mood of some in Brussels may be pessimistic and skeptical, Meloni remains optimistic that she can make Italy a leader and a powerful player on the European political stage.
“We want to return Italy to its rightful role in this Europe,” she declared. “We are among the founding countries, the third largest economy and the second largest industrial industry in Europe, and we have always been net contributors to the EU budget, keeping the register of geographical indications for food, UNESCO sites, and many other things.