Bryan Ramos Alcantara
Giorgia Meloni : A victory without triumph. The far right at the center of the European storm
"For the first time in history, the right wing is winning elections with a woman at the head of a coalition government. The legislature that is opening is destined to profoundly change the Italian political geography"
Francesco Verderami, Corriere della Sera, 26th September 2022
With the 25th September elections over, the expected success of the center-right coalition confirmed, and the equally predictable success of Fratelli d'Italia and Giorgia Meloni, the undisputed leader and architect of her party's electoral result, we can begin to wonder about the main challenges that the next government will have to face. Its relationship with Europe and more generally on the international stage will be topics of discussion in this new Italian government (Ansa, 2022). Giorgia Meloni has been the most quoted, tagged, described, hated, and acclaimed Italian politician in recent months (Wired, 2022). Her campaign has been aimed at moderating the party's political line to appease those who watched her rise with concern. Her positions, however, are clear and easily reconstructed, and now that the election result has confirmed her leadership. The following paragraphs aim to analyze who Giorgia Meloni is, the woman who is at the head of Italy's winning party and who will hold the office of Prime Minister for the first time, and also what are the key points of her social, economic, and political program.
Meloni's path to the Presidency of the Council
Born in Rome in 1977 in addition to being a politician, she is also a professional journalist. After graduating from Liceo Linguistico (Linguistic Lyceum), she approached politics in 1966, when she began militancy in the Alleanza Nazionale party as head of the student movement (Lowen M., 2022). She then became an MP in 2006 and later in 2008 Minister of Youth in one of the governments led by Silvio Berlusconi. Taking advantage of the party vacuum on the right, she co-founded the Fratelli d'Italia party in 2012 with Ignazio La Russa and Guido Crosetto (Treccani). The symbol of the new party is modeled precisely on that of Alleanza Nazionale and retains the tricolor flame (green, white and red) that was part of the Italian Social Movement, a post-fascist party par excellence.
In the 2018 parliamentary elections, Fratelli d'Italia presented itself with the center-right coalition, proving to be the third party in the line-up after Forza Italia and Lega and gaining more than 4% of the vote (Mauri, I. 2018). In this legislature, it became the only opposition party to the government led by Mario Draghi, an opposition that led Giorgia Meloni and Fratelli d'Italia to be, in all polls, the most popular party in Italy.
The enigma of Meloni's political agenda
The first observation to be made is that the new government that took office, is being led by a party avowedly belonging to the most radical right-wing zone, a member of the European group of Conservatives and Reformists, whose president is Giorgia Meloni, and has been constantly the opposition in Italy in the last two legislatures, marks an important solution of discontinuity with the recent past. (Vecchio, C. 2021) It is true that Meloni appeared aware of the mistrust that surrounded the prospect of her electoral success abroad. She did everything she could to take a line of prudence and responsibility with the obvious aim of reassuring governments and financial markets (Reuters, 2022). Nonetheless, it is equally clear that once in government she will not be able to completely abandon the role of leader of a party inspired by the values of sovereignty and nationalism. Also, she will have to somehow take into account the expectations of her voters, to whom she had promised a government agenda under the banner of recovering national sovereignty and 'Italy first'. (The Guardian, 2022) The following are some of the items of Meloni’s political agenda with which this new government will have to deal with in the next five years.
However, it is necessary to highlight that Meloni's party does not agree in some aspects with Salvini’'s Lega. One of the points that most differentiates Meloni's policy from Salvini’s has to do with the sanctions against Russia. Introduced by Western countries last February after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, both leaders have different visions (Carter, D. 2022). "Instead of sanctions, which were supposed to hurt the Russians, it would be better to protect Italians and Europeans with a shield," Salvini recently said, calling for more help from the European Union (ibid). Meloni, on the other hand, argued that the data collected shows that sanctions are having an effect, citing, for example, estimates that Russia's Gross Domestic Product will drop by 6 percent this year compared to 2021 (Sky Tg24, 2022).
Salvini and Meloni have also shown that they think differently on immigration management, and in particular on the measures to be put in place to limit migrant landings on Italian shores (Open, 2022) "Do we need a naval blockade? No, just reintroduce the Security decrees," Salvini, guest on Controcorrente on Rete4 on Sept. 3, said instead, referring to the two decree-laws approved when he was minister of the Interior in the first Conte government, later revised by the Democratic Party and the 5-Star Movement. "In the center-right's program there is no naval blockade: we don't do naval battles with submarines, there are Security decrees." (Politica News, 2022)
Italian Foreign Policy
Meloni could not have been clearer regarding the relationship with the United States, Italy's stance on the conflict in Ukraine, relations with Russia, and Italy's role within NATO. Maximum continuity with the Draghi government's line on loyalty to the Atlantic Alliance, on the importance of the transatlantic partnership, on support for Ukraine (including arms supplies) and on the need to maintain and strengthen the sanctions system against Russia (Amante, A. & Balmer, C., 2022). On this front, Meloni may have problems with her allies in the next government given Salvini and Berlusconi's pro-Russian leanings are well known (Murphy, M. 2022). On this ground the leadership capacity of the next head of the executive will be tested. However, it will also be important that the next Foreign Minister is a credible person abroad, in tune with the Prime Minister and enjoys his full confidence.
On the other hand, the relationship with the European Union and with certain governments is likely to be more complicated. An issue on which Giorgia Meloni will have to be able to provide reassurances, without betraying her political position, perhaps re-dimensioning certain of her choices from when she was in the opposition (Wintour, P. 2022). In this regard, she will need to be aware that in Brussels and in other European capitals people are still trying to decipher some of her statements made during the election campaign, such as the unfortunate “la pacchia è finita” a term to refer to the ending of good luck. This will help her to understand which allies she will choose in Europe (Danielli, G. 2022), how she will manage her affinities with Hungary and Poland, how she will position herself with respect to complicated choices that the Union will have to make in the coming months. It will be particularly interesting to see Italy's position on the issue of energy policy in light of the dramatic situation created by Vladimir Putin's aggression against Ukraine, the fiscal autonomy of the European Union and last but not least, the issue of migration policies and the reception of asylum seekers on European soil, especially in the so-called first reception countries. (De Candia, M. 2022)
"We need a Europe that is bolder in the face of degree challenges and more humble when it comes to addressing our more local issues about which national policies work best”
Giorgia Meloni, National, 9 October 2022
The budgetary urgency
Inevitably, the first test of the new government's credibility will be the upcoming Budget Law for 2023. The Budget Law 2023 is a budget accounting document in which the government informs Parliament of the public expenditures and revenues that are expected for the following year under current laws (Zampano, G., 2022). It is important that revenues and expenditures are balanced, although borrowing is permitted in exceptional cases that must be approved by both houses with an absolute majority.
It is more than likely that the Commission will grant the new government an extension of the 31 December deadline, set by the rules in force, for submitting the preliminary draft of the law to Brussels (FASI, 2022). However, it is on this measure that the new executive's willingness to cooperate with the European institutions and be aware of the concerns of the international financial markets will be tested.
During the election campaign, Meloni made it clear that she was well aware of the constraints imposed by the level of the Italian public debt and the need to avoid giving the wrong messages to the financial markets, suggesting that the new government will maintain a prudent line in budget management and avoid clashes or violent attitudes (Volpi, A. 2022). Again, it will be important that the next Minister of the Economy be a responsible, competent and if possible well-known personality outside Italy, enough to gain the trust of the European Union.
Stability Pact and National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRP)
Directly linked to the budget law is then the question of the position that the new government will decide to take on the proposals that the European Commission will present at the end of October (for now in the form of a communication) on the reform of the rules on budgetary discipline and European economic governance. These are two apparently esoteric, yet politically very sensitive and potentially divisive issues, on which Italy, with the second largest public debt in the EU after Greece (Padoin, P. 2022), will be a bit of a special observer, and will have to present credible proposals and also choose the right allies.
Additionally, on the European front, the new government will have to decide how to combine and articulate Meloni's oft-repeated call for a renegotiation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRP) (Mazza, M. 2022). In fact, this Plan still remains to be implemented to a large extent. Certainly with regard to the implementation of those investments that are to be financed with European funds. But also for the part that concerns the implementation of those reforms, which the Draghi government has initiated but must be completed (Cavallari, S., 2021), as they are an integral part of the NRP and a prerequisite for a credible modernization process of the country.
Some changes to the margin are perhaps possible also because some contextual data have changed. Though it will have to be agreed with the Commission, with a constructive interlocution and without giving the impression of wanting to call into question the fundamentals of the Plan, knowing that even on this point the biggest Italian partners will not offer discounts to the country that is the largest beneficiary of the (Next Generation EU funds (Montanari, M., 2022).
The great weight of the energy crisis
The new government will then have to deal with an unprecedented energy emergency, a consequence of the reduction in the supply of fossil fuels and the rise in gas prices (Sorrentino, G., 2022). Alongside Europe, which is still seeking an agreement on a package of credible and effective measures, Meloni’s government will have to adopt measures to alleviate energy costs for households and businesses, ensure the security of supply, continue the path of diversification of gas purchases, and increase imports of liquefied gas, including building regasification plants (Icona Clima, 2022).
The new government will also have to adopt more significant energy-saving measures. And above all, it will also have to simultaneously ensure the continuation of the path already started on the road to a necessary transition to decarbonization, with greater use of renewables and hydrogen (Economia Circolare, 2022). A task that will require determination and expertise, but also the willingness if necessary to ask for sacrifices, especially from households, in the area of reducing energy consumption.
One of the most difficult challenges for a political leader is removing the weight of rhetoric when it proves to be incompatible with reality. On this point, judgment on Meloni is suspended. The paradox for a leader who has triumphed by wrapping herself in the cloak of national interest is that her success in Europe will depend on her ability to understand that pursuing this interest necessitates abandoning of the sovereigntist rhetoric on which she has built her fortune. To begin with, Meloni’s government must understand that it can expect almost nothing from Warsaw and Budapest, but that it will need above all France and Spain to negotiate European rules and Germany with which Italy shares Atlanticism and an exporting vocation. What Draghi politely reminded her of in one of his recent speeches.
For the time being, Meloni has to reckon with the expectations she has raised; she has no experience of government, let alone of how real Europe works. Much will therefore depend on the composition of the administration and especially on who will occupy key ministries. However, she has to be careful, the European Union is keeping an eye on all the moves her new government will make. Besides, since 1946, 67 governments have alternated in Italy, led by 30 different prime ministers (Accademia Politica, 2022). On average, Italian governments remain in office for 414 days, less than a year and two months, and actually govern for 380 days ,just over a year. In fact, in Italy a distinction is made between "days in office" and "actual days of government": after resignation, a government still remains in office, and is referred to as "ordinary administration for the transaction of current business," until the next one is sworn in (ibid.). Since July 1st, 1946, to the present, Italy has had 66 government crises (Mustillo, C. 2022).