Giorgia Meloni tries to break Italian tradition – and forgets about Liz Truss

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Analysis-

TORINO – The moment caught Europe’s attention: Exactly the day after Liz Truss resigned to become Britain’s shortest prime minister in history, another conservative leader, Giorgia Meloni, announced the formation of her government to become Italy’s first-ever female prime minister.

The comparison is less notable for their common gender or ideology than for the very issue of political resistance. With Truss’s successor set to be the UK’s fifth Prime Minister in six years, the British weekly The Economist tongue-in-cheek cover: “Welcome to Britaly.”

Yes, for decades the European model of political instability has been Italy.


Meloni is well aware of the history and has made it clear that she is ready to give up this unpleasant Italian tradition (and to the British!?). His center-right government is the first since 2008 backed by a relatively cohesive political majority, with the possibility of ending a series of fragile governments based on conflicting post-election agreements.

Headlines inside and outside Italy have focused on Meloni’s right-wing agenda, but she knows that any measure, whether to review Italy’s abortion law or to repress immigration, depends on its capacity to maintain its coalition. And it won’t be easy.

What are the divisions in Meloni’s coalition?

The three parties that make up the coalition (his Fratelli d’Italia, Matteo Salvini’s Lega and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia) are all essential to the existence of the government. And while sharing a basic conservative viewpoint, each of them has a different history, a different constituency, and different worldviews. It should be noted that they belong to three distinct political groups in the European Parliament.

Indeed, it is perhaps foreign policy where the greatest disagreements lie, particularly between the pro-European strain of Forza Italia and those inside the Lega who have called for ‘Italexit‘. The coalition also includes both strongly pro-NATO and Ukrainian forces and friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meloni’s government may be well placed to last, in part because Europe itself is so fragile.

A rift that emerged abruptly in the days before the government was formed, when Italian media published leaked audios in which Berlusconi told newly elected MPs from his party that he had exchanged “very sweet letters” and bottles of liquor with Putin and accused Ukrainian President Zelensky of provoking the war. Meloni was quick to respond: “Italy is firmly part of Europe and NATO. Those who disagree with this cornerstone will not be part of government, at the cost of leaving government.

It was just one of many mini-crises that were to come, but La Stampa Columnist Lucia Annunziata notes that Meloni’s government may be well placed to last – in part because Europe itself is so fragile.

“Europe is not on the verge of a general crisis, but it is a situation of intersecting instabilities,” writes Annunziata. “The last thing the EU wants are government crises in countries that are central to its balance. Meloni can take advantage of these weaknesses.

Who are the main ministers in Meloni’s cabinet?

The composition of Meloni’s cabinet reflects the need for balance, both domestically and internationally.

For the “reassuring” face to the world, the new Prime Minister has chosen as Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani of Forza Italia, well known and respected outside Italy for having been President of the European Parliament.

Giancarlo Giorgetti de Lega, moderate of Salvini alter ego who was among the staunchest supporters of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, will serve as finance minister.

Finally, Raffaele Fitto of Fratelli d’Italia, a respected former member of the European People’s Party before joining the conservative group, of which he still represents the most moderate wing, will be in charge of European Affairs and the Recovery Plan.

Here, continuity with the previous government will be crucial, as the nearly 150 billion euros still to come from Brussels depends on sticking to the plan agreed last year between Draghi and the European Commission.

But Meloni knows his party came in with more votes than any other in the Sept. 25 election on the wave of demand for discontinuity. And this is represented in his governing coalition by a second face, the most radical figures in charge of the issues to which right-wing voters are traditionally most attached.

Five difficult years

The most striking example: the new “Minister for the Family, Births and Equal Opportunities” will be a fervent pro-life and anti-surrogacy activist. Which doesn’t necessarily mean abortion rights are in danger in Italy – new minister Eugenia Roccella and Giorgia Meloni have said they don’t want to touch the law – but the appointment alone sends a clear message to the most conservative segments of the population.

A mixture that has in itself all the ingredients to last five years.

Another highly charged issue is migration. As the new interior minister, Meloni chose Matteo Piantedosi, who was Matteo Salvini’s right-hand man when the Lega chief himself was in that position, closing ports to NGO ships carrying migrants and reducing the protection of refugees. For his part, Salvini will have to make do with the ministry of infrastructure and transport, which still gives him a say in the management of the coastguards and ports.

For the rest, a mixture of technocrats, veterans of the last Berlusconi government of 2008, and followers of Meloni herself. It’s a mix that, combined with the lack of competitive opposition, has all the ingredients to last five years. But for any Italian Prime Minister (like their British counterparts now!), five years can seem like an eternity.

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