Italy’s Meloni reassures EU on first trip abroad as PM

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  • Meloni says he is satisfied with his visit to Brussels: “We are not Martians”
  • EU offers warm welcome as new nationalist PM moderates tone
  • Meloni talks Ukraine, energy and spending plans with EU top brass

BRUSSELS/ROME, Nov 3 (Reuters) – Italy’s new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made her first foreign trip to the heart of the European Union on Thursday, showing her commitment to the bloc, aware of its nationalist views and spending plans.

Known for her incendiary nationalism, Meloni has toned down her anti-EU rhetoric in recent weeks, earning a warm welcome from senior EU officials in Brussels.

Meloni said she wanted to “give the signal of an Italy that obviously wants to participate, collaborate and defend its national interest, doing so in the European dimension, seeking the best solutions with other countries”.

She said she was happy with how the day had gone, adding that she had discussed Russia’s war in Ukraine, energy prices, migration and the best way to spend something. €190 billion earmarked for Italy through EU stimulus to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Seeing and speaking directly with people probably helps dismantle a narrative that has been built around me and often (around) the Italian government. We are not Martians. We are real people,” she said. told reporters.

Meloni met with EU President Charles Michel, the head of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, and the EU’s executive European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

“We are fully aligned with Ukraine. We will continue to stand firm on sanctions” against Russia, Metsola said. The EU imposed a series of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February.

Von der Leyen thanked Meloni for “the strong signal sent” in choosing Brussels for his international debut as prime minister.

TAX GAP

The EU is also worried about Meloni’s campaign promises of tax cuts and increased social spending, fearing financial instability in Italy as the continent faces another recession.

The first test for Meloni will come on Friday when she outlines new public finance targets for Italy.

This will require distinguishing between plans to protect consumers from soaring energy prices on the one hand, and Italian Treasury forecasts of an economic contraction until the second quarter of 2023 on the other.

“There is a risk fiscally,” said Gregory Claeys of EU think tank Bruegel.

Francesco Galietti, of Rome consultancy Policy Sonar, said Meloni needed to position itself vis-a-vis major European powers Germany and France, each keen to have the bloc’s third-largest economy on its side amid disagreements over resolving the energy crisis.

“She needs to take advantage of this status and get some concessions in terms of fiscal leniency from the EU, as she prepares to increase the budget deficit for this year,” Galietti said.

Meloni said the EU needed “concrete European solutions” to the energy price crisis as soon as possible.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Crispian Balmer, Angelo Amante, Jan Strupczewski and Clément Rossignol; Written by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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