Italy: “Underdog” Meloni wants to show everyone

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The right-wing government of Giorgia Meloni has now been in office for a hundred days. The shrill and aggressive tones are a thing of the past: Italy’s first female head of government is moderate and prudent. This is well received – by the European partners and also by the Italians.

Rome. One cannot say that Meloni ‘s election victory on September 25, 2022 was received with great euphoria in Europe, but also in Italy itself, on the contrary. The German magazine “Stern” had described her as “the most dangerous woman in Europe” shortly before the elections, and the Italian left tried – albeit in vain – to put together a “republican pact” to save the constitution, which, in their opinion, was in acute danger because of Meloni was danger.

In reality, the election result of Meloni’s post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia was anything but brilliant: 26 percent with a record low voter turnout. However, together with her coalition partners Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, it was still enough to form the government.

Now the new government, which on paper is the most right-wing government since the Second World War, has been in office for a hundred days – and not much of the fear and anxiety remains. When it comes to the most important political issue of her term so far, the state budget, Meloni has continued the cautious course of her predecessor Mario Draghi. For the sake of public finances, Meloni has even partially reversed the price reductions on petrol and diesel introduced by Draghi – in this way, Italy is saving a billion euros every month. The new government has also shown itself to be reliable in its support of Ukraine – although government partner Berlusconi has a long-standing male friendship with the Russian president and Salvini had worn T-shirts with Putin’s portrait shortly before the invasion.

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Italy needs the EU money

The shrill and aggressive anti-EU rhetoric that Meloni used to attract votes during the election campaign is no longer heard. She probably realized that Italy would not survive economically and financially without Europe: Brussels is transferring a total of 191 billion euros in loans and grants to Rome from the EU reconstruction fund. No government can afford to put these sums at risk, and Meloni knows that not even her own, predominantly Eurosceptic, voters would forgive her.

Meloni compensates for her turnaround in European policy with identitarian language: When she talks about Italy, she always says: “la nostra nazione”, our nation. It seems a bit silly, but the choice of words keeps her nationalist audience entertained.

Meloni also serves the instincts of her audience in other areas, particularly in migration policy. The NGO rescue ships are now consistently assigned ports that are in the north: Ancona, La Spezia, Ravenna, Livorno. This forces the private aid organizations and the boat refugees they rescue to take unnecessary boat trips lasting several days, which involve a lot of loss of time and high fuel consumption. The strategy is working: numerous aid organizations have had to stop their rescue operations for financial reasons. Of course, nothing has changed about the problem: Despite the harassment against the NGOs, 4,500 boat refugees have already landed in Italy this year, twice as many as last year.

However, apart from the ideological tidbits that Meloni serves up to her right-wing nationalist voters, post-fascist Meloni’s policies appeared largely pragmatic in the first 100 days. Her party is still full of incorrigible Mussolini nostalgics, and Meloni has long remained ambivalent about her distancing herself from fascism. But she doesn’t look for salvation in the past: Meloni, unlike many of her male and patriarchal-minded party members, is a woman of the 21st century. Certain achievements – equality between men and women, for example – are irreversible for Italy’s first female head of government. Also the right to abortion: a few days ago, parliament, in which the right-wing coalition has an overwhelming majority, almost unanimously approved a resolution according to which the corresponding paragraph 194 remains untouched.

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46-year-old Giorgia Meloni, who grew up without a father in modest circumstances in the Roman working-class district of Garbatella, seems to have found a mission for herself: the “underdog”, which she described herself as in her inaugural speech as head of government, wants it for the entire country – or rather: to the entire nation. According to the motto: Nobody, and especially no man, has ever taken me seriously – and now I’m doing a really good job.

Meloni wants to make a “bella figura” as Prime Minister, not only among her own voters, but also among others, and not only at home but also abroad. She has managed to do this quite well so far: her Fratelli d’Italia now have 30 percent approval, and she herself has 52 percent. And 46 percent of Italians were satisfied with the first hundred days of their work.