Far-right Meloni sworn in as Italy’s first woman PM

Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni was sworn in as Italian prime minister on Saturday (22 October), promising to work closely with her international partners, despite the divergent views of her coalition allies.

The first woman to head an Italian government, Meloni took the oath before President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, once home to popes and kings of Italy.

“Ready to work with NATO, that is more than a military alliance: a bulwark of common values we’ll never stop standing for,” she tweeted in response to a message of congratulations from its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

And she was equally positive in her response to congratulations from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Italy is and will always be on the side of the brave people of Ukraine that is fighting for its freedom and for a rightful peace.”

Her post-fascist Brothers of Italy party — eurosceptic and anti-immigration — won the 25 September legislative polls, but needed outside support to form a government.

But her pledge to work closely with NATO and back Ukraine contrasted with the stances of her partners in her coalition government, who are both considered close to Russia.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, is a long-time fan of President Vladimir Putin. So, too, is former premier Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia.

Berlusconi was this week heard in a leaked recording talking about his warm ties with Moscow and appearing to blame Russia’s war in Ukraine on Zelenskyy.

Salvini as deputy

Meloni’s appointment is an historic event for the eurozone’s third largest economy and for Brothers of Italy, which has never been in government.

It won 26 percent of the vote last month, compared to eight and nine percent respectively for Forza Italia and the far-right League.

Meloni’s 24-strong cabinet, including six women, suggests a desire to reassure Italy’s partners. She appointed Giancarlo Giorgetti as economy minister, who served under the previous government of Mario Draghi.

Giorgetti, a former minister of economic development, is considered one of the more moderate, pro-Europe members of Salvini’s League.

Meloni also named ex-European Parliament president Antonio Tajani, of Forza Italia, as foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

Salvini will serve as deputy prime minister and minister of infrastructure and transport, which will likely disappoint Salvini.

He wanted the role of interior minister, a post he previously held between 2018 and 2019. That went instead to a technocrat, Rome prefect Matteo Piantedosi.

A formal ceremony for the handover of power from Draghi to Meloni will take place on Sunday before the premier leads the first cabinet meeting.

‘Constructive cooperation’

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen congratulated Meloni.

“I count on and look forward to constructive cooperation with the new government on the challenges we face together,” she tweeted on Saturday. European Parliament speaker Roberta Metsola tweeted in Italian that “Europe needs Italy”.

Von der Leyen and Meloni later held telephone talks, which the Commission chief described as “good”, adding: “We will work together to address the critical challenges of our time, from Ukraine to energy.”

US President Joe Biden congratulated Meloni and called Italy a “vital NATO ally and close partner”.

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz also congratulated her on Twitter in English, adding: “I look forward to continue working closely together with Italy in EU, NATO and G7.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said it was a “big day for the European Right”.

The talks to form a government had been overshadowed by disagreements with her two would-be coalition partners.

Italian news media made much of the recorded comments by Berlusconi praising Putin, remarks he insists have been taken out of context.

Salvini, too, is a long-time fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has criticised Western sanctions on Russia.

Despite her eurosceptic stance however, Meloni has been firm in her support for Ukraine, in line with the rest of the European Union and the United States.

But the tensions with her coalition partners are already raising questions as to whether she will be able to maintain a parliamentary majority in Italy’s notoriously volatile parliamenary system.

Challenges ahead

Meloni’s coalition wants to renegotiate Italy’s portion of the EU’s post-Covid recovery fund.

It argues the almost €200 billion it expects to receive should take into account the current energy crisis, exacerbated by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has hit supplies of Russian gas to Europe.

But the funds are tied to a series of reforms only just begun by Draghi’s government, and analysts say Meloni has limited room for manoeuvre.

Meloni had campaigned on a platform of “God, country and family”, sparking fears of a regression on rights in the Catholic-majority country.


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