Giorgia Meloni: Not so radical after all?
Running an administration made up of three staunchly right-wing parties appears to be tedious but it hasn’t changed her, says the leader of the post-fascist, radical right-wing Brothers of Italy party.
• BERND RIEGERT
Private life? What private life?,” Giorgia Meloni retorted two weeks ago on the Italian talk show “Porta a Porta,” flashing an ironic smirk to star journalist Bruno Vespa when asked what she does in her free time. Meloni, who was elected one year ago and was sworn in as Italy’s first female prime minister a month later, revealed that she only has time to do those things in her private life that “absolutely have to be done.” Running an administration made up of three staunchly right-wing parties appears to be tedious but it hasn’t changed her, says the leader of the post-fascist, radical right-wing Brothers of Italy party.
“Not a day passes when I don’t ask myself if I am still the same person I used to be,” Meloni confided to the talk show audience assembled in the studio of government-friendly broadcaster, RAI. “I was always scared of not remaining true to myself — but I’m still me.” Over the past year, Meloni, 46, hasn’t repeated any of the more radical slogans she was so fond of while campaigning. At home in Italy, she is trying to shape domestic policy according to strict conservative family ideals while on the economic front she has more or less carried on with the relatively successful policies of her predecessor, Mario Draghi.
Meanwhile at the European level, she has been almost moderate. One doesn’t hear acerbic criticism of the EU from her these days and around the world, she seeks out friends and allies. In fact, she leaves the radical statements to her coalition partners: Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League (in Italian, Lega) party and Antonio Tajani, the country’s foreign minister and head of Forza Italia, which was previously led by the late Silvio Berlusconi.
“I have some political history, I can adapt to a changing reality,” says Meloni. For example, she notes that the topic of artificial intelligence has become a right-wing issue. The one thing that doesn’t seem to weigh on her daily duties as Italy’s leader is the fact that her own party’s logo features the eternal flame that sits on the tomb of former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Her partners in Europe also seem to be looking past that. One hears EU administrators in Brussels confess surprise at how “mild-mannered” and “soft-spoken” the Italian leader has become. When Meloni first came to office she declared she would be making changes in Brussels and push Italian interests more. Since then she has come to understand that this is much more effective when done quietly, behind the scenes.
At a Rome press conference with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, head of the centrist Social Democrats, Meloni told reporters that both were in agreement on all of the most important policy areas and that they were looking for pragmatic cooperation. Scholz didn’t object. Meloni also seems to have built a rapport with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Another reason Meloni has made her peace with Europe is the fact that Brussels is still sending cash. Italy is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund and was awarded 190 billion euros ($203 billion) in loans and subsidies. And when there was a hold up with another tranche being paid out to Italy in July, von der Leyen stepped in with a workaround.
During a recent visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, von der Leyen and Meloni also seemed to be on the same page when it came to migration policy. That means monitoring borders, reducing arrivals and collaborating more closely with transit countries.