Opinion: Giorgia Meloni, the political charmer who won over Italy’s far-right

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Editor’s note: Francesco Galetti is the founder of Policy Sonar, a Rome-based political risk consultancy. He has held senior positions in Italian public institutions, including the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Galietti is a columnist for the Italian news magazine Panorama. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more reviews on CNN.


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I’m often asked what Giorgia Meloni – leader of Italy’s conservative national Brethren party, and likely the country’s next prime minister – is really up to.

Which comparables should we look at? Hungary, Poland, Brazil and even the United Kingdom (not to mention the United States under Donald Trump) are all countries where the “destra” or the “right” took power at least partly on the back nationalist sentiment.

But Meloni, 45, who is the favorite to become Italy’s youngest and first female prime minister in Sunday’s election, doesn’t fit any clear definitions. His meteoric rise is perhaps best described as a bold balancing act.

On the one hand, Meloni has attempted to sweep away the post-fascist aura of his party, whose past includes political operators who recognized themselves as fascists or had nostalgia for Benito Mussolini. On the other hand, she gave kisses to the capital markets, pledging to respect the budgetary discipline and the budgetary rules of the European Union of the outgoing Prime Minister and fervent Euro-Atlanticist, Mario Draghi.

Despite his young age, Meloni has been in politics for quite some time. In 2008, she received her baptism of fire, as youth minister under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The ministerial position she held at the time was relatively minor, but the consensus was that Meloni was prepared for power.

At the time, I was a young consigliere at the Italian Treasury, and I felt that Meloni was perhaps more. She looked like she had literally devoted her life to politics; it seemed more a vocation for her, a vocation, than a job. For that reason, she didn’t strike me as another protege of a party leader trying his hand at government at all.

Years later, in 2021, Meloni’s autobiography came out. I rushed to buy a copy. In vivid detail, the book explains how painful Meloni’s early life was and how important it was for her to become a party activist. Meloni’s father had abandoned her and her sister Arianna, and the Italian right-wing social movement filled that gap. (She later helped found the dissident political movement of the Brothers of Italy).

Learning about Meloni’s upbringing, I thought my first impressions were somewhat confirmed: the trauma of a lost father set Meloni on a mission to find purpose. Suddenly, Meloni looked like Bruce Wayne, who embarked on a journey to become Batman after his parents were murdered. And yet, Batman is a vigilante who sets out to rid the streets of Gotham City of its many villains, while Meloni has flirted several times with the idea of ​​becoming mayor of his city of Rome, but never made it.

In 2016, Meloni initially threw her hat in the ring, but eventually pulled out of the mayoral race. In 2021, Meloni again did not intervene, instead supporting right-wing candidate Enrico Michetti, who lost to Roberto Gualtieri of the center-left Democratic Party. It is generally assumed that if Meloni herself had run in the 2021 race, the right’s chances of success would have been very high. So why didn’t she go? After all, Rome is unlike any other Italian municipality and enjoys global visibility like few other cities in the world. Did Meloni deliberately decide to “sacrifice” Rome to play for the long term?

There is no doubt that Meloni’s rise in the polls reflects widespread discontent and protest votes, which we have seen in Italy at least since 2013. In fact, this was already the case with anti-establishment parties such as the Five Star Movement and the League of Matteo Salvini. of recent years. Like them, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party rose very quickly in the polls, rising from low single digits to around 25%.

Meloni’s timing seems better than previous upstarts. In fact, considering the general conditions of the Italian right these days, Berlusconi, who will be 86 next week, won’t play in the sandbox any longer. Moreover, Salvini’s limits are clear and his position as a “pivot to Russia” has made him politically radioactive, after President The invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin. This means that Meloni not only dreams of becoming Italy’s first female prime minister, but also of consolidating Italy’s conservative bloc.

Both tasks will likely require keeping moderates on board and bringing in new ones. How serious is Meloni about all this? Meloni still actively uses his repertoire of nativist and anti-revival tales. She also rallied alongside populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban earlier this month when the European Parliament voted to denounce “the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach” by Hungary of the fundamental values ​​of the EU. EU.

But Meloni isn’t afraid to normalize her party either, and she could follow the example of her former boss and mentor Gianfranco Fini. In 2003, Fini chose to normalize his party’s relations with Israel and made a highly symbolic visit there. No doubt, at the time, this move was not well received by some of Fini’s supporters. And yet, it changed the perception of the party for good.

Today, Meloni regularly describes the invasion of Moscow as an “unacceptable large-scale act of war by Putin’s Russia against Ukraine”, and advocates sending arms to the Kyiv government. Indeed, with the wind in her sails, Meloni is sending messages to a wider audience, both to woo potential voters and to placate potential critics. In fact, she knows that without a strong Atlanticist position, it would be impossible for her party to lead the country these days. Moreover, Meloni seems to have a fluent dialogue with the outgoing prime minister and hugely respected former president of the European Central Bank, to the point that we’ve already seen insinuations that Draghi has become Meloni’s “leadership coach” and guarantor. .

Of course, as is often the case with Italian politicians who are touted for high-level positions, Meloni is utterly charming – so many people are convinced they have an “exclusive” dialogue with her. The Draghiites are convinced that, given the chaos in Italy, they have Meloni’s ear, and that will be the case for some time.

And yet Steve Bannon, the global guru of the alt-right, also regularly chats with Meloni. In a bid to help Meloni tell her story, Bannon has just launched an unprecedented Italian franchise of her “War Room” show. Inevitably, this justifies the question: Who is the real Meloni? Is she the responsible leader of the party that evolved to transform the Brethren of Italy into a post-populist party, or Viktor Orban’s friend in Rome? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, the biggest test of whether Meloni really wants to protect Draghi’s legacy will be the appointment of Italy’s next finance minister. Will she nominate someone from Draghi’s old guard for the job? All eyes are on Meloni.

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