Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader who is due to be sworn in as Italy’s first female prime minister, won the election in a campaign built around a promise to block migrant boats and support “family values” and anti-LGBTQ issues.
He leads an alliance of far-right and center-right parties, including his Italian brothers, and will form the most right-wing government Italy has seen in decades.
Meloni’s victory in parliamentary elections last month suggests that the appeal of nationalism has not faded in Italy, but his vow to take the country back hard to the right still leaves anyone wondering what will happen next.
The new government is formed by a coalition with two other right-wing leaders. One is Matteo Salvini, the former interior minister who became a darling of the hard right in 2018 when he transformed his party, the League, once a northern secessionist party, into a nationalist force.
The other is Silvio Berlusconi, the centre-right former Italian prime minister widely remembered for his “bunga bunga” scandals with young women. Both men have publicly expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, raising questions about the coalition’s approach to Russia.
And earlier this week – just days before the start of consultations to form a government – secretly recorded audio was released in which Berlusconi laid the blame for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine at Kyiv’s door and boasted that he had restored relations with the Russian leader.
“I reconnected with President Putin a little bit, quite a bit, in the sense that he gave me 20 bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter for my birthday, and I responded by giving him bottles of Lambrusco,” Berlusconi said in the clip. , the Italian news agency LaPresse released on Tuesday. The 86-year-old billionaire and media mogul was speaking to members of the Forza Italia party at the time.
A party spokesman denied that Berlusconi was in contact with Putin, telling MPs he was “quoting an old story from many years ago”. Berlusconi defended his comments in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera on Thursday, saying they were taken out of context.
Amid backlash over the comments, Meloni, who has been a strong supporter of Ukraine while fighting Moscow’s invasion, sought to clarify where he and the coalition would stand once in power.
“I have been clear and I will always be clear, I intend to run a government with a clear and unequivocal foreign policy. Italy is fully part of Europe and the Atlantic Alliance. Anyone who does not agree with this principle will not be able to be in the government, at the cost of not being in the government.. With us governing, Italy will never be a weak link in the West,” he said.
However, liberals in Italy and the European Union are afraid of what this promised right turn could mean for the country and its future; while conservative voters believe that only a strong politician like Meloni can lead the country out of crisis amid high energy. costs and high youth unemployment.
“Meloni is not representative of the voting possibilities of radical right voters, because we have data showing that the center-right voted mostly,” Luiss Guido Carli University political science professor Lorenzo De Sio told CNN.
“I would say that Meloni’s motto is to be a kind of new conservative, that is to say, the 21st century. conservatism for the century. He may have some lingering connection with the post-fascist legacy, but clearly that is not the core of his political platform now.’
Meloni grew up in the Roman quarter of Garbatella, a historically left-wing part of southern Rome built during the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. He got his political start in the Gazte Fronte movement, a political organization with fascist roots.
He founded his own political party, the Brothers of Italy, and in just four years went from taking 4% of the vote to winning 26% in last month’s election. Although this does not represent the majority of Italians, thanks to its cooperation with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Salvini’s League, the coalition has enough seats in parliament to govern the country.
Back in the neighborhood of Garbatella, Meloni would go with his mother among the fruit and vegetable stalls, some of the locals remember him as a child, long before he became a politician. Opinions on what he will look like as a leader vary widely.
“I know him very well. I knew him since I was a child,” said Aldo, a fruit and vegetable seller in Garbatella, who has run his market stall for decades. “Her mother used to come here to shop. He always had a book at hand to study. If he progresses as he did when he was little, he will be strong.”
He added: “You have to have a strong fist. Time. You understand? That’s how you move forward. Otherwise Italy, kapoof, leaves!’
Next to the market, Gloria, who was born and raised in Garbatella and helps her son at the Roman food stand, has very different views.
“What he’s said so far scares me,” he told CNN.
“There are a lot of people who connect with those kinds of conservative ideals because they’re racist, because they’re not progressive. I have three children and I wonder if my daughter, if she wants, will have the freedom to be a lesbian to have an abortion?
Meloni has recently tried to distance his party from its neo-fascist roots. His policy proposals have also evolved over time, including pushing back on some anti-EU ideas.
In 2014, he said: “Italy must leave the euro!” and Congress called for the sanctions against Russia to be lifted. Now, according to the proposed plan for his government and recent comments, he wants Italy to be a “star in Europe”.
Emiliano, a local who was shopping at the Garbatella market, said he did not bother to vote in the last election. “Neither the left nor the right deserve a vote. Before, politicians ate but we also ate. They only eat now,” he said.
With rising energy costs, the risk for Italian businesses and households is high. The agricultural sector, which represents 1.96% of Italy’s GDP, is suffering without everything from fertiliser, diesel, electricity and glass, causing prices to rise rapidly with a devastating impact on farm budgets, according to the largest association Coldiretti. agricultural aid in Italy.
According to a recent report by Coldiretti, rising production costs have forced many small agricultural businesses to close for the season because they cannot cope.
Sabina Petrucci manages her family’s olive oil company, Olio Petrucci, and is also a member of Coldiretti’s European Council of Young Agricultural Workers. He feels hopeful and believes that the only way to solve today’s problems is through strong political leadership.
“We need a very concrete government that will help us with energy costs and also to get subsidies and financial support that we may need in the future,” said Petrucci. “A lot of producers in the area are stopping their production, they’re really scared because the costs are going up.”
He described the increase in energy costs as “the main threat for us”, adding: “We opened our mill, but production costs have increased during the summer.”
Italy has the world’s third-oldest population, but Meloni and his party have been working to reach out to Italy’s youth, the next generation of voters. He started entering politics at the age of 15, after registering with the Youth Front, the youth wing of the Social Movement of Italy (MSI), the party founded by Giorgio Almirante, who was a minister in the government of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Francesco Todde is the leader of the National Youth movement, a political movement launched by the Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party in 2014 to connect with a politically interested young generation of Italians frustrated with the political situation.
“Giorgia Meloni comes from the political path of young people, so he always paid a lot of attention to young people and made reforms for young people. At the beginning of his political career he was the minister of youth,” he told CNN.
Elisa Segnini Bocchia, another committed member of the National Youth movement, responded to the reason why some associate this movement with fascism: “Our past is not our future. So we don’t look at the past. We are looking for a new future.”