Italy’s new head of government has railed against the EU in the past. Now her first trip abroad in office has taken her to Brussels of all places. What happens after the first meeting?
During her inaugural visit to Brussels, the new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced that her country would play a greater role in the European Union. “Italy’s voice in Europe will be strong,” announced the right-wing politician on Thursday during her visit. Their interlocutors from the EU institutions invoked the cohesion of the international community.
Since her election at the end of September, it had been eagerly awaited how the Eurosceptic Meloni would position herself in Brussels. Does she rely on confrontation like she did when she was leader of the opposition? Or will she stick to the more moderate tone she had hinted at recently?
For almost two weeks, 45-year-old Meloni has been leading the third largest economy in the EU. In addition to their radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia, the conservative Forza Italia party led by ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini’s right-wing Lega are also in government. After the well-respected model European Mario Draghi at the head of a broad alliance, this is quite a change of scenery.
“I’m very happy with the atmosphere I found here,” said Meloni in the evening after their meeting. She spoke about the challenges for Europe and Italy, starting with the Ukraine war and the resulting energy crisis and the gas price cap. Other topics were “migration flows”. Your government has a different view on this. It is about defending the external borders. “I was met with an open ear.” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen thanked Meloni on Twitter for a “strong signal” because she came to Brussels on her first trip abroad.
Before the election, Meloni railed against Brussels
Shortly before the election, Meloni called out to Brussels: “The good life is over.” In addition, the former Berlusconi is still not moving away from his friend in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin. And Matteo Salvini has also made headlines in the past with his closeness to Russia. After all: Meloni recently underlined that Italy would continue to support Ukraine. “Not only because we cannot accept aggressive war and violation of a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity, but also because it is the best way to defend our national interests.”
The fact that Meloni’s first trip abroad as head of government went to the center of power in the EU can also be read as a sign of relaxation. In addition to a meeting with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, visits to the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, and EU Council President Charles Michel were on the agenda. Public statements were rare, and there were no joint press conferences. Instead, just a few meager tidbits on social media at first.
But what became quite clear: at least publicly, Meloni continues to refrain from overly pithy words. Instead, she wrote on Twitter: “We stand ready to tackle the big issues, starting with the energy crisis, by working together for a sustainable solution to support families and businesses and to curb speculation.”
Metsola appeals for cohesion
Working together – that sounds good from a Brussels perspective. The President of the EU Parliament Metsola also appealed to cohesion in the confederation of states. “We are stronger when we stand together,” she wrote on Twitter. In the face of the Russian war against Ukraine, high energy prices and rising inflation, we must remain united. There is also a photo: Metsola and Meloni shaking hands in front of an EU flag.
Has Eurosceptic Meloni become a staunch pro-European? She hardly threw her convictions overboard shortly after taking office. Their new willingness to cooperate is probably due much more to the realization that confrontation and blockades won’t get them very far.
Italy is dependent on Brussels’ goodwill
Meloni’s government is currently working on the 2023 budget. Your country is excessively indebted – at the same time the energy crisis requires more relief. So how far can Italy stretch the EU’s common stability criteria? Italy will depend on the goodwill of the EU Commission in the coming months.
The same applies to the billions from the EU fund to deal with the Corona crisis. Rome needs the money, but must meet certain criteria for the payout. Meloni would like to renegotiate – here, too, Brussels has the upper hand.
And then there is the issue of migration. In the past few days, almost 1,000 migrants rescued from distress at sea have been waiting on civil sea rescue ships for a safe haven off the coast of the Mediterranean country. Italy refused to let the ships enter as they did recently.
The short talks on Thursday are unlikely to have provided an opportunity to discuss all of this. Nevertheless, both sides can expect that these issues will accompany the coming months. At first, however, something else was in the foreground: getting to know each other personally.