Giorgia Meloni confronts increasingly sceptical public on Ukraine
The Italian PM remains committed to providing military aid
Giorgia Meloni’s election as Italian Prime Minister last autumn struck horror into the hearts of Europe’s technocratic elite — but it needn’t have. On the key issue of support for Ukraine, Meloni shares little with the populist style of politics with which she is so often associated.
Speaking yesterday to the Italian Senate, Meloni vowed that Rome will continue to support Ukraine’s war effort, even though much of the Italian public is against providing more military aid, because “it is right to do so in terms of national values and interests.” A poll last month found that 45% of Italians are against sending weapons to Ukraine, compared with only 34% in favour. Supporters of Meloni’s own Brothers of Italy party are particularly sceptical about her Ukraine policy, with 47% opposed to arms deliveries.
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Another poll this month found that 42% of Meloni voters want the war to end as soon as possible, even if that means Ukraine giving up some of its territory. Only 32% of them support a protracted war allowing Ukraine to beat Russia out of its territory altogether. Yet Meloni insists that military aid will continue “regardless of its impact on the consensus”, and no matter the views of her unhappy coalition partners.
In many ways her stance is brave: governments must, of course, be willing to act in ways that are unpopular. Politicians who are too sensitive to the vicissitudes of public opinion may become paralysed by difficult choices.
Meloni’s evident belief in a personal responsibility to impose her will on an increasingly sceptical public is shared by other European governments. When Slovakia announced a donation of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine last week, the nation’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger asserted that the government is “on the right side of history”. In light of polling suggesting that around half of Slovaks want Russia to win the war, his statement sounded almost like a reprimand.
The situation is similar in other countries, such as Germany and the Czech Republic, where large anti-war movements have sprung up that mostly attract disenchanted working-class voters. A German petition signed by 750,000 people, calling for negotiations instead of more military aid, attracted condemnation at home and abroad, as did a recent attempt by Czech protestors to tear down a massive Ukrainian flag from the front of Prague’s famous National Museum.
Western support for Ukraine may still be strong, but polling shows that it is falling. Leaders will therefore need to be cognisant of these shifts and not take an openly oppositional stance towards large portions of their own electorate. Statements from Meloni and others, to the effect that military aid will be maintained against the wishes of voters simply because it is the “right” thing to do, carry the necessary implication that many voters possess the “wrong” values — and that given the choice, the public would pursue a course of action which history would not look back upon favourably.
This is a serious accusation, and one which, more than anything else, is responsible for Europe’s bitter polarisation on the war in Ukraine. If politicians push too hard, then a popular backlash is inevitable.
I think Melonis support for the war shows us that she knows what would happen if she wasn’t so full-throated about it, after all, there was a week or two of panicked pearl clutching (about the evil far right elements) in the run up to her winning the election and how Italy need beware such a leader.
Then she came out in support for Ukraine and hey presto – not an issue had been raised about the Brothers of Italy since.
Of course, there’s still Berlusconi blundering into the fray with “Putin Propaganda”, but funny how these “evil, far right elements” are generally accepted now. Almost reminds me of some another country where this might be the case…
How long before we might ask if Meloni has been co-opted by the Davos crowd? Sorry if that sounds too conspiratorial!
From what I can tell about Italian politics, that kind of happens by default – the perpetual gridlock (due to having too many members in the legislative body) actually means that it’s the “institutionalists” (technocrats) that primarily run the show, because nothing can get done via legislation (after any given coalitions honeymoon period at least). Lets remember that the last PM, Draghi, was chosen by the president, not elected and was pretty much the Davos covid poster child. Oddly, he also quit when he was denied additional sweeping powers to “reform” Italy further, despite being prime minister (maybe he earned himself a better job by that point? I confess, I don’t know).
So to answer your question directly – not long (if she isn’t already co-opted as you say), otherwise they’ll sic the media on her.
A ridiculous comment with no basis – unless, of course, you are going to share some insights. I shan’t hold my breath.
It’s beyond conspiratorial. Hell will freeze over before that happens.
So where does democracy come into these things?
If politicians do something the people want, then they won’t look good in history. So better to do something the people don’t want. But didn’t the people do the electing in the first place? Hm, what a dilemma!!
And we are surprised when less than 50% vote. Bring on the populists and expel the middle class intellectuals.
Voters elect politicians who are supposed to use their good judgement to decide issue. This is especially true in foreign affairs. It’s not direct democracy, catering to the transitory whims of public opinion.
If the majority of Americans wanted to bomb Moscow, you wouldn’t want Biden heeding those polls.
With a proper modern, written constitution you can insert the necessary safeguards but still explain it all to the people.
Example. Several years ago Quebec voted to secede from Canada. The constitution required a certain percentage of votes from all states for secession to take place. So it failed. But the people, the voters were involved in everything – not just a few quiet conversations which ignored the people completely.
So Tony was right all along
Well, the fate of Athenian democracy suggests its a little more complicated than that.
Republics elect people who hopefully have time to gather all the facts from people who study various aspects of govt. Only then should they make a decision.
Italy has a tendency to absorb potential reformers and outsiders into its bureaucratic morass, so Meloni’s ‘taming’does not surprise me in the least.
Isn’t it in the US that the ‘right’ are opposed to support for Ukraine, while in Europe it’s more likely to be the ‘left’? I don’t see any contradiction in her stance.
Nice to see someone who understands how staying united during the Cold War eventually led to the collapse of Europe’s greatest enemy.
Nice also to see that she recognize that a similar enemy has come along.
absolutely – nice to see a leader with testicular fortitude (!) who actually may be wiser than her average voter …
Being Swedish I naturally support Ukraine, the dictator of a country that for 250 years belonged to the Mongolian empire, he actually threatened us and Finland point blank. At the same time I can’t get into my thinking mind how some people or countries wouldn’t support Ukraine, but on the other hand I also can’t understand that some people think men can get pregnant. Cheers
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