Anyone expecting a dramatic change of direction will be disappointed
Giorgia Meloni has been sworn in as Italy’s first female prime minister. Anyone anxious about profound change will be reassured — just as anyone hoping for a bold and exciting new direction will be disappointed. Meloni understands that having the support of the European and American establishment is crucial if she wants to remain in power.
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For a country that is highly indebted in what is effectively a foreign currency — the euro — the life of the future government hangs on the decisions of the central bank, the ECB. Meloni understands that very well. She has learnt the lesson of the 2018 Five Star-League, which was crushed by the EU in less than a year. She’s therefore gambling her political survival on being more royalist than the king — more pro-establishment, pro-European and pro-Nato than even your average centrist European government. If Meloni’s a populist, then this is a strange kind of populism.
Let’s take a look at the three key ministries: the Ministry of Economics, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health.
The new economy minister — the most important government post of all, in charge of carrying out all the major economic negotiations with the EU through the ECOFIN (Economic and Financial Affairs Council) and the Eurogroup — is the 55-year-old Giancarlo Giorgetti, the de facto leader of the pro-establishment, pro-European wing of Salvini’s League. He’s a staunch supporter of EU fiscal rules and budgetary restraint, and indeed has been a key interlocutor of Brussels and Frankfurt for many years.
During Italy’s debt crisis in 2011, Mario Draghi, then head of the European Central Bank, enlisted Giorgetti’s help to ensure parliament approved the spending cuts required by the EU and added a balanced budget requirement to the constitution. The two have stayed close and Giorgetti — in the face of Salvini’s opposition — backed Draghi’s unsuccessful bid in January to become president.
With Giorgetti in the key role of economy minister, we can expect from the new government full compliance with the EU’s economic diktats — which is likely to mean more austerity.
Another key ministry is foreign affairs, which has been given to Forza Italia’s Antonio Tajani — another committed pro-European who served as president of the European Parliament between 2017 and 2019. He’s also a staunch supporter of Nato and of military support for Ukraine — like Meloni herself. We can therefore also expect full compliance with the US-Nato strategy in Ukraine from the next government. Tajani’s choice is probably also a way of muzzling Berlusconi, to whom he’s very close. In the past few days, the government alliance seemed to be at risk when an audio clip was leaked to the press in which the former prime minister boasted about his friendship with Putin and blamed the war on Zelenskyy.
Finally, the Ministry the Health. This is one ministry where supporters of Meloni were expecting at least a bit of a break with the past, given that she was one of the few politicians to criticise Italy disastrous pandemic management. Thus when the name of Orazio Schillaci was announced, many were disappointed: the rector of the University of Tor Vergata in Rome since 2019, he was appointed by former health minister Roberto Speranza to the scientific committee of the National Institute of Health which supported the ministry in the key decisions taken during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether this means that the new government will toe Speranza’s line in the face of a new “health emergency” remains to be seen, but the choice is far from bold.
So overall Meloni has done her best to assemble a pro-establishment government through and through. This may well offer her some political and financial stability for a while, notwithstanding the tensions with Meloni’s coalition allies. But “political and financial stability” — i.e., going along with EU austerity and anti-Russian sanctions — will almost inevitably mean growing social and economic instability. Like those that came before, Meloni will soon be confronted with the impossibility of democratically governing a country under the euro.