Foreign policy is driving a wedge between Giorgia Meloni and her counterparts
After a stunning general election victory last month, Giorgia Meloni and her Right-wing coalition are already in trouble. Having won 26% of the vote, the Fratelli d’Italia leader has been tasked with securing a cabinet, but both Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the centre-Right Forza Italia, and Matteo Salvini, head of the more Eurosceptic Lega, are causing problems.
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Berlusconi, a three-time prime minister, clearly resents Meloni’s domineering attitude over appointing cabinet ministers. His notes were photographed during consultations at Italy’s Senate earlier this week, where he reportedly wrote that Meloni was “argumentative, bossy, arrogant and offensive . . . She is someone who it is impossible to get along with.” Meloni replied later that evening: “Among the points listed by Berlusconi, one was missing, which is that I cannot be blackmailed.”
But while this gaffe alone wasn’t enough to warrant speculation on the collapse of the coalition before its inception, more leaked tapes raised questions as to whether this government can be tenable in the long-term. A recording by Berlusconi addressing his newly elected party members was leaked to LaPresse on Tuesday, where he said:
Berlusconi’s friendship with Vladimir Putin hasn’t gone unnoticed. And it was Meloni herself who immediately responded: “I want to be unequivocal: Italy is part of the Atlantic alliance. Whoever doesn’t agree with this position cannot be part of the government, at the cost of not forming a government.”
For anyone following her career, it may seem strange that Meloni is now full-blown atlanticist. After all, it was the Fratelli d’Italia leader who in 2014 proposed a motion in parliament objecting to the first wave of EU sanctions against Russia, claiming they were “damaging Italian interests.” But Ukraine is not the only issue on which Meloni’s foreign policy positions have evolved. Previously, she was a staunch critic of U.S. foreign policy, even going so far as to defend Hezbollah in Syria’s civil war in 2018, saying: “If in Syria it’s still possible to have the nativity scene, to defend Christians… it’s also thanks to a front comprised of Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran and even the Lebanese militia of Hezbollah.”
Until this year’s election, Meloni was also a renowned Eurosceptic. But on this she has also had to change tack because of her alliance with Poland in the EU Parliament. Both Fratelli d’Italia and Poland’s Law and Justice Party are members of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), putting her at odds with Matteo Salvini’s Lega, which is part of the far-Right Identity and Democracy group. These two groups have come into conflict over Ukraine, with the latter backing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s vocal opposition to the EU’s sanctions and hostility against Russia.
Italy’s future government is therefore struggling to coalesce on foreign policy. While Meloni holds most of the cards, she isn’t immune to the demands of her coalition partners, both of whom are necessary for her to lead a Right-wing government. If she remains as stubborn as Berlusconi suggests, she may join Italy’s long list of short-lived prime ministers.