Dressed in her signature oversized whites, Giorgia Meloni took to the stage after early projections showed she was set to become Italy’s prime minister, leading a right-wing coalition with a majority in both houses of parliament.
“If we are called to govern this nation we will do it for all,” the Brothers of Italy leader told the crowd in her gravelly, rapid-fire delivery. “We will do it for all Italians, with the aim of uniting this public, of magnifying what unites it rather than what divides it.”
This was a signal of reassurance to concerned international observers, and to a country in which she remains a divisive figure. Stridently against immigration, disapproving of abortion, and against adoption rights for LGBT couples, Meloni is a former far-right activist whose party is the heir to Italy’s post-fascist tradition, but whose moderation in policy positions has been central to her rise as she swept up the disaffected supporters of the anti-establishment insurgent parties of yesterday.
After a historically low turnout Brothers of Italy is set to pick up about 26 per cent of votes, with partners the League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party bringing the coalition to 44 per cent overall.
Under Italy’s election law, designed with the aim of producing more stable governments, a vote of that level wins bonus seats to ensure an outright parliamentary majority. Coalition negotiations are now expected for the next few weeks, followed by a race to pass a budget in time for 2023.
Responses to the result spanned the spectrum across Europe.
Spanish leaders were the most openly disappointed. Their alliance with Italy in ambitions to reform the EU to allow for greater spending on social services is now profoundly weakened, and the centre-left government of Pedro Sánchez dreads a repeat result for Meloni’s ally party in Spain, Vox. Labour minister Yolanda Díaz called it “very sad and worrying”.
The Hungarian and Polish leaderships offered their warm congratulations. Having a hard-right prime minister leading one of the big countries is a coup for the European Conservatives and Reformists group, the pan-EU party founded by the British Conservatives that aims to weaken the union’s powers in favour of the “sovereignty” of member states, which Brothers of Italy sits in with Poland’s Law and Justice. They hope the momentum on the right will build as European Parliament elections approach in 2024.
But there is little panic in Brussels. This is something of a return to form for relations with Italy, which produced an all-populist coalition government in 2018. The European Commission expressed hope for “constructive co-operation” with the new administration.
Meloni’s ambitions to change spending plans for Italy’s billions of euro in jointly-borrowed Covid-19 recovery funds to adjust to the new energy crisis are a potential source of conflict. But international markets will be watching Italian spending plans carefully as a recession looms, and she may not want to make any sudden moves.
The departure of prime minister Mario Draghi leaves the EU without a heavyweight premier who was an influential force behind the EU’s response to the invasion of Ukraine, particularly in sanctioning Russia’s central bank.
Part of Meloni’s mainstream makeover has been her avowed support for Nato and Ukraine, but her coalition partners have been openly admiring of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The coming months will test whether the EU’s unity holds.