Italy’s new leader Giorgia Meloni has sought to reassure EU partners by promising to respect the bloc’s rules and supporting Ukraine against “blackmail” from Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Addressing parliament for the first time after being sworn in as prime minister on Saturday, the right-wing politician said her ruling coalition would not stand against EU integration, would work with other member states in a “pragmatic and non-ideologic” way and would protect “freedom and democracy”.
“We have been faced with great challenges the EU was not prepared for,” said Ms Meloni, amid the constant cheers of her Brothers of Italy colleagues.
“Giving in to Putin’s blackmail on energy would not solve the problem, it would make it worse by opening the way to further demands and blackmail,” she said.
Ms Meloni, whose party has roots in post-fascism, has worked hard to appease concerns at home and abroad about her party’s Euroscepticism and geopolitical stances that could hinder European unity, especially over the war in Ukraine.
The 45-year-old politician used her 60-minute address to condemn all forms of extremism “including fascism”, voicing her pledge to defend democratic values multiple times.
“I am aware of the prejudice toward me and my government, after all I am what British people would define as an underdog and I am going to work to surprise everyone once again,” she said.
Ms Meloni, who has been known for her attacks against Brussels’ “bureaucrats” and French mainstream politicians, surprised her coalition partners — including the anti-immigrant League party and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia — by meeting Emmanuel Macron, a staunch Europhile, on Sunday night. The French president was paying a visit to the Pope.
The meeting has been welcomed by Italian commentators as a sign of continuity in the relations between Rome and Brussels, which improved under the leadership of Ms Meloni’s pro-EU predecessor, Mario Draghi.
Ms Meloni said she would seek to amend the temporarily suspended European Stability and Growth Pact, which imposes stringent ceiling on public debt and deficits, “from within the European institutions, not outside”.
Italy would not be submissive and her government would defend the country’s business and industrial interests, she cautioned, warning against any “predatory behaviour” from foreign investors.
“We are ready to welcome the foreign companies that wish to invest in Italy with a mutually beneficial spirit,” she said.
Tax cuts and a tax amnesty for small and medium enterprises would be her priority, as well as reducing unemployment and boosting economic growth, she outlined. “The way to reduce Italy’s very high public debt are not blind austerity measures, but economic growth policies,” she said.
She praised the EU’s €750 billion recovery package as “an extraordinary opportunity for the country’s modernisation” — a departure from 2020 when her Brothers of Italy party abstained in European Parliament on key votes to approve it.
“The EU must not be an elitist circle with first class and second class members, for us it is the home of the peoples of Europe ... which will help us face the challenges that member states could hardly face individually,” she added. — Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022