Italy’s Meloni seeks to reassure EU with first international trip

Hardline new leader assures Brussels she wants to ‘find the best solutions together’

New Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni has sought to reassure international allies that Italy would be a dependable partner on a visit to Brussels – her first international trip since being elected the country’s most right-wing leader since the second World War.

Italy’s first female prime minister, Ms Meloni met with the presidents of the European Union’s three institutions of the European Parliament, Commission and Council in a series of sit-downs aimed to project the image of a pragmatic and mainstream leader.

“I wanted to give the signal that I brought today of an Italy that obviously wants to participate, collaborate, defend its national interests while doing it within the European dimension, find the best solutions together with other countries on the great challenges that we are faced with,” Ms Meloni told journalists following the meetings.

She spoke about the “the domino of consequences” produced by the invasion of Ukraine, and the need to find a “European solution on the increase of energy costs” as soon as possible, welcoming progress made on the idea of a gas cap.

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Ms Meloni also said she had raised the issue of “migration flows” and that her new right-wing coalition government held the “defence of external borders” to be a “priority”.

“I found ears that were willing to listen,” on the issue, she told journalists.

Brussels is wary of political instability in heavily indebted Italy, which is vulnerable to an expected economic downturn, and has carefully watched Rome to see whether the new government will pursue an antagonistic relationship towards the EU – as nationalist forces have in Poland and Hungary.

It comes at a time when Italy is the biggest recipient of jointly funded EU Covid-19 stimulus funds, and Ms Meloni’s government will oversee the expenditure of much of a €200 billion mix of grants and loans intended to modernise the Italian economy by making it more green and digital.

Ms Meloni’s coalition contains a number of firebrand figures and hardliners, and she herself is a former far-right activist who has moderated her image as she targeted a broader electorate.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen did not make a statement following the visit but issued a tweet thanking Ms Meloni for “the strong signal” sent by visiting the EU institutions on her first trip abroad. “It was a good opportunity to exchange on critical issues,” including on support for Ukraine, energy, recovery funds and migration, she wrote.

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola, who warmly welcomed Ms Meloni with cheek kisses as she arrived at the parliament, said that Italy had “always had a central role in the EU”.

“More than ever, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sky-high energy prices and increasing inflation, we must remain united. We are stronger together,” Ms Metsola wrote.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times