Rome, The Gulf Observer: When Giorgia Meloni took office a year ago as the first far-right premier in Italy’s post-war history, many in Europe worried about the prospect of the country’s democratic backsliding and resistance to European Union rules.
The European Commission president issued a decidedly undiplomatic warning that Europe had “the tools” to deal with any member, including Italy, if things went “in a difficult direction.” There were fears in Brussels that Rome could join a strident nationalist bloc, notably Hungary and Poland, in a clash with EU democratic standards.
But since being sworn in, Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party has neo-fascist roots, has confounded Western skeptics.
She has steadfastly backed NATO support for Ukraine, especially on military aid for Kyiv against Russia’s invasion. That’s no small feat.
Her main governing coalition partners are parties whose leadership was long marked by pro-Russian sympathies — the League of Matteo Salvini, and Forza Italia, founded by Silvio Berlusconi, the late former premier who was feted at his last birthday with bottles of vodka sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The first woman to be Italy’s premier, Meloni “won out against Salvini and Berlusconi. She showed that she emancipated herself against these two male leaders,’’ said political analyst Massimo Franco.
While Meloni ran an election campaign “raging against Europe″ and ”promising she would clash with Brussels over budget issues″ once in office, she didn’t do either, noted Tommaso Grossi, a policy analyst for the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank.
Meloni’s first trip abroad as premier was to Brussels. After meeting with the EU’s most powerful officials, including Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — who raised the democracy warning — Meloni ventured that the encounters probably helped “dismantle a narrative about yours truly.”
When Meloni was hosted at the White House in July by President Joe Biden, the welcome was warm – reflecting in part her apparent resolve to end Italy’s participation in a Chinese infrastructure-building initiative known as Belt and Road that has worried the West.
Fears for Italy’s democracy have proved to be “exaggerated,’’ said Franco, who noted that Italy’s president serves as a guarantor of the republic’s post-war constitution. “The real risk for Italy is not authoritarian, it’s chaos, it’s an incompetent ruling class.”
In her own words, Meloni’s biggest challenge is illegal migration.