Five women set to play important roles in the Italian election

In an election campaign dominated by the men heading the major parties, several women are battling hard to make an impact when Italy goes to the polls on March 4th. Here are the names, faces, and stories to know.

Five women set to play important roles in the Italian election
Clockwise L-R: Emma Bonino, Giorgia Meloni, Beatrice Lorenzin, Maria Elena Boschi, Laura Boldrini. Photos: Tiziana Fabi, Alberto Pizzoli, Andreas Solaro/AFP

Emma Bonino, the fighter

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

“Stop loving me so much and vote for me more,” Bonino, a long-time radical activist and one of the country's most popular political figures, pleaded recently.

A veteran of battles for the right to divorce and abortion, lung cancer survivor Bonino is swimming against a right-wing tide as she makes a bid for parliament with her small party More Europe. Bonino, who will be 70 on March 9th, has returned to campaigning after spells as the European Consumer Protection Commissioner and Italian foreign minister to defend migrant rights and the European Union as both come under severe attack.

However she knows it's an uphill battle, with her party, part of the centre-left coalition led by Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party (PD), fighting to make the three percent threshold that would allow it to enter parliament.

Giorgia Meloni, the far-right firebrand

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

One of the faces of the Italian far-right, the 41-year-old Roman leads Brothers of Italy (FdI), which alongside right-wing coalition partner and rival The League is leading the charge against migrants and the EU. Meloni's party is one of the four led by Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy) that look set to take the most votes, with FdI expected to pick up around five percent.

Promising to restore order and hunt down migrants, Meloni, who was Berlusconi's youth minister between 2008-2011, made headlines and a splash on social media recently when she argued with the head of Turin's Egyptian Museum about discounted entry to Arab-speaking visitors.

As a result of her long history within the extreme-right, which can be traced back to when she was 15 years old, Meloni was recently stopped from holding a meeting by activists in left-wing stronghold Livorno.

Laura Boldrini, the target

Outcry after Northern League youth group burns model of Laura Boldrini, Italy's parliamentary speaker
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The campaign has been particularly hard on 56-year-old Boldrini, the outgoing speaker of Italy's lower house of parliament and a candidate with left-wing party Free and Equal (LeU). She has been subjected to incessant — frequently sexist — personal attacks.

For the right, the former spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is the personification of political correctness that has enabled a “migrant invasion”.

Fake news has been spread online about fictitious scandals involving her relatives. An effigy with her likeness has been burned and even images of her severed head published on social media.

READ ALSO: These are the promises Italy's political parties have made to voters

Maria Elena Boschi, the teacher's pet 

Photo: AFP

One of the leading faces of the Renzi government, Boschi, 37, was head of the proposed constitutional reform that was beaten back in a referendum in December 2016 and led to him stepping down as Prime Minister.

She has remained in government but her position has been seriously weakened by a scandal surrounding the rescue of a bank of which her father was administrator, even if anti-trust authorities ruled out any conflict of interests. Nonetheless the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) has entrusted to her a constituency that is virtually won in advance.

In Italy, candidates can present themselves in several regions at once, and Boschi is standing in five constituencies. Her candidacy in German-speaking Bolzano, on the border with Austria, led to taunts on social media and the resignation of several local activists.

Beatrice Lorenzin, the bridge 

Italy makes vaccines compulsory for school starters
Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin, 46, leader of a new centrist party Popular Civic List, is fighting for a presence in parliament. The List is allied with the PD and could play a key role should a grand coalition between the centre-right and centre-left be proposed post-election.

Even if Popular Civic List doesn't obtain the magic three percent it needs, the votes Lorenzin gets will go to the PD as long as she manages more than one percent — which could help the faltering PD and Renzi keep a foot in the race.

In November 2013 Lorenzin was one of a group of defectors from People of Freedom (Berlusconi's former party) to support a PD-run government headed by Enrico Letta, following the collapse of the grand coalition that came about from the last general elections. They kept their places once Renzi became prime minister the following February.

Both the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement have promised to repeal her law which made ten new vaccines mandatory for school children.

By Fanny Carrier

For members


What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

After Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Italy on Saturday, many are wondering what consequences the stoppage will have on the country’s energy supplies.

What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

What’s going on?

Over the past three days, Italy has received none of the gas supplies it expected from Russian energy giant Gazprom. 

The impasse officially started last Saturday, when Gazprom announced it would not be able to deliver gas to Italy due to “the impossibility of gas transport through Austria” – Russian gas supplies are delivered to Italy through the Trans Austria Gas pipeline (TAG), which reaches into Italian territory near Tarvisio, Friuli Venezia-Giulia. 

READ ALSO: Russia suspends gas to Italy after ‘problem’ in Austria

Though Gazprom originally attributed the problem to Austrian gas grid operators refusing to confirm “transport nominations”, Austria’s energy regulator E-Control said that the Russian energy mammoth had failed to comply with new contractual agreements whose introduction had been “known to all market actors for months”. 

Additional information about the incident only emerged on Monday, when Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of Italy’s national energy provider ENI, said that supplies had been suspended after Gazprom failed to pay a 20-million-euro guarantee to Austrian gas carrier Gas Connect. 

Descalzi also added that ENI was ready to step in and deposit the guarantee itself in order to unblock deliveries to Italy.

Logo of Italian energy regulator ENI.

Italian energy regulator ENI said it was ready to pay Austrian gas carriers a 20-million-euro guarantee to unblock deliveries. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

READ ALSO: Italy’s ENI ready to pay guarantee to unblock Russian gas

At the time of writing, however, no agreement between ENI, Gas Connect and Gazprom has yet been reached, with the stoppage expected to continue until Wednesday at the very least.

What would an indefinite stoppage mean for Italy’s upcoming winter season?

Though energy giant ENI appears to be confident that a compromise between all the involved parties will be reached shortly, the “indefinite shutdown” of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in early September is somewhat of a menacing precedent. 

After fears of a long-term supply suspension cropped up over the weekend, outgoing Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani publicly reassured Italians that “barring any catastrophic events, Italy will have the whole of winter covered”.

It isn’t yet clear what exactly Cingolani meant by “catastrophic”, but the latest available data seem to suggest that Italy wouldn’t have to resort to emergency measures, chiefly gas rationing, should Gazprom halt deliveries indefinitely. 

Italian Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani.

Outgoing Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani said that, “barring any catastrophic events”, Italy will have enough gas supplies for the winter. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

In 2021, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Italy received around 20 billion cubic metres of Russian gas per year, which accounted for about 40 percent of the country’s annual gas imports. 

But, thanks to the supply diversification strategy carried out by outgoing PM Mario Draghi and his cabinet over the past few months, Russian gas currently accounts for, in the words of ENI’s CEO Claudio Descalzi, only “about nine to 10 percent” of Italian gas imports.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Draghi criticises Germany over latest energy plan

Granted, Italy still receives (or, given the current diplomatic deadlock, expects to receive) a non-negligible total of 20 million cubic metres of Russian gas per day. But, should supply lines between Rome and Moscow be shut off until further notice, Italy could fall back on existing gas stocks to meet winter consumption demands. 

Last Wednesday, Cingolani announced that the country had already filled up 90 percent of its national gas stocks – Italy has nine storage plants for an overall storage capacity of 17 billion cubic metres of gas – and the government was now working to bring that number up by an additional two or three percentage points.

These supplies, Cingolani said, are set to give Italy “greater flexibility” with respect to potential “spikes in winter consumption”.

Gas storage station in Loenhout, Belgium.

Italy has nine storage plants for an overall storage capacity of 17 billion cubic metres of gas. Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

Finally, Italy is expected to receive an additional four billion cubic metres of gas from North Europe over the winter months – deliveries which will be complemented by the first shipments of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) from Egypt.

Both of these developments are expected to further reinforce Italy’s position in the energy market for the cold season.

What about the long-term consequences of an indefinite stoppage?

An indefinite shut-off of Russian gas supplies would effectively anticipate Italy’s independence from Moscow by nearly two years – Draghi’s plan has always been to wean the country off Russian gas by autumn 2024.

However, the Italian government’s strategy is (or, perhaps, was, as a new government is about to be formed) centred around a gradual phasing out of Russian supplies. As such, although not immediately problematic, a ‘cold-turkey’ scenario might create supply issues for Italy at some point during 2023.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How much are energy prices rising in Italy this autumn?

Granted, Algeria, whose supplies currently make up 36 percent of Italy’s national demand, is expected to ramp up gas exports and provide Rome with nine billion cubic metres of gas in 2023.

But, even when combined with LNG supplies from several African partners – these should add up to a total of four billion cubic metres of gas in 2023 – there’s a risk that Algerian gas might not be able to replace Russian gas on its own.

An employee works at the Tunisian Sergaz company, that controls the Tunisian segment of the Trans-Mediterranean (Transmed) pipeline, through which natural gas flows from Algeria to Italy.

Algerian gas supplies, which reach Italy through the Trans-Med pipeline (pictured above), might not be enough to replace Russian gas in 2023. Photo by Fethi BELAID / AFP

Therefore, should an indefinite shut-off be the ultimate outcome of the current diplomatic incident between ENI, Austria’s Gas Connect and Russia’s Gazprom, Italy, this time in the person of new PM Giorgia Meloni, might have to close deals with other suppliers or ask existing suppliers to ramp up production.