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PROFILE: Who is Giorgia Meloni, Italy's new prime minister?

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PROFILE: Who is Giorgia Meloni, Italy's new prime minister?
Italian President Sergio Mattarella (2nd L) welcomes new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (C) as she arrives for the swearing-in ceremony of the new Italian Government at the Quirinal Palace in Rome on 22nd October 2022. Photo by FABIO FRUSTACI / ANSA / AFP

As a teen activist she praised Mussolini, but Giorgia Meloni has brought her post-fascist Brothers of Italy party from the political fringes to become a national force leading the government.

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Unapologetically intense, the 45-year-old has forged a powerful personal brand that resonated with disaffected voters in elections last month, leading to her becoming Italy's first woman prime minister on Saturday.

Railing against the European Union, immigration and "LGBT lobbies", Meloni presents herself as a defender of traditional Catholic values.

"I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am Christian," she declared at a 2019 rally in Rome.

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She was the only major opposition to Mario Draghi's outgoing government, a role she played judiciously, backing him in supporting Ukraine, while challenging him in most other areas.

Through that, Meloni built an image as a steady, straight-talking politician Italians could trust, despite her party's neo-fascist roots, which she has claimed are "history" without entirely renouncing.

EXPLAINED: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

On the campaign trail, her rivals painted her as a danger to democracy - a claim many say is overlown.

However many Italians fear what her socially conservative views mean for hard-fought civil rights in a country where the Vatican and traditional values still hold sway.

She insists a family means a mother and a father -- although she and her partner are unmarried -- and opposes abortion, saying she will not change the law but wants women to "know there are other options".

Giorgia Meloni has sought to distance her party from its post-fascist roots. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Ready to govern

Born in Rome on 15th January, 1977, Meloni was brought up by a single mother in the working-class neighbourhood of Garbatella.

She joined the far-right's youth movement at age 15, became the youngest minister in post-war Italian history at age 31 under Silvio Berlusconi, and co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012.

In the 2018 elections, the party won just four percent of the vote, but it will now lead the government as part of a coalition with Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League and Forza Italia's Berlusconi.

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

She is aware of concerns about her lack of experience, particularly at a time that Italy is grappling with soaring inflation and an energy crisis linked to the war in Ukraine.

The slogan "Ready" with the smiling face of Meloni adorned billboards up and down the country during the election campaign.

Wary of Italy's huge debt, she has emphasised fiscal prudence, despite her coalition's call for tax cuts and higher social spending.

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Her stance on Europe has moderated over the years -- she no longer wants Italy to leave the EU's single currency, and has strongly backed the bloc's sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine war.

However, she says Rome must stand up more for its national interests and has backed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in his battles with Brussels.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Meloni was a teenage activist with the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.

At 19, campaigning for the far-right National Alliance, she told French television that "Mussolini was a good politician, in that everything he did, he did for Italy".

After being elected an MP for National Alliance in 2006, she repeated a claim often made by the Italian far right: that the dictator made supposed "mistakes" in the enactment of racial laws, his authoritarianism and entering World War II on the side of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.

Her party maintains the fascist slogan, “God, family, fatherland”, and its logo still features the tricolour flame symbol used by the MSI. 

Meloni has passionately defended the tricolour flame for its historical significance, while on the other hand maintaining that there is no place for fascist “nostalgia” in her party.

Meloni has a daughter, born in 2016, with her TV journalist partner.

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