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

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.

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

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.

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.

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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EXPLAINED: Why people in Italy might have to carry more cash from now on

Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be fined for refusing card payments on amounts lower than €30 – a controversial move that is expected to have a knock-on effect for shoppers.

EXPLAINED: Why people in Italy might have to carry more cash from now on

Italy’s new budget bill, whose full text was made available to the media on Wednesday, is set to add yet another controversial chapter to the country’s long and troubled history of card payment laws.

According to a clause included in the 2023 budget law, fines for retailers refusing card payments on amounts lower than €30 will now be suspended until at least June 2023.

As set out by the bill, the six-month suspension will allow the newly created Ministry of Enterprises and Made in Italy to “establish new exemption criteria” and “guarantee the proportionality of the given penalties”. 

READ ALSO: Key points: What Italy’s new budget law means for you 

And, though it isn’t yet clear what new exemptions the government is currently considering nor what exactly is meant by “proportionality”, what’s certain is that residents will now have to repopulate their pockets with some good old banknotes because businesses – from taxi drivers to cafes and bars might not accept card payments for small amounts.

Fines for businesses caught refusing card payments had been introduced by Draghi’s administration back in June 2022, with retailers liable to pay “a €30 administrative fee plus four percent of the value of the transaction previously denied”, regardless of the amount owed by the customer. 

Euro banknotes in a wallet

Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be forced to accept card payments for transactions under €30. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

But, the measure had quickly sparked outrage among retailers, who lamented having to pay hefty bank commissions on every electronic transaction – some business owners even went as far as openly defying the law and organised themselves into a No-Pos Committee (Comitato No Pos). 

Given the latest developments, it seems like their efforts might just have paid off. 

But, while many business owners will surely be happy with the suspension, others across the country have already raised doubt about the potential ripple effects of the government’s move.

Aside from shoppers having to begrudgingly carry more cash than they’re currently used to, many political commentators are warning that the suspension might be a “gift to tax dodgers” in a country where, according to the latest available estimates, tax evasion costs state coffers nearly €90 billion a year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What’s changing under Italy’s post-pandemic recovery plan? 

It’s also worth noting that the introduction of fines for businesses refusing card payments was one of the financial objectives set out within Italy’s Recovery Plan (PNRR), which expressly refers to the fight against tax evasion as one of the country’s most urgent priorities. 

It is then likely that the new cabinet will at some point have to answer for the latest U-turn on Recovery Plan policies in front of the EU Commission.