Meloni, Salvini, Berlusconi: The key figures in Italy’s likely new government

With a right-wing alliance set for a big victory in Italy's elections on Sunday the new government is set to be led by Giorgia Meloni and some key faces from Italy's recent past.

Meloni, Salvini, Berlusconi: The key figures in Italy's likely new government
Matteo Salvini, Giorgia Meloni and Silvio Berlusconi. Photos: AFP

Giorgia Meloni

From a teenage activist who praised Mussolini to favourite to become Italy’s first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni has
had quite a journey, leading her far-right party to the brink of power.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy came top in Sunday’s elections, according to the first exit polls, while her right-wing coalition looked set to secure a majority in both houses of parliament.

Often intense and combative as she rails against the European Union, mass immigration and “LGBT lobbies”, the 45-year-old has swept up disaffected voters and built a powerful personal brand.

“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, which went viral after it was remixed into a dance music track.

She advocates traditional Catholic family values but says she will maintain Italy’s abortion law, which allows terminations but permits doctors to refuse to carry them out.

However, she says she wants to “give to women who think abortion is their only choice the right to make a different choice”.

Matteo Salvini:

Salvini, 49, is credited with turning his once regional League party into a national force thanks to his eurosceptic, “Italians First” platform.

He has been in and out of government since the last general election in 2018, joining the populist Five Star Movement and later, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity coalition.

Salvini was just 17 when he joined the then-Northern League. After rising through the ranks, he shifted its attention onto the EU, the euro and the tens of thousands of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores yearly from north Africa.

But he has since been eclipsed by the more polished Giorgia Meloni.

The war in Ukraine has also put him in a tight spot, sparking fresh scrutiny of his ties to Russia, whose president Vladimir Putin he has long admired, even wearing T-shirts bearing Putin’s face.

Whilst Meloni looks certain to be PM, Salvini hasn’t quite given up hopes of taking the role.

Silvio Berlusconi:

A three-time prime minister who owns a media empire and Serie A football club, Berlusconi may be 85 but his political ambitions are far from over.

His right-wing Forza Italia party looked set to win just eight percent of the vote but Berlusconi joined forces with Salvini and Meloni.

Should the alliance win, as expected, billionaire Berlusconi has hopes of snapping up the second highest-ranking office in the country: president of the Senate.

A last pitch for power after his bid to become Italy’s president failed in January, the Senate job would be prestigious — and provide judicial immunity, no small matter for a man currently on trial accused of paying starlets to keep quiet about his notorious parties.

However there has also been talk of Meloni and Salvini sidelining Berlusconi if they got enough of the vote to make it possible.

In short the alliance that is set to rule Italy isn’t exactly built on the firmest ground.

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EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers met in Brussels on Friday to discuss the latest migrant crisis – a move that was precipitated by Italy's controversial clash with France over the handling of refugees.

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers gathered for crisis talks on Friday as an ugly row between Paris and Rome over how to handle would-be refugees forced a EU migration reform back onto their agenda.

New arrival numbers haven’t yet hit the levels of 2015 and 2016, but European capitals are concerned about new pressure on sea routes from North Africa and overland through the western Balkans.

And now, with winter temperatures descending in eastern Europe and Ukrainian cities facing power cuts under Russian bombardment, the European Union is braced for many more war refugees.

The bloc has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but a new dispute has brought the issue to the fore.

READ ALSO: Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.

The row undermined the EU’s stop-gap interim solution to the problem, and Paris called Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.

Migrants in Lampedusa, Italy

Earlier this month, France suspended a deal by which it would take as many as 3,500 refugees stranded in Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Complaints from Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores like Italy and Greece that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants led to the previous plan.

A dozen EU members agreed to take on 8,000 asylum seekers – with France and Germany taking 3,500 each – but so far just 117 relocations have taken place.

‘Nothing new’

After Italy refused responsibility for the Ocean Viking, France has declared that it no longer wants to not only allow ships to arrive from Italian waters but also take in thousands of other migrants.

On Monday, in a bid to revive the mechanism, the European Commission unveiled another action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean route.

“Obviously the meeting was set up following the spat between Italy and France over the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking,” a European diplomat said.

“The action plan that was shared with member states is perfectly fine, but contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”

Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for the aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work”. 

“It is a waste of time,” she said.

The plan would see a closer coordination between EU national authorities and humanitarian NGOs on rescues of migrants whose make-shift, overcrowded boats are in difficulty.

And it would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.

READ ALSO: Italy arrests suspected trafficker over deaths of seven migrants

France would like a new framework within which NGO boats could operate – neither a total ban nor a carte blanche to import would-be refugees.

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse the humanitarian charities of operating without respect to national authorities and of effectively encouraging immigration.

Migrants on a boat arriving in Italy

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse NGOs of operating with disregard to national authorities. Photo by Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

Other member states, including Germany, argue that there can be no limits on humanitarian operations – all seafarers are obliged by the law of the sea to save travellers in danger. 

Ahead of the talks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned: “With almost 2,000 people having already died or gone missing so far this year alone, urgent action is needed.”

Grandi welcomed the European Commission’s draft plan for state-led rescues and predictable ports of disembarkation, adding: “While states point fingers and trade blame, lives are lost.”

Border force

While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.

On Thursday, the Czech, Austrian, Slovak and Hungarian ministers met in Prague ahead of the trip to Brussels to stress that this route accounts for more than half of “illegal arrivals” in the bloc.

Austrian interior minister Gerhard Karner said the EU should finance border protection and give members “a legal tool to return people who come for economic reasons”.

Diplomats said France and Italy would try to dominate the talks with complaints about sea arrivals, while Greece and Cyprus would point fingers at Turkey for allegedly facilitating illegal entries.

Central and eastern countries would focus on the Balkans route and, as one diplomat said, “Hungary and Poland don’t want anything to do with anything in the field of migration.”