Far-right leader Meloni named Italy’s first woman PM

Italian far-right Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni was formally named prime minister on Friday after her party's historic election win, becoming the first woman to head a government in Italy.

Far-right leader Meloni named Italy's first woman PM
Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni, next to former Prime Minister and leader of Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi, addresses the media after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Friday. (Photo by ETTORE FERRARI / ANSA / AFP)

Italian President Sergio Mattarella named Giorgia Meloni as Italy’s new prime minister on Friday evening, officially tasking her with forming the new government following two days of cross-party talks.

She will present her government later on Friday and ministers will be sworn in the next day.

While Meloni was long expected to take the job, procedure dictates that the president could only name her after holding formal talks with all parties in parliament.

Her appointment marks an historic change for the eurozone’s third largest economy and for Brothers of Italy, which has never been in government.

Shortly after she was named premier, Meloni appointed Giancarlo Giorgetti as economy minister, who served under the previous government of Mario Draghi.

Her list of 24 ministers, only six of them women, included Giancarlo Giorgetti as economy minister.

He’s seen as a reassuring choice, as he served under the previous government of Mario Draghi.

Giorgetti, a former minister of economic development, is considered one of the more moderate, pro-Europe members of Matteo Salvini’s League.

Meloni also named ex-European Parliament president Antonio Tajani, of Forza Italia, as foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

Salvini will also serve as deputy prime minister and minister of infrastructure and transport.

That appointment is likely to disappoint Salvini, who wanted Meloni to give him the role of interior minister again after he previously held the post between 2018 and 2019.

The position went instead to a technocrat, Rome prefect Matteo Piantedosi.

A formal ceremony for the handover of power from Draghi to Meloni will take place on Sunday before the premier leads the first cabinet meeting.

Meloni’s party won 26 percent of the vote last month, compared to eight and nine percent respectively for her allies Forza Italia and the far-right League.

Talks on the new government overshadowed by disagreements over Russia, with Meloni claiming to be an ardent opponent of the war in Ukraine while her two would-be coalition partners are known to have close ties to Moscow.

In the most recent scandal, a recording was leaked in which Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – who heads Forza Italia – talks about his warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and appeared to blame the war in Ukraine on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Silvio Berlusconi (C) speaks with Giorgia Meloni, next to Italian Lega party leader Matteo Salvini (2nd R) after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Friday. (Photo by FABIO FRUSTACI / ANSA / AFP)

Their other coalition partner, Matteo Salvini, leader of the League party, is a long-time fan of Putin who has criticised Western sanctions on Russia.

Despite her Eurosceptic stance, Meloni has been vocal about her support for Ukraine, in line with the rest of the European Union and the United States.

READ ALSO: What will the right-wing election victory mean for abortion rights in Italy?

“I intend to lead a government with a clear and unequivocal foreign policy line,” she has said. “Italy is fully, and with its head held high, part of Europe and the Atlantic Alliance.

“Anyone who does not agree with this cornerstone will not be able to be part of the government, even at the cost of not forming a government,” Meloni has warned.

Berlusconi, 86, has said that his personal and political position “do not deviate from that of the Italian government (and) the European Union” on Ukraine.

But the tensions add to concerns that Meloni’s coalition, held together by the need for a parliamentary majority, will struggle to maintain unity.

Berlusconi’s allies insist his comments in the recording, from a meeting with lawmakers earlier this week, were taken out of context.

The billionaire media mogul described a rekindling of relations with long-time friend Putin, whom he said sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a “very sweet letter” for his birthday.

Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party claimed that the anecdote was an old one, although in the same recording he also expressed concerns about Italy arming Ukraine.

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Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.