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Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni laid out her government's programme in her first speech before parliament on Tuesday. Here are the major points to take away.

New Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni outlined her programme for government on October 25, 2022, reaffirming her support for the EU, NATO and Ukraine and presenting herself as a steady hand to guide her country through turbulent times.
New Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni outlined her programme for government on October 25, 2022. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Italy’s new Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, delivered her first speech to parliament as premier on Tuesday morning as her government prepared to receive a vote of confidence from the lower house later that same day.

Meloni, who leads the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party and will rule as part of a coalition with the populist League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, touched on issues including the economy, energy, migration and taxes in a fiery opening address.

Here’s a quick overview of the main takeaways from her new government’s manifesto.

Commitment to the EU, NATO and Ukraine

Italy will remain an active member of EU on her watch, Meloni said, telling the lower house of parliament that “Italy is fully part of Europe and the Western world,” and that it would “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine”.

In fact, the new premier indicated she intends for Italy to take on a bigger role in the EU, which she said should not be thought of as “an elite club, with major and minor league members, or, worse, as a joint stock company managed by a board of directors,” but rather as the “common home of the peoples of Europe.”

Italy would go to Europe “with its head held high, as a founding country, without subordination and a sense of inferiority as seems to have happened in the past,” she said.

READ ALSO: Who’s who in Italy’s new hard-right government?

The prime minister also reiterated her government’s support for Ukraine, saying that she would “not give in to Putin’s blackmail on energy,” and that “those who believe that it is possible to trade Ukraine’s freedom for our peace of mind are wrong.”

Her words come several weeks after coalition partner Matteo Salvini, of the hard-right populist League party, sparked controversy by calling on the EU to “rethink” its sanctions on Moscow.

Salvini and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the third member in Meloni’s hard-right coalition, have come under fire in recent months for their longstanding ties to Russia and close relationships with Putin.

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

Prioritising the cost of living and energy crisis

Recognising that soaring inflation and energy costs top the list of concerns for most Italians, Meloni said her government would make a “massive financial commitment” to support families and businesses, even though this would “drain most of the available resources and force us to postpone other measures.”

To combat rising living costs, Meloni’s coalition plans to lower taxes through reducing VAT on essential goods, cutting taxes on worker bonuses, and expanding the flat tax currently available to freelancers earning up to a certain threshold to higher earners.

The measures will come as Italy prepares to enter into a recession, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting negative growth of -0.2 percent in the country’s GDP in 2023 – the second worst prediction for any major global economy after Germany.

READ ALSO: The five biggest challenges facing the new Italian government

One of the government’s first priorities will also be bringing down energy costs by increasing Italy’s national production in order to become more self-sufficient, the prime minister said.

It plans to do this by increasing extraction from Italy’s offshore natural gas fields, which Meloni said her government has “a duty to fully exploit”.

The government also intends to step up renewable energy production in the south, which the prime minister described as a “paradise of renewables… a green energy heritage too often blocked by bureaucracy and incomprehensible vetoes.”

Constitutional reform

Another priority for the new government is enacting a constitutional reform that would change Italy’s political system from that of a parliamentary democracy to a semi-presidential French-style system.

This was a cornerstone of Meloni’s electoral campaign and has long been a preoccupation of the Italian right, who say the current system of government – designed to keep any one party from gaining too much power in a post-Mussolini Italy – leads to political instability and dysfunction.

READ ALSO: How could Italy’s new government change the constitution?

The coalition didn’t reach the crucial supermajority of two thirds of the seats in both houses of parliament that would have allowed it push through the reform, so would need to hand over the decision to voters in a referendum.

“Let it be clear that we will not give up on reforming Italy if we are faced with prejudicial opposition,” Meloni told parliament, adding that her government is determined to “give Italy an institutional system in which whoever wins governs for five years.”

Unemployment benefit to be scrapped

Italy’s reddito di cittadinanza unemployment benefit, introduced in 2019 by the populist Five Star Movement, will likely either be scrapped or significantly slashed under the new government.

Meloni was unrestrained in her criticism of the welfare payment, which she described as “a defeat for those who were able to do their part for Italy, as well as for themselves and their families.”

To resounding applause, she quoted Pope Francis’s recent words, “Poverty cannot be fought with welfare, the door to a man’s dignity is work,” adding that while aid will not be denied to pensioners and the disabled, “for others the solution cannot be the citizen’s income, but work.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s employment rate reaches record high as fixed-term jobs soar

An estimated 920,000 people on the welfare system – 40 percent of those who benefit from it – are considered fit to work and are expected to be cut off under the new government.

Her comments came as no surprise given that her coalition had already committed in its program to replacing the benefit “with more effective measures of social inclusion and active policies for training and integration into the world of work.” What form those measures might take is still unclear.

Hard line on migration

The Meloni government plans, as promised in its election campaign, to take a hard line on “illegal” immigration. “In Italy, as in any other serious state, one does not enter illegally; you enter legally, through the decreto flussi,” the prime minister said. 

“This government wants to stop illegal departures and break up human trafficking,” Meloni told parliament, insisting it was time to stop traffickers “being the ones who decide who gets in.”

Italy’s new government intends to revive some version of the now-defunct EU naval operation ‘Sophia’ with the aim of blocking migrant boats from leaving North Africa, she said, as well as create ‘hotspots’ in Africa from which asylum seekers can submit refugee applications.

Her statements came as the Alarm Phone migrant rescue hotline put out a message that two vessels carrying over 1,300 people between them had run into trouble during a crossing of the Mediterranean and required urgent assistance.

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POLITICS

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Brazil’s former president may soon face legal charges after last week’s attempted coup. Here’s why he’s considering becoming an Italian citizen to escape extradition from the US.

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has figured heavily in international news lately after hundreds of his supporters stormed government buildings in the capital Brasilia on Sunday, January 8th, in what has now been widely recognised as a failed coup. 

And though there is currently no evidence that Bolsonaro directly ordered Sunday’s insurrection, Brazilian media reports suggest the former president may, in the words of Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, have to “answer for his crimes and be interrogated on the terrorist acts he always incited”.

It is precisely the prospect of legal prosecution that, in a turn of events very few would have been able to anticipate, might tie Bolsonaro’s fate to Italy.

Brazilian news media Istoè and O globo both recently reported that Bolsonaro, who has Italian origins, is currently planning on formally requesting Italian citizenship – a process which two of his five sons, Flavio and Eduardo, started back in 2020.

But why would becoming an Italian citizen allow Bolsonaro to evade prosecution in Brazil?

Bolsonaro is currently in Florida, USA, which he entered on December 30th, two days before his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was sworn in as the new Brazilian head of state. 

Aftermath of failed coup in Brasilia, Brazil

Hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, on Sunday, January 8th. Photo by Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

But his position in the US is shaky, to say the least. A single criminal charge – Bolsonaro is already under investigation in at least four pre-coup criminal probes – and sufficient evidence to show probable cause would be enough for the States to accept Brazil’s extradition request. 

Conversely, as an Italian citizen residing in Italy, Bolsonaro would be most likely shielded from extradition as the current agreements between Rome and Brasilia exclude extradition for crimes of political nature and the Italian Constitution (article 26) bans the “extradition of [an Italian] citizen unless international conventions command so”.

So, it seems Bolsonaro would effectively be able to evade prosecution by acquiring Italian citizenship. But should he ultimately choose to request citizenship, how likely is it that he would be successful?

While there’s no way to predict what the final outcome would be, he’d have good chances, at least in theory.

Italy is far more lenient than other countries when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry (also known as ‘right of blood’ or jure sanguinis).

In fact, there are no limits on how far back up the line of descent the applicant’s Italian ancestor is located as long as the Italian national in question was alive on or after March 17th 1861, when the Kingdom of Italy was officially born. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

Bolsonaro’s paternal great-grandfather, Vittorio Bolzonaro, moved to Brazil from Anguillara Veneta, Veneto in the late 1880s or early 1890s at the very latest.

Other than that, the issue of Italian citizenship is dependent on one remaining condition, namely that no Italian national along the line of descent formally renounced their Italian citizenship prior to the birth of their descendant. 

Italy's foreign minister Antonio Tajani

Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani has recently confirmed that no request for Italian citizenship has been made yet by Bolsonaro. Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP

There’s no way to know whether this requirement is actually met in Bolsonaro’s case, though, if it were, his path to acquiring Italian citizenship would be pretty clear. 

As with all things Italian, the process of getting an Italian citizenship application approved is usually very lengthy (taking over three years in most cases). However, there is a ‘fast-track’ option which, while requiring the applicant to relocate to Italy and become a legal resident, cuts overall processing times to around one year. 

So, should Bolsonaro ultimately go for the fast-track route – and provided that he applied immediately and all his documents (including birth, death and marriage certificates of all his relevant ancestors) were in order – the earliest he could become an Italian citizen would be at some point in 2024. 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

This is of course all purely hypothetical at present, especially as Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani confirmed on Wednesday that Bolsonaro hasn’t (yet) submitted a request for Italian citizenship. 

But the mere prospect of Brazil’s former president applying for citizenship has caused a stir within the Italian political landscape – several left-wing forces have already asked that the request be immediately rejected should it ever come through.

Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro in Italy

Bolsonaro already has honorary Italian citizenship, which was granted by the small town of Anguillara Veneta in 2021. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Some Italian social media users also highlighted the fact that it’s relatively difficult for children born in Italy to foreign parents to obtain Italian citizenship.

“Before (possibly) giving Italian citizenship to the Bolsonaro family you must give it to all children born and living in Italy who wish to be Italian citizens,” said one.

The former president already has honorary Italian citizenship, granted by Anguillara Veneta, the small town Bolsonaro’s great-grandfather originally emigrated from. However, the town’s mayor is now under increasing pressure to revoke it.

Making Bolsonaro an honorary citizen was a “grave error then” but failing to revoke the award after Sunday’s events would be nothing short of “incomprehensible”, stated Veneto regional councillors Vanessa Camani and Andrea Zanoni, both with the Democratic Party.

As for the Italian government, PM Giorgia Meloni took to Twitter on Sunday to condemn the insurrection in Brasilia. However, neither she nor any other member of her cabinet have so far taken a stance on Bolsonaro’s contentious citizenship issue.

Also, at the time of writing, no member of the League, which largely supported Bolsonaro during his tenure as president and praised him as the “pride of Veneto” in October 2018, has spoken out on the topic.

Whether it’s just a bad bout of forgetfulness or deliberate reticence, the silence is deafening.

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