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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.