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Q&A: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

With the formalities over, Giorgia Meloni's government can now get to work on making its vision for Italy a reality. But what what are its priorities - and how long will it last?

Q&A: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?
Italy's new prime ministerm Giorgia Meloni, flanked by deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini and Antonio Tajani (R). The government begins work this week after concluding formalities. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Giorgia Meloni’s government now has a full mandate after easily winning a confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday.

So what should we expect from the new administration? Here’s how things look so far.

What will the new government do first?

The new government take office at a particularly difficult time for Italy, and ministers will have a lot of major issues to tackle simultaneously: from the cost of living and energy crisis to the next budget, to relations with Europe and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Outlining the government’s programme in her first speech to parliament on Tuesday, Meloni focused on energy costs, the economy, and Europe.

As pledged in the winning right-wing coalition’s election manifesto, she also said the government plans to stop “illegal” immigration, cut certain taxes, and slash unemployment benefits.

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

Recognising that soaring inflation and energy costs top the list of concerns among Italian voters, 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”.

The government needs to urgently submit its budget plan for 2023, and is expected to start work on a fourth aid bill to offset the rising cost of living, though neither were mentioned in Meloni’s speech.

How are they planning to tackle the cost of living crisis?

To combat rising living costs, Meloni said her coalition plans to lower taxes through reducing VAT on essential goods, which in Italy includes basic foodstuffs.

She did not detail in her speech any concrete measures the government plans to take immediately to cut the cost of energy for businesses and households, such as by extending the fuel discounts introduced by the previous administration.

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

However she mentioned long term plans to bring down energy costs by increasing Italy’s national production in order to become more self-sufficient.

She said the government plans to do this by increasing extraction from Italy’s offshore natural gas fields and stepping up renewable energy production in the south.

Her coalition parties had pledged sweeping tax cuts during the election campaign. Meloni did not mention this in her speech, but said the government plans to extend “corporate welfare”, cut tax on employees’ bonuses, and to extend the flat tax currently available to lower-earning freelancers to higher earners as well.

The government will meanwhile make major cuts to unemployment benefits, Meloni said, insisting that the only way out of poverty is work.

The planned cuts are expected to mean about 40 percent of current claimants can no longer access any form of unemployment benefit – even while a recession looms and hundreds of Italian businesses say they risk failing due to the energy crisis, leading to “hundreds of thousands” of job losses.

Giorgia Meloni and Antonio Tajani

New Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni outlined her programme for government on Tuesday, October 25th. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

Does the new government really want to change the constitution?

Yes. Meloni stressed again in her speech that the government intends to bring in constitutional reform changing 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 stress that 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.

It’s not clear whether there’s much public interest in the idea, but Meloni made it clear that this is a priority for her government.

“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.”

How ‘far right’ is this government really?

Giorgia Meloni’s new Italian government comprises members of her post-fascist Brothers of Italy party and its coalition allies, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which is viewed as the more moderate of the three right-wing parties.

While individual ministers’ and MPs political ideologies therefore vary across the right-wing spectrum, many powerful figures in the new government are noted for their hardline nationalist ideologies, ‘ultra-Catholic’ beliefs, or open admiration for Putin’s Russia or Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

How much these extreme viewpoints will influence government policy remains to be seen.

READ ALSO: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

As for Giorgia Meloni, her premiership seems to have started with a shift towards the centre, noted Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of polling firm Youtrend, in an interview with SkyTG24 on Wednesday.

“It is almost a habit by now for prime ministers to move towards the centre, Necessarily, to embody the idea of a government for the whole nation,” he said, pointing to how former prime minister Giuseppe Conte started out with a programme that was “anything but centrist”, but represented “moderation” by the end of his time in office.

Unlike Conte, Meloni is head of her party, meaning “if she moves to the centre this shifts all the balances” and would have a moderating effect on her party and government.

Who are the ministers?

At 45 years old, Meloni is the youngest member of her government – and one of a minority of women.

Of the 26 ministers in Italy’s cabinet, only six are female. Three of those are ministers without portfolio.

She has two deputy prime ministers: League leader Matteo Salvini, and Berlusconi ally Antonio Tajani, who is also foreign minister.

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

Meloni named Giancarlo Giorgetti her economy minister. While he’s deputy leader of Matteo Salvini’s League party, he’s considered relatively moderate and pro-Europe, and is expected to broadly continue economic policies set in place by former prime minister Mario Draghi’s administration.

As well as being deputy PM, Salvini is also minister for infrastructure. While he was reportedly hoping to return to his old job as interior minister, this position gives him control of Italy’s ports and is expected to allow him to pursue his agenda of blocking migrant rescue ships at sea.

Some of the more controversial names on the list include ‘ultra-Catholic’ anti-abortionist Brothers of Italy MP Eugenia Roccella as head of the renamed Ministry for Families, Birthrate and Equal Opportunities, and the position of Agriculture Minister for Meloni’s brother-in-law, Francesco Lollobrigida.

See more about the ministers in the new government here.

How long will this government last?

Given the propensity for Italian governments to collapse, there is already widespread speculation about whether Meloni’s administration will last long enough to enact any of its planned reforms.

Despite their differences, coalition allies Meloni and Salvini have insisted the government will stay the course. They’ve repeatedly said their parties will be in power together for the full five-year term – though this would be very unusual in Italy, where postwar governments have lasted 18 months on average.

One reader poll by Italian financial news website Money.it this week found 40 percent of respondents expect the new government will manage five years, while another 30 percent said they think it will last less than 12 months.

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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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