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'Monster' or moderate: What has Italy's PM Meloni done during six months in charge?

AFP
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'Monster' or moderate: What has Italy's PM Meloni done during six months in charge?
Six months after taking the helm of Italy's most right-wing government since World War II, Giorgia Meloni has talked tough on domestic issues but internationally has been careful not to rock the boat. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Italy's right-wing PM Giorgia Meloni has transformed her image from "monster" to moderate, analysts say. But what has done during her six months in charge?

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Six months after taking the helm of Italy's most right-wing government since World War II, Giorgia Meloni has talked tough
on domestic issues but not rocked the boat internationally.

Meloni's Brothers of Italy party, which has roots in the post-war Fascist movement, sent shock waves across the European Union when it came top in September elections.

She took office in October at the head of a coalition comprising Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League and Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing Forza Italia.

Within weeks, they introduced laws to tackle mass migration and, after vowing to protect traditional family values, stopped local authorities registering the children of same-sex couples.

But Meloni is aware of the need for economic credibility, and despite handing out billions of euros to help Italians manage soaring inflation, and moves to cut taxes, she has committed to reducing Italy's colossal debt and the deficit.

The self-described "Christian mother" has also toned down her once-inflammatory rhetoric and sought to project stability on the world stage, including strongly supporting Ukraine following Russia's invasion.

Commentators say that while she portrayed herself as a radical to win power, she needs to widen her appeal if she wants to stay there.

"She's moved to the centre very, very quickly... to look beyond the radical right electorate," said Daniele Albertazzi, professor of politics at the UK's University of Surrey.

For more moderate Italians, "she's saying, I'm not a monster. I haven't done anything to rock the boat."

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Moves on migrants

Meloni's election victory was attributed in part to her appeal as a fresh face, as leader of the only party that stayed out of Mario Draghi's national unity government.

So far, her support is holding up -- the latest YouTrend survey showed Brothers of Italy with 28.6 percent of voter support, above the 26 percent it won in September.

(LtoR) France's President Emmanuel Macron, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola share a laugh ahead of a round-table meeting as part of a EU summit in Brussels, on February 9, 2023. - (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

On the domestic front, the coalition acted quickly to demonstrate it would keep its manifesto promises, helped by a weak opposition.

The first migration decree limited the activities of charities operating rescue ships in the Mediterranean, while Meloni later moved to eliminate a special protection status for migrants who do not qualify as refugees.

Critics warned the moves would cost lives and remove basic rights from vulnerable people.

Meanwhile, about 35,000 people have landed on Italy's shores so far this year, four times as many in the same period in 2022 and 2021.

Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, a close aide, also drew outrage this week by warning against the "ethnic replacement" by migrants of Italians, who have for decades recorded a low birth rate.

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Attack on LGBT rights

Meloni has vowed to provide more help for families, while railing against what she has called "the LGBT lobby".

Earlier this year, the coalition blocked local authorities that had been registering the children of same-sex couples in the absence of a national legal framework.

The move left thousands of families in limbo and was condemned by European MPs who expressed fear of a broader attack against Italy's LGBTQ community.

Francesco Galietti, from the Policy Sonar consultancy, says many domestic measures -- which include a widely mocked proposal to ban non-Italian words in public communications -- are about keeping Meloni's allies onside.

Most of the government's domestic policies "arise from coalition infighting", he told AFP.

Commentators are closely watching Salvini, who has been forced to play second fiddle to Meloni after she won over many of his voters.

For now, as deputy prime minister and infrastructure minister, he spends much of his time criss-crossing Italy in a hard hat and high-visibility jacket, on visits widely publicised on his social media channels.

'Quiet and compliant'

Meloni meanwhile is prime-ministerial, visiting and receiving global leaders and avoiding any major gaffes.

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"She strikes me as by far the most professional political operator we have now at the moment," Galietti said.

Brothers of Italy once advocated leaving the eurozone, but Meloni has been careful to avoid ruptures with the EU, despite an early spat with France over who should take in a migrant boat.

"She has positioned herself in quite a moderate way in the international arena, especially by pledging very vocally her Atlanticism and support for Ukraine," said Marianna Griffini, lecturer in European and International Studies at King's College London.

"Regarding the EU, it's important that Meloni just keeps quiet and compliant."

Italy is set to receive almost 200 billion euros ($219 billion) from the EU's post-pandemic recovery fund by 2026, in return for structural reforms.

The latest payment due in March was delayed pending further discussion with Brussels, but Meloni insists there is no cause for concern.

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Anonymous 2023/04/21 20:06
Whereas much has been written in the Anglo-Saxon press regarding the Fratelli d'Italia's roots in the post-war Fascist, and her coalition partner Lega's anti-immigration policy, little is made of her efforts to start to solve the migrant issue at the source, and the real reason why people risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean: their completely dysfunctional and hugely corrupt home countries. Meloni visited Ethiopia on 14/15 April, meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and then the African Union President Moussa Faki Mahamat. She also met Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. She is promoting Italy’s so-called Mattei Plan, which focuses on cooperation on energy and curbing migration flows from Africa. This plan is looking to promote growth in those economies as well as those of Tunisia, (fiscally imploding under the corrupt and incompetent rule of the current president) and Algeria and Libya as well. Sensible policies to secure non-Russian energy supplies, bring jobs to the locals, which in turn will encourage their citizens to stay put at home. A lot more sensible than frankly nonsensical policies to ship illegal emigrants off to Rwanda.

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