Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni confirmed her government’s support for the European Union, NATO and Ukraine in her first speech to parliament, a month after her far-right party won an election victory historical.
The 45-year-old man, who was sworn in as Italy’s first female leader Saturday, Tuesday also dismissed any connection to her country’s fascist past, saying she had “never felt sympathy or closeness to undemocratic regimes…including fascism.”
The prospect of a Eurosceptic and populist government at the helm of the eurozone’s third-largest economy has sparked the concern of Italy’s alliesespecially in the EU.
“Italy is fully part of Europe and the Western world,” Meloni told the lower house of parliament, adding that it would “continue to be a reliable NATO partner in support of Ukraine.”
The last government under Mario Draghi was one of the EU’s strongest supporters of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, and also sent weapons to Kyiv.
Meloni supported this policy, despite being in the opposition – and despite Italy’s heavy dependence at the time on Russian gas.
But one of his coalition partners, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was checked in last week to defend his old friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meloni said she would not give in to Putin’s “energy blackmail”.
Like much of Europe, Italy is grappling with runaway inflation, fueled by sky-high energy bills, which could push the country into recession next year.
Meloni said she would strengthen existing measures to help businesses and households cope with rising prices, but warned it would affect spending elsewhere.
After his speech, politicians will hold a vote of confidence in Meloni’s government, the most right-wing in Rome since World War II, on Tuesday evening.
The vote, followed by another in the Senate on Wednesday, is largely procedural, as his coalition has a comfortable majority in parliament.
Ahead of the election, Meloni’s coalition, which also includes Matteo Salvini’s far-right League, agreed to a costly program of tax cuts and spending pledges.
But she emphasized budgetary prudence, being wary of Italy’s gigantic debt which represents 150% of gross domestic product.
She appointed Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti, a relatively moderate League member who served as Economic Development Minister under Draghi.
Roberto Cingolani, who served as energy minister in the last government, will also remain an adviser as Italy weans off Russian gas and seeks to boost the use of renewables.
However, even before she spoke to Salvini – her new deputy prime minister and infrastructure minister – he presented his own expensive plan for the government.
In a series of tweets on Monday night, the League chief vowed to act to lower the retirement age, extend a flat tax and finally build a long-discussed bridge between mainland Italy and Sicily, which, according to he would create 100,000 jobs.
The key to Italy’s future growth lies in nearly 200 billion euros ($197 billion) in grants and loans from the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, which depend on implementation by Rome from key criminal justice reforms to public administration.
Meloni said this was an opportunity for “real change” but said she would look for “adjustments” to the plan to account for the rising cost of energy and raw materials.
Analysts say there is little room for manoeuvre, with funds already disbursed and Brussels unwilling to reopen negotiations.
Meloni had what she called a “fruitful” first meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday in Rome, and spoke on the phone Saturday with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party won a historic 26% of the vote in the September 25 election, with a promise to defend Italy’s borders, traditional values and national interests abroad.
Salvini’s League party won 9% of the election while Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia party won 8%.