On September 25, 2022, the Italian public elected Giorgia Meloni to lead a new right-wing alliance on behalf of Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy party. Today, we ask five members of the Network to reflect on what this might mean for the country’s foreign policy and international relations going forward.
Although the election victory of Giorgia Meloni and her post-fascist party has caused quite a stir in European capitals, I advise against panicking. As I see it, there are three main reasons for this.
First, Meloni’s right-wing alliance is nowhere near as stable as is often claimed. After the poor election results, Matteo Salvini’s time as Lega leader seems to be coming to an end, which will certainly lead to a dispute over his succession in the party. The third party in the alliance, Forza Italia, has also become a party of a personality cult around Silvio Berlusconi.
Secondly, the European Union is still popular in Italy. More than 70 percent of Italians support the country’s membership in the Union and the eurozone.
Thirdly, Meloni is also already trying to reassure markets and secure the confidence of allies by committing to NATO membership, reassuring Rome’s further support for Ukraine, and the continued implementation of reforms initiated by Mario Draghi.
Nevertheless, we should closely watch the further steps of a possible government under Meloni, as we need a strong Italy in Europe to face the synchronicity of current crises such as the climate crisis, inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in violation of international law.
Roderich Kiesewetter, CDU Member of the Bundestag and former General Staff Officer of the Bundeswehr (Senior Network)
Meloni’s electoral programme suggests a continuity of Italy’s foreign policy in at least three key challenges, together with the rest of Europe: the Russian war against Ukraine, implementation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), and energy security.
Meloni’s electoral programme opens with a message of reassurance: “Italy is an integral part of Europe, the Atlantic Alliance and of the West”, and “more Italy in Europe, more Europe in the world”. The overall foreign policy objective is to strengthen Italy’s diplomatic role in the challenging geopolitical context by ensuring the centrality of Rome in the Mediterranean area.
The party intends to respect commitments undertaken within the EU and Trans-Atlantic Alliance. On the NRRP, Fratelli d’Italia (FDI) appears prudent in relations with the EU, emphasising it will not revise plans approved in 2021 to relaunch the country’s post-COVID economy. On energy, again, there is continuity of Draghi’s policy, pledging support to European price-cap policies and criticism of Germany’s internal price shielding.
Building a relationship of trust with the German government, which perceives Italian right-wing parties as populist, will not be easy. Nor will bilateral relations with France, given that Macron’s government considers her a dangerous nationalist like Le Pen. Meloni must also deal with her two domestic allies – Lega leader Matteo Salvini and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi. But given that both Lega and Forza Italia received far fewer votes than Meloni, neither is likely to influence foreign policy decisions, not least on Russia, sanctions, and support for Ukraine
Nona Mikhelidze, Senior Fellow at Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) (Contact Group on Russia-West Relations)
The election of Giorgia Meloni as the next Italian leader comes as an abrupt, significant change from the previous technocratic government led by Mario Draghi, whose priority mostly revolved around the effective implementation of the COVID-19 economic stimulus. Based on the upcoming leader’s hard-line stances, there is an expectation that Meloni will pursue outstanding restrictions on civil rights. A clear cause for concern as her future policies will determine if the new leader and her party pose a threat to Italian democracy. Under her Premiership, Italy is also likely to take a much harsher (possibly militarised) approach to migration, having proposed a naval blockade in the Mediterranean.
The election results suggest the possibility of a resurgence of populism in Europe, a situation that the EU should seek to avoid. However, Meloni describes her party as being “European Conservative”, strongly rejecting anti-European stances. Thus, despite expressing admiration towards Hungarian leader Viktor Orbàn, she is likely to push for a much softer Euroscepticism, which could take the form of promoting national governments being granted more powers within the EU framework.
Nonetheless, outside of expected internal issues, Meloni has announced a continuity in policy in her loyalty to NATO and support of Ukraine, diverging from the Pro-Putin support provided by her coalition allies Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi.
Alice Saltini, Research Coordinator, European Leadership Network
The first point in Fratelli d’Italia’s 2022 election programme states that “foreign policy will focus on the defence of the national interest and the Fatherland”. Initially, Meloni’s government will most likely opt for continuity in foreign policy. Italy needs EU recovery funds and cannot afford confrontation with Brussels. Its influence within the Union and NATO is too limited for Rome to cause any substantial policy change.
Meloni has already announced its loyalty to NATO on the war in Ukraine. However, some adjustments will happen in Italy’s EU policy, where we can expect support for the illiberal right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland, for instance on the dispute concerning the rule of law.
The new government will take a harsher stance and possibly a more militarised approach to migration. It could become a disruptive force in multilateral fora concerning climate change, migration, women’s rights and the rights of sexual and other minorities. Fratelli d’Italia’s programme also states that Italy will defend its national interests in European policies and calls for refocusing foreign policy on the Mediterranean region. This can lead to tensions with some European partners.
The future direction of Rome’s diplomacy will also depend on the outcome of the next US elections. Meloni considers US Republicans and the ‘Trump camp’ her main transatlantic allies; she will be a keen supporter of their foreign policy if they win the next presidential election.
Marco Siddi, Montalcini Assistant Professor at the University of Cagliari and Senior Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (Younger Generation Leaders Network)
Much ado about nothing? With her impressive electoral success and commandeering position inside her political coalition, Giorgia Meloni is seen as now having a free hand in Italian politics.
Yet it is generally predicted that Italy’s foreign policy will register no significant change in its traditional pro-Atlanticist and pro-European stance. The new Italian leader, well aware of the importance for Europeans to stand united against President Putin, is said to stay the course. And the worldwide condemnation of the recent Russian annexation of the four Ukrainian oblasts where the conflict is still roaring can only give credit to this assumption.
Can it be definitely assumed that Giorgia Meloni will not make any imprint on Italy’s foreign policy? Behind the closed doors of the European Council sessions, the arrival of a new and well-elected leader does not usually go unnoticed. As a new voice settles in, power relationships among European nations can subtly change, and a progressive shift may emerge, especially when the newcomer stands up for a country with some influence like Italy.
On sensitive issues close to Italian interests, like the current indecisive diplomatic game with Turkey, the handling of the Libyan situation or the future EU migration policy with its impact on European relations with Africa, Italy’s foreign policy choices could gradually tilt the balance of power inside the European Union and reshape some of its current positions towards a sharper edge. It may not come out as a big bang, but it will have to be watched carefully.
Pierre Vimont, Former Executive Secretary-General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) (Senior Network)
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or all of its members. The ELN aims to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.