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Italy Meloni: Far-right leader agrees to form government

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Image source, Quirinale

Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni has formally accepted the job of forming the next government at the head of the country’s most right-wing administration since World War Two.

She was greeted by President Sergio Mattarella, less than a month after her Brothers of Italy party won elections.

Ms Meloni and her allies saw him earlier, and declared they were ready to govern “as quickly as possible”.

Italy’s first female PM and her cabinet will be sworn in on Saturday.

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She takes over from a very different leader in Mario Draghi who was brought in to run a country struggling to emerge from the effects of coronavirus and economic crisis.

Nato member Italy is the EU’s third biggest economy and Ms Meloni has sought to assure its Western allies that nothing will change in its foreign policy.

She made the short trip to the presidential palace in a white Fiat 500 car, before a private meeting with the president that lasted well over an hour. She then announced who would be in her cabinet.

Her government will include Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and the right-of-centre Forza Italia of Silvio Berlusconi – the 86-year-old former prime minister who for days has been at the centre of a row surrounding two leaked recordings that underlined his pro-Putin views and shook the coalition.

After the leaders had an 11-minute meeting with President Mattarella on Friday morning, she said the new team was “ready to give Italy a government that confronts with awareness and competence the urgency and challenges of our time”. Former Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi said beyond politics it was an important day: “For the first time we’ll have a woman at the helm in Italy.”

(L-R) Antonio Tajani, Licia Ronzulli, Antonio De Poli, Former premier and leader of the Forza Italia (FI) party Silvio Berlusconi, Alessandro Cattaneo, President of the Brothers of Italy party (Fratelli d'Italia), (FdI) Giorgia Meloni, Francesco Lollobrigida, Italian Lega party leader Matteo Salvini, Massimiliano Romeo, Maurizio Lupi and Riccardo Molinari

Image source, ETTORE FERRARI/EPA-EFE

Only six of her government’s 24 ministers are women. They include a minister for Family and Birth Rate, Eugenia Roccella, who has described abortion as the “dark side of motherhood”.

The new Regional Affairs Minister, Roberto Calderoli, is well known in Italy for likening Italy’s first black cabinet minister to an orangutan.

Mr Berlusconi, who is not in the cabinet, has nevertheless overshadowed its formation. Leaked audio of his pro-Putin remarks piled pressure on Giorgia Meloni, 45, who has long sought to emphasise her pro-Atlanticist credentials.

In the first audio leak, he was heard boasting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had sent him 20 bottles of vodka for his birthday and called him “number one among his five best friends”.

Then, in a leaked speech to party colleagues, he backed Russia’s pretext for its war, baselessly blaming Ukraine’s president and the West for pushing the Kremlin into an invasion. He insisted his remarks were taken out of context and that he backed the Italian and EU position on Ukraine.

Ms Meloni’s other far-right ally, League leader Matteo Salvini, has also long been seen as a Putin admirer, but she needs both men in her coalition to form a majority. Mr Salvini will become deputy prime minister in the new government.

Graphic of Chamber of Deputies

Another key Berlusconi figure, Antonio Tajani, who will hold the role of foreign minister in the new government, told centre-right counterparts in Brussels on Thursday that his party and its leader were pro-Nato and against the “unacceptable Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

The other key government post of economy minister goes to Giancarlo Giorgetti, seen as a moderate in the League party. He served as industry minister under Mario Draghi.

Giorgia Meloni’s initial task will be to help Italians fund their energy costs. But she has also worried the LGBT community with attacks on the “LGBT lobby” and same-sex parenting, and she has called for a naval blockade of Libya to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Ms Meloni has tussled over some of the key government roles with Forza Italia and the League in the weeks since her nationalist, anti-immigration Brothers of Italy party won the September elections with 26% of the vote. The two smaller parties both won little more than 8%.

Mr Berlusconi’s party refused to support her pick for speaker of Italy’s Senate, Ignazio La Russa, and the centre-right leader wrote a note describing Ms Meloni as over-bearing and arrogant.

Although Ms Meloni has sought to come across as moderate, the new Senate speaker is a co-founder of her party who collects memorabilia of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Brothers of Italy’s own roots date back to the country’s post-war neo-fascist movement.

Mr La Russa was first to meet the president on Thursday, followed by the new speaker of the lower house, Lorenzo Fontana. The Chamber of Deputies speaker hails from the far-right League and in 2018 praised Russia’s leader as “a shining light even for us in the West”.

Centre-left leader Enrico Letta, whose party came runner-up in the elections, said the views of both Mr Berlusconi and the new speaker Mr Fontana rang very serious alarm bells. Centrist leader Carlo Calenda also had deep concerns about the ex-prime minister’s pro-Putin comments.

Once the new government is sworn in, a vote of confidence next week is seen as a formality, given the size of the right-wing majority in both the Chamber and the Senate.

Senate graphic

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