Meloni serving her full five-year term will be a minor miracle in the famously fickle world of Italian politics, whose political instability the UK now appears ready to outdo.
TURIN — The timing caught Europe’s attention: Exactly one day after Liz Truss resigned to become the shortest-serving British prime minister in history, another conservative leader, Giorgia Meloni, announced the formation of her government to become Italy’s first-ever woman prime minister.
The comparison is notable less for their shared gender or ideology than for the very question of political staying power. With Truss’ successor set to be the UK’s fifth prime minister in six years, British weekly The Economist’s cover quipped: “Welcome to Britaly.”
Yes, for decades, the European model of political instability has been Italy.
Meloni is well aware of the history, and has made it clear that she is ready to leave this unpleasant Italian tradition behind (and to the Brits!?). Her center-right government is the first since 2008 that is supported by a relative coherent political majority, with the possibility to put to an end a series of fragile governments based on contradictory post-electoral agreements.
Headlines inside and outside Italy have been focused on Meloni’s right-wing agenda, but she knows that any measure, whether revisiting Italy’s abortion law or cracking down on immigration, depends on her ability to keep her coalition together. And it won’t be easy.
What are the divisions in Meloni's coalition?
The three parties that make up the coalition (her own Fratelli d’Italia, Matteo Salvini’s Lega, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia) are all indispensable for the government’s existence. And while sharing a basic conservative viewpoint, each one of them has a different history, different constituency, and different world views. It’s noteworthy that they belong to three distinct political groups in the European Parliament.
Indeed, it may be foreign policy where the biggest rifts lie, particularly between the pro-Europe strain of Forza Italia and those inside Lega who’ve called for “Italexit.” The coalition also contains both strongly pro-NATO-and-Ukraine forces, and friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meloni’s government may be well-positioned to last — in part because Europe itself is so fragile.
A rift that emerged starkly in the days leading up to the formation of the government, when Italian media published leaked audios in which Berlusconi was telling his party’s newly elected lawmakers that he had been exchanging “very sweet letters” and bottles of booze with Putin and blamed Ukrainian President Zelensky for provoking the war. Meloni wasted no time in responding: “Italy is firmly part of Europe and NATO. Those who do not agree with this cornerstone will not be part of the government, at the cost of giving up the government.”
It was just one of many mini crises bound to arise, but La Stampa columnist Lucia Annunziata notes that Meloni’s government may be well-positioned to last — in part because Europe itself is so fragile.
“Europe is not on the verge of a general crisis, but it’s a situation of criss-crossing instabilities,” writes Annunziata. “The last thing the EU wants to have is government crises in countries that are central to its equilibrium. Meloni can take advantage of these weaknesses.”
The Economist cover
Who are Meloni's top cabinet ministers?
The composition of Meloni’s cabinet reflects the need for balance, both domestically and abroad.
For the “reassuring” face to the world, the new prime minister chose as foreign minister Forza Italia’s Antonio Tajani, well-known and respected outside of Italy for serving as president of the European Parliament.
Lega’s Giancarlo Giorgetti, Salvini’s moderate alter ego who was among the most loyal supporters to the outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, will serve as finance minister.
Finally, Fratelli d’Italia’s Raffaele Fitto, formerly a respected member of the European People’s Party before moving to the Conservative group, of which he still represents the more moderate wing, will be in charge of European Affairs and the Recovery Plan.
Here, continuity with the previous government will be crucial, as the nearly 150 billion euros still to come from Brussels are contingent on complying with the plan agreed upon last year between Draghi and the European Commission.
But Meloni knows that her party arrived with more votes than any other in the Sept. 25 election on the wave of a demand for discontinuity. And that is represented in her governing coalition by a second face, the more radical figures put in charge of the issues that right-wing voters are traditionally most attached to.
Five tricky years
The most striking example: the new “minister of family, births and equal opportunities” will be a staunch pro-life and anti-surrogacy activist. Which does not necessarily mean that abortion rights are in danger in Italy — both the new minister, Eugenia Roccella, and Giorgia Meloni have said they do not want to touch the law — but the nomination alone sends a clear message to the most conservative segments of the population.
A mixture which has in itself all the ingredients to last five years.
Another highly charged issue is migration. As the new minister of interior, Meloni chose Matteo Piantedosi, who was Matteo Salvini’s right-hand man when the leader of the Lega was himself in that position shutting down ports to NGO ships carrying migrants and reducing protection for refugees. For his part, Salvini will have to settle for the ministry of infrastructure and transport, which still gives him a say in the management of the coast guard and the ports.
For the rest, a mixture of technocrats, veterans of the last Berlusconi government of 2008, and loyalists of Meloni herself. It’s a mixture that, combined with the absence of a competitive opposition, has in itself all the ingredients to last five years. But for any Italian prime minister (like their British counterparts now!), five years can seem like an eternity.
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