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Italexit Ramp? Why Giorgia Meloni Is No Real Threat To European Unity

After far-right politician Giorgia Meloni emerged as the top vote-getter in Italy's election, the question on everyone's lips is what will her relationship be with the European Union. The risk of her pushing for an Italian exit from the EU is slim.

photo giorgia meloni on a tv set with mario draghi's image behind her

Interviewing Giorgia Meloni with an image of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi

Stefano Stefanini


ROMEGiorgia Meloni has unquestionably earned the trust of Italians. But now she will have to work on earning the trust of the rest of the world, especially the world to which Italy belongs: the West and Europe.

Italy cannot afford political isolation, economic self-sufficiency or cultural marginalization.

"Italy first" does not represent the national interests. Not for an Atlantic, European and Mediterranean middle power that belongs to organizations scattered around the globe — a dense network of interdependencies and ties on which our security and well-being depend.

New leaders are often given a trial period on the international scene. Not so for Meloni, who will get to the prime minister seat with the Russian-Ukrainian war at the center of Europe and a pressing energy emergency.

Foreign and European policy will be the de-facto litmus test of her new government — and a test of the coalition's cohesion and the future prime minister's leadership. For the sake of the continuity of the North Atlantic alliance, continued support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia must remain.

The Russia-Ukraine war as litmus test

From the opposition, Giorgia Meloni has consistently voted in favor of these government measures, including sending arms to Kyiv. She will most likely follow the same line as from the governing alliance.

Discord may come from the two allies, Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, who are stubbornly indulgent toward Vladimir Putin for various reasons. Meloni can and must enforce the line.

She can do so because Matteo Salvini of the far-right League party emerged downsized from Sunday's vote and Silvio Berlusconi's nostalgic Putinism is not shared by the rest of his party, Forza Italia.

And she must do so because Italy's good relationship with the United States, which she cherishes, depends on Ukraine. On this issue, Washington sees no party lines. There is a war, with a nuclear threat. Italy is a member of NATO, cornerstone of Europe's security, and of Italy's too. U-turns or neutrality belong to an old geological era.

No more Euro-sceptic fantasies

Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi, Maurizio Lupi and Giorgia Meloni attend the final rally of their election campaign in Rome.

Mario Cartelli/ZUMA

Concerns about the new Italian government are no secret in Brussels.

But it is best to wait for the actions, the formation, the program and, above all, the behavior of the new government and not to forget that Meloni's success is the result of democracy. These were the smart words of Emmanuel Macron, who spoke of respecting the "democratic choice" of the Italian people.

She has given up fantasies of leaving the euro or the EU.

The EU and other leaders must not leave the monopoly of congratulations to Hungary's far-right prime minister Viktor Orban, otherwise they will push her into his arms. Meloni said she wanted to distance herself from him.

She has given up fantasies of leaving the euro or the EU, which Italians do not want. Instead, she wants to "reform" the Union, in a direction to transfer more sovereignty back to member states. This turns European policy into an acid test for the new government.

Too big to fail

It is inevitable that she will seek discontinuity from the caretaker government of Mario Draghi, around three main points.

First, she will not want to undermine the national interest when it comes to national recovery plan (PNRR). Draghi, a former chief of the European Central Bank, drafted the PNRR and almost €200 billion of EU recovery fund cash was already approved by Italy’s parliament and the EU. Two out of three Italians credit Draghi with Italy's first economic revival in a long time — thanks in part to the PNRR and the reforms it triggers.

Second, Italy's two most important European partners remain Germany and France. Common sense, not politics, makes the relationship with Paris and Berlin a constant in Italy's position in Europe.

Finally, when it comes to fiscal discipline — which is a more sensitive issue to Meloni than her two allies — she can get on the warpath with Brussels, but the markets are unforgiving — just look at what is happening in the UK.

A pragmatic, non-ideological approach to European politics allows Meloni to present herself in Brussels as a leader with whom the EU can work constructively. Brussels must be able to reciprocate without being narrow-minded.

Building a positive relationship is of mutual interest: Italy needs the EU but it is also the third country in the Union — "too big to fail" and to be marginalized. We will soon find out if Meloni and other European leaders can work together. Let's hope so.

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Updated Nov. 30, 2023 at 12:10 p.m.

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