Italy’s far-right leader Meloni forms new government

Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP
Brothers of Italy’s leader Giorgia Meloni, center, flanked by Forza Italia’s leader Silvio Berlusconi, left, and The League’s leader Matteo Salvini, speaks to the press at the Quirinale Presidential Palace after talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.

ROME (AP) — Giorgia Meloni on Friday formed Italy’s new ruling coalition, assembling the country’s first far-right-led government since the end of World War II and becoming the first woman to obtain the premiership.

A presidential palace official announced that Meloni and her Cabinet would be sworn in on Saturday. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, a party with neo-fascist roots, was the top vote-getter in Italy’s national election last month.

A few hours before the new government’s formation was announced, Meloni, 45, a career politician, told reporters that she and her allies had unanimously asked President Sergio Mattarella to give her the mandate to govern.

Obtaining the premiership capped a remarkably quick rise for the Brothers of Italy. Meloni co-founded the party in December 2012, and it was considered a fringe movement on the right during its first years.

Meloni made no public comments before leaving the Quirinal presidential palace. Earlier in the day, she met with Mattarella along with her two main, sometimes troublesome, right-wing allies — Matteo Salvini and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Mattarella expressed satisfaction that the government was formed in a “brief time” following the Sept. 25 election. After the last election, in 2018, it took three months for a new ruling coalition to come together.

Quickly giving the country a new government “was possible due to the clarity of the vote outcome and to the need to proceed swiftly, also because of the domestic and international conditions that require a government in its fullness to carry out its tasks,” Mattarella told reporters.

Italy and much of the rest of Europe are struggling with soaring energy costs and the drama of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which could crimp gas supplies this winter and continue increasing household and business power bills.

Berlusconi and Salvini are longtime admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin; Meloni staunchly backs Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion. Those differences could produce challenges for their governing coalition.

Berlusconi, a three-time premier, had chafed at the election victory of Meloni’s party. The Brothers of Italy took 26%, while Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the anti-migrant League of Salvini snagged just over 8% apiece in an election with record-low turnout.

In 2018, when Italy held its previous parliamentary election, Meloni’s party took just over 4%.

Still, while her party’s members are the largest force in the Italian Parliament, Meloni needs the support of both her allies to command a solid majority.

Berlusconi, who fancies himself a rare leader on the world stage, recently derided her as “arrogant” in written comments, apparently after Meloni refused to make a lawmaker who is one of the media mogul’s closest advisers a government minister.

During a meeting this week with Forza Italia’s lawmakers, the former premier expressed sympathy for Putin’s motivation in invading Ukraine. A recording of the conversation leaked to Italian news agency LaPresse also captured Berlusconi bragging that Putin had sent him bottles of vodka for his 86th birthday last month and that he gave the Russian leader bottles of wine while the two exchanged sweetly worded notes.

In response to Berlusconi’s comments, which included derogatory remarks about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Meloni insisted that anyone joining her government must be solidly in sync with the West in opposing Putin’s war. If that meant her government couldn’t be formed, Meloni said, she’d take that risk.

As a bulwark against possible wavering on Ukraine by her coalition allies, Meloni named as defense minister one of her closest advisers, Brothers of Italy co-founder Guido Crosetto.

Meloni’s determination could serve her well in contending with pushback from her allies.

Italy’s new premier is “a woman that managed to get to the top of a very, very, very male party in a very male dominated country,″ said Nathalie Tocci, director of the International Affairs Institute, a Rome-based think tank.

Meloni chose as foreign minister Antonio Tajani, a top aide to Berlusconi in Forza Italia and a former president of the European Union’s parliament. His pro-EU background could reassure European partners worried about a Meloni government wavering in its international alliances

Salvini has at times also questioned the wisdom of tough Western sanctions against Russia. A fellow lawmaker in Salvini’s League party who was recently elected president of the Italian Parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, has publicly expressed doubts about continuing the sanctions.

While campaigning, Salvini advocated increasing Italy’s already staggeringly high public debt to pay for energy relief assistance.

Meloni, who has resisted ballooning the debt, appointed as finance minister Giancarlo Giorgetti, considered one of the most moderate League leaders. He is seen in Italy and abroad as a likely guarantor of the continuity of the economic strategies of outgoing Premier Mario Draghi, in whose government he served as industry minister.

Salvini had lobbied hard to be appointed interior minister by Meloni — a position he held in a 2018-2019 government formed by populists. Salvini’s crackdown on migrant rescue boats while in that post led to a criminal prosecution against him, with one case still pending in Sicily.

Meloni instead picked a longtime Interior Ministry official, Matteo Piantedosi, for the portfolio.

Draghi’s national pandemic unity coalition collapsed in July, after Salvini, Berlusconi and populist 5-Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte refused to back his government in a confidence vote. That prompted Mattarella to dissolve Parliament and paved the way for an election some six months early.

On Thursday, Mattarella received opposition leaders, who raised concerns that Meloni, who campaigned with a “God, homeland, family” agenda, would seek to erode abortion rights and roll back rights such as same-sex civil unions.

On Friday, Meloni tapped an ultra-conservative Catholic, Eugenia Maria Roccella, to be her minister for family, birthrates and equal opportunities.

At a 2018 event in Rome that Meloni attended, Roccella pledged to work against Italy’s law legalizing same-sex civil unions and called same-sex marriage “the end of humanity.” Italy doesn’t allow same-sex marriage.