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Meloni, the new Merkel?

Diplomats agree that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni played a key role in taming Viktor Orban during the extraordinary EU summit

By: EBR - Posted: Monday, February 5, 2024

One can disagree with certain aspects of Meloni’s policies, but it can be safely said that she has anchored Italy in the EU mainstream
One can disagree with certain aspects of Meloni’s policies, but it can be safely said that she has anchored Italy in the EU mainstream

by Georgi Gotev

Diplomats agree that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni played a key role in taming Viktor Orban during the extraordinary EU summit on Thursday (1 February). Their ideological closeness helped – which possibly augurs a bright future for Meloni.

According to Italian government sources, Meloni was pivotal in brokering the agreement. She reportedly acted as an intermediary, at least since the inconclusive December summit, up to the last-minute talks in Orban’s hotel on Wednesday night.

When Meloni became prime minister in October 2022, many in Europe were shocked to see a politician from a far-right party lead Italy. Her party, Brothers of Italy, is described by opponents as neo-fascist or post-fascist, while Meloni describes it as conservative.

The fears in Europe were even bigger, given that Italy is traditionally vulnerable to Russian influence, and one of Meloni’s key allies, Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, used to post photos of himself wearing a Putin T-shirt. Salvini is now deputy prime minister and keeps quiet about Russia.

No rapprochement with Russia took place in Italy, on the contrary, Meloni proved to be a staunch ally of Ukraine, firmly committed to NATO.

In terms of EU relations, Meloni has made comments that make sense, that the EU should deal with the “big issues” that the member states cannot tackle alone, while it should cede more powers on the issues “closer to the lives of citizens”, as per the principle of subsidiarity.

In addition, Meloni has taken full ownership of the Commission’s blueprint to curb migration via partnerships with third countries in the Mediterranean, seeking to strengthen her role as a strategic player. In turn, the EU has also capitalised on Italy’s diplomatic channels to manage migration outside its borders.

Meloni has also pledged to make African development a central theme of her mandate.

One can disagree with certain aspects of Meloni’s policies, but it can be safely said that she has anchored Italy in the EU mainstream. And she has changed the perception that if a far-right leader comes to the helm of a founding member of the EU, this would be the end of Europe.

This is, of course, great news for Marine Le Pen in France, who vehemently denounces the demonisation of her National Rally party by the country’s mainstream political players.

Many years after her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the National Front, a far-right party, Marine Le Pen has deeply transformed this force, from which she even expelled her father.

With a clear objective of becoming the next president of France, Marine Le Pen dropped the anti-NATO, anti-EU, and anti-euro rhetoric.

The essence of her policies is anti-immigration, economic nationalism, protectionism and anti-globalisation, which appeals to her working-class voters, many of whom, a generation or two before, voted for the communists or the socialists.

It is not far-fetched to imagine a right-wing political surge in the European elections in June or even a victory of Le Pen at the second round of the presidential elections in France in April 2027.

And it’s not far-fetched to imagine a Europe in which a majority of countries are led by governments with the far right as a coalition partner – not unlike how, while the most prominent leader in Europe was Germany’s conservative Angela Merkel, a majority of countries were led by the centre-right.

In such a Europe, where the far-right is part of the mainstream, Meloni could be an anchor because she has already made proof of moderateness and sagacity.

Labelling political parties as neo- or post-fascist makes little sense when they gather so many voters, because the voters are not fascist or reactionary – in most cases, they are simply disappointed with other forces they have voted for before.

And many of these parties are not necessarily anti-EU. What they do is bank on the feelings of voters who believe the EU is not doing the right thing by over-regulating everything – the farmers’ protests are a vivid illustration.

One of the best things we could do to help the far-right is to elect Ursula von der Leyen again as the Commission president. As the face of the mainstream EU for the last four and a half years, she has come to symbolise better than anyone else its shortcomings.

Our educated guess is that such a scenario is unavoidable, that she will run for the top post – and set in motion the chain of events described above..

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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