Will Meloni become Italy’s Merkel?

by Mahmoud Elmakkawe

The following article was originally published at Young Voices Europe.

On Tuesday, October 25, Giorgia Meloni, leader of Italy’s right-wing party Brothers of Italy, was officially sworn in as the country’s newly elected prime minister. The first woman to hold such a position, Meloni, who won the parliamentary elections last month, is expected to face a set of hard economic crises combined with a complicated political situation, one that would require particular leadership skills and abilities to deal with.

While many observers would legitimately feel worried about the rise of the far right in Europe and associate Meloni with that trend, the 45-year-old leader seems to have a good opportunity to prove otherwise. The right-wing politician will have to show some pragmatism and ideological flexibility should her electoral coalition continue to rule without disruptions in the 5 years to come. An advocate of some controversial stances on, inter alia, migration, abortion, feminism, EU integration and same-sex marriage, Italy’s prime minister could find herself in a position where a less intense and more liberal speech could deliver more for the country and also for her own career in government.

Winning 26% of the vote in the country’s last general election, Meloni will have to build a rapport with other factions, especially those parts of society with understandable fears of her so-called fascist tendencies. She will have to seek partnerships instead of conflicts if she is to bring life back to the economy by attracting foreign investment. An isolationist approach can seldom provide the economic growth needed to create sustainable job opportunities and improve social conditions for the vast majority of Italians.

Although it is quite hard to imagine politicians, hard-liners in particular, completely giving up on what they have been long promoting, some have proven, over history, that they can enjoy a great deal of flexibility and openness to change course when needed. In fact, Meloni has already shown some encouraging signs, albeit not enough. In her address recently before Parliament in Rome, she affirmed her strong opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She even rejected the idea of disrupting European politics amid the existing crisis with Russia portraying herself as a supporter rather than a destabiliser of EU institutions and overall western values. It was quite telling, though, to see Meloni thanking her predecessor Mario Draghi in a friendly gesture few would have expected.

On personal liberties, Italy’s leader continued her seemingly relatively conciliatory approach in her opening address, announcing that the right to abortion will remain untouched. Acknowledging the role of women in political life, she spoke about Italian women who managed to “break the heavy glass ceiling” through their contributions. She once even went on to describe her party as “conservative” rather than extreme right, in what can be seen as an attempt to rationally adjust her political discourse

But this calming rhetoric should not overshadow the fact that actions on the ground are what really matters in the end. Considering Italy’s flawed democracy and chronically problematic economy, utilising the historic moment of victory and presenting an inclusive vision for development is what Meloni badly needs to learn from the 16-year experience of Germany’s former leader Angela Merkel. The third longest-serving chancellor of Germany and the longest serving head of government in the EU, Angela Merkel was also the country’s first female leader to be elected for the office when she won the election back in 2005.

Of course, it is too early to judge or have a clear say on Meloni’s modus operandi in office. However, if Italy’s new prime minister really wants her premiership to be one of economic success and political stability, a more assuring tone of voice and participatory approach in governance, both foreign and domestic, would ultimately seem inevitable.

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