Italy's Government Faces More Instability Following Berlusconi's Death
Giorgia Meloni and Silvio Berlusconi did not have an easy relationship. The two had heated arguments, some of which were public. However, the former prime minister's death could become problematic for Meloni.
Meloni's Respectful Condolences
The two had been going through difficult months. However, on the day of the news of his death, Giorgia Meloni, in her condolence video, focused primarily on showing respect for the deceased. "Silvio Berlusconi was, first and foremost, a fighter," said the prime minister. "He was a man who never hesitated to defend his convictions."
Meloni owes Berlusconi a lot. In his years as head of Forza Italia, the former neofascist Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) became part of his first coalition, indirectly a move that destigmatized the extreme right in Italy. Directly, Berlusconi appointed Meloni, at 31 years old, as the youngest minister in Italy in 2008.
The truth is that Berlusconi and Meloni have been deeply at odds in recent months. Berlusconi's judgment that he wrote on a slip of paper, visible to photographers in the Senate in October, is likely to remain in people's minds: "Giorgia Meloni - a pedantic behavior, presumptuous, arrogant, insulting, ridiculous." Berlusconi's people had voted against Meloni's candidate for Senate President.
These wounds have not yet healed. Disagreements between the two have been publicized frequently. When Meloni opposed recognizing the children of same-sex couples, she was criticized by Berlusconi's Forza Italia.
Conflict Over Ukraine Policy
Berlusconi clashed with the Prime Minister over Ukraine policy, especially Meloni's visit to Kiev in February. Berlusconi criticized it as a mistake and blamed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the outbreak of the Russian attack war, to the horror of many of his party colleagues.
Berlusconi had a long-standing friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Within the government coalition, Berlusconi was the most ardent critic of Meloni's pro-Ukrainian policy. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who largely agrees with Meloni in supporting Kiev, is likely to take over Forza Italia.
Forza Italia's New Orientation
However, one problem for the Prime Minister is that Forza Italia must reorient itself in many areas without Berlusconi. The party had relied on Berlusconi's wallet, and he alone was the face and voice of Forza Italia. Even in the hospital a month ago, Berlusconi strained himself to make his last public appearance on camera.
"Unfortunately, I'm still at San Raffaele Clinic, but, this morning, I put on a jacket and a shirt for you," he said, marked by his leukemia, in a video that critics found touching. They were some of his last public words: "I allow myself to bother you again to remind you that local elections are taking place."
Many in Italy doubt that Forza Italia can survive without Berlusconi, who had even recorded election calls from his sickbed. This situation is not safe for Meloni, even though the Prime Minister can be calmer in foreign policy—it could disrupt the government more with a coalition partner that needs to reinvent itself politically.