Meloni's party is anti-immigration and Eurosceptic but she supports Ukraine following Russia's invasion
Rome (AFP) - Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni was named Italian prime minister on Friday, becoming the first woman to head a government in Italy.
Her post-fascist Brothers of Italy party – Eurosceptic and anti-immigration – won the September 25 legislative polls but needed outside support to form a government.
Meloni’s appointment is an historic event for the eurozone’s third largest economy and for Brothers of Italy, which has never been in government.
Shortly after she was named, the 45-year-old from Rome named her ministers, who will be sworn in on Saturday in front of President Sergio Mattarella.
Her Brothers of Italy party won 26 percent of the vote last month, compared to eight and nine percent respectively for her allies Forza Italia and the far-right League.
Her list of 24 ministers, including six women, revealed a desire to reassure Italy’s partners. She named Giancarlo Giorgetti as economy minister, who served under the previous government of Mario Draghi.
Giorgetti, a former minister of economic development, is considered one of the more moderate, pro-Europe members of Matteo Salvini’s League.
Meloni also named ex-European Parliament president Antonio Tajani, of Forza Italia, as foreign minister and deputy prime minister.
Salvini will serve as deputy prime minister and minister of infrastructure and transport.
That appointment is likely to disappoint Salvini, who wanted Meloni to give him the role of interior minister again after he previously held the post between 2018 and 2019.
The position went instead to a technocrat, Rome prefect Matteo Piantedosi.
A formal ceremony for the handover of power from Draghi to Meloni will take place on Sunday before the premier leads the first cabinet meeting.
- Unity concerns -
The consultations to cobble together a government had been overshadowed by disagreements with her two would-be coalition partners over Meloni’s ardent support for Ukraine since the Russian invasion. The leaders of Forza Italia and the League are both considered close to Moscow.
A recording was leaked during the week in which Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – who heads Forza Italia – talks about his warm ties with Moscow and appeared to blame the war in Ukraine on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Her other coalition partner, Salvini, is a long-time fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has criticised Western sanctions on Russia.
Despite her Eurosceptic stance, Meloni has been firm about her support for Ukraine, in line with the rest of the European Union and the United States.
“I intend to lead a government with a clear and unequivocal foreign policy line,” she has said. “Italy is fully, and with its head held high, part of Europe and the Atlantic Alliance (NATO).”
“Anyone who does not agree with this cornerstone will not be able to be part of the government, even at the cost of not forming a government,” Meloni has warned.
Berlusconi, 86, has said his personal and political positions “do not deviate from that of the Italian government (and) the European Union” on Ukraine.
League leader Matteo Salvini, Giorgia Meloni and former premier Silvio Berlusconi
But the tensions add to concerns that Meloni’s coalition, held together by the need for a parliamentary majority, will struggle to maintain unity.
Berlusconi’s allies insist his comments in the recording, from a meeting with lawmakers earlier this week, were taken out of context.
The billionaire media mogul described a rekindling of relations with long-time friend Putin, who he said sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a “very sweet letter” for his birthday.
- Challenges ahead -
Meloni’s coalition wants to renegotiate Italy’s portion of the EU’s post-Covid recovery fund.
It argues the almost 200 billion euros ($193 billion) it expects to receive should take into account the current energy crisis, exacerbated by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has hit supplies of Russian gas to Europe.
But the funds are tied to a series of reforms only just begun by Draghi’s government, and analysts say Meloni has limited room for manoeuvre.
Gilles Moec, chief economist at the Axa group, said there would be a continuation of what Draghi had been doing on the economy.
“I’m not really worried, at least not in the short term, when we are in a ‘Draghi II’ (phase) in economic matters,” he told AFP.
Meloni had campaigned on a platform of “God, country and family”, sparking fears of a regression on rights in the Catholic-majority country.
She has distanced herself from her party’s neo-fascist past – and her own, after praising dictator Benito Mussolini as a teenager – and likes to present herself as a straight-talking but unthreatening leader.
Inflation in Italy rose to 8.9 percent in September over the previous year, threatening to put the country in recession next year.
The margin for manoeuvre is limited given that Italy’s colossal debt represents 150 percent of gross domestic product, the highest in the eurozone after Greece.
Draghi used his last day on the European stage on Friday to warn both his fellow leaders and Meloni that a united Europe should remain their “guiding star”.
Draghi said everyone looked at “the EU as a source of security, stability and peace”, adding: “We have to keep this in mind as a guiding star for the future, especially in troubled times like these.”