‘dangerous’ Prime Minister Italy less sharp than feared


NOS NewsMonday, 11:48Amended Monday, 13:09

  • Helen D’Haens

    correspondent Italy

  • Helen D’Haens

    correspondent Italy

When Giorgia Meloni won the Italian elections last September, it was felt at home and abroad as a political landslide. Not only did she become Italy’s first female prime minister, but also the first radical right since World War II. Now she has been prime minister for 100 days – time for a first assessment.

In her campaign, Meloni had presented herself as Christian, conservative and anti-migration. She also spoke out against excessive European cooperation. The German weekly magazine Stern, left-handed, portrayed her on the cover as ‘the most dangerous woman in Europe’.

But what is left of that specter? In the first months of her term of office, Meloni mainly showed herself to be a pragmatic prime minister, who is quite willing to compromise. The extreme concerns of progressive Europe have so far turned out to be unfounded.

European cooperation

“The party is over,” Meloni had said in her campaign about European cooperation. She promised her voters more Italian participation in European decision-making and fulminated against far-reaching Brussels interference. European Commission President von der Leyen expressed concern that she had “resources” to intervene should the Italian government take measures that would harm democracy.

But the tension in the air during the campaign quickly evaporated. Her first trip abroad went to Brussels; this is how she showed that she is quite willing to cooperate.

That benevolence was also apparent when drawing up the budget for 2023. The European Commission warned that an Italian plan to have merchants refuse debit card payments up to 60 euros would encourage tax evasion. The Prime Minister scrapped it without much protest.


Meloni during her first visit to Brussels: there was no sign of an icy atmosphere at the time

Meloni’s attitude is mainly pragmatic. Italy’s public debt is exceptionally high at around 145 percent of gross domestic product. To be able to carry out projects, the country is largely dependent on European money.

The most important is the corona recovery fund, from which Rome can receive a total of about 190 billion euros in loans and subsidies. The money will only be released if the government adheres to reform plans introduced by Meloni’s predecessor Mario Draghi. Economically, Meloni therefore has relatively little room for maneuver.

New agreements on migration

Where she hopes to distinguish herself is in terms of migration. Last year, more than 100,000 migrants reached Italy by sea alone. The prime minister would like to see that number fall quickly. Her government passed a new law that makes it more difficult for aid organizations to rescue large groups of migrants. But that is mainly symbolic politics. In addition, Meloni mainly hopes to make agreements with North African countries to prevent migrants from leaving there in the first place.

However, the reality is that Italy is also heavily dependent on the EU in this area. Not only for the agreements with North Africa, but also for accommodating people who reach Europe.

Italy receives many people, but actually wants new agreements on the distribution of migrants. Other member states, such as the Netherlands, want better compliance with the current agreements.

Stagnant economy

After 100 days, Meloni is still in her ‘political honeymoon’, according to polls: her popularity has risen slightly since her election in September, to about 30 percent. Women’s magazines praise her long bob haircut and understated yet elegant clothing style.

But the further the year progresses, the harder it will be for Italy’s first female prime minister. The Italian statistics bureau predicts that the economy will grow 0.4 percent this year, compared to almost 4 percent last year. For budgetary reasons, Meloni recently decided to bring the excise duty on petrol, which had been reduced since March last year, back to the old level. It earned her a first big storm of criticism – and it won’t be the last.

Salvini and Berlusconi

The question is whether Meloni’s government can withstand even more criticism. For the time being, coalition partners Fratelli d’Italia, Forza Italia and Lega manage to fight out internal discussions without blackening each other in the media. It shows that Meloni has her government team reasonably under control for the time being. But the more popular the prime minister remains, the less likely strong characters like Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi will be willing to play second fiddle for a long time to come.

For now, all three parties maintain that they want to complete the full planned term of government together, so that they can take the time to implement reforms. “We’re aiming for the full five years,” Meloni said at a news conference this month. That would also be the first time since World War II.

Want to know more about the person Giorgia Meloni? In the run-up to the Italian elections, we made this explanation video about her last year:

Dit is Giorgia Meloni