Italy’s first female head of state continues to fascinate many observers of Italian politics. In her recent meeting with the Turkish President on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, Meloni said Italy wishes to develop stronger relations with Türkiye—especially in energy security and maritime affairs, as well as in counter-terrorism.
Four prominent Italo-Australians, all experts in Italian politics, have been asked to comment on the prospects of Italy’s new government, how did Italo-Australians vote, and what does Meloni’s election mean for Italy’s ties to Washington and Brussels.
What kind of ideology does Meloni promote?
Dr Francesco Stolfi, Senior Lecturer in public policy from the Macquarie School of Social Sciences, said:
“In its ideological orientation, the new Meloni government is a run-of-the-mill populist-conservative government, as most thoughtful observers of Italian politics have noted. Any connections to Fascism, by a few in government or in the parliamentary majority, are folkloric rather than a threat to democracy.
The Meloni government is starting its tenure in the expected manner, prioritizing showy measures aimed at stoking the emotions of traditionalist voters (law-decree to make rave parties illegal) and measures that protect from competition the concessionaries of public beach establishments, who have supported the right in exchange for the maintenance of their privileged status at the expense of the public purse.
An open question is the stability of the government majority. The leaders of the two junior partners (Forza Italia and the League) are chafing at their minority status and can be expected to try and draw the spotlight to themselves. Matteo Salvini, the League’s leader, has already caused Meloni’s irritation with some declarations that seem to set government policy without prior discussion within the government.”, concluded Stolfi.
The Berlusconi connection
Dr Adriano Tedde, an independent researcher, remarked:
“As an Italian elector, is one of surprise for the fuss generated in the international press (including the Italian one) about the risks for the stability of democracy in Italy.
The government that sworn in on 22 October is made of men and women (mostly men) who have already governed Italy for many years under Silvio Berlusconi (1994-6; 2001-6; 2088-11). Meloni herself is not new to the political system, having served as an MP for sixteen years. The illiberal tendencies of this coalition are well known, but I doubt our democratic institutions will be weakened by the Meloni government.
I expect continuity with previous governments’ policies, including foreign policy. What I am more concerned about is the fact that this government too is set to implement the same old inefficient economic policies (made of austerity, privatisations, deregulation, devolution, taxation cuts) which will not solve the problems of common Italians and their families, faced with precarity, stagnant wages and rising costs of living.”, Tedde said.
How did Italo-Australians vote?
“I don’t think Italians in Australia have an especially perceptive view of the victory of the new right wing government lead by Meloni. If the vote of 22 September 2022 is any guide, the majority of Italians in Australia who voted confirmed the two candidates of the Democratic Party (DP) – Nicola Care in the House and Francesco Giacobbe in the Senate. Quite a different outcome from the vote which occurred in Italy.
Nonetheless there are conditions to this voting behaviour that took place in September. The DP vote across the whole college (meaning Asia) had them with 42% of the vote while the right wing had 31% with the 5 Star movement reached 15% of the vote. The turnout in Australia was only 18% of those eligible – the lowest on record since the introduction of expatriate voting abroad. This might be troubling to all in Australia who agree with expatriate voting for 2 reasons. The first is that Italians in Australia make up a sizeable proportion of the whole college so if they are not turning out to vote then something is wrong. Second, if the voting turnout continues to decline in Australia there might need to be some amalgamation of colleges which will cause problems for the vote abroad and the winning members of parliament.
In terms of what Italians in Australia think of the government they get their information mostly from the Australian media and only the more sophisticated and recently arrived from Italy might spend more time reading through the Italian media in order to gain an opinion of the performance of the new government. The Australian media has presented the Meloni government as a surprise factor, with questions of curiosity but surprisingly not dismissal.”
Is there a prospect for more stability following her electoral success?
Meloni despite her rhetoric is trying to both to not stumble on policies and soothe the watchers – Washington, the EU and the bond, stock and finance markets. Her selection of ministers has been careful and as far as possible placing “respectable” individuals in the sensitive ministries. She has sought to avoid obvious ambushes of placing Salvini in home affairs which would provoke the EU. She kept a close contact with (Italy’s former PM Mario) Draghi while the handover was being organised and she made her prime statement that her government will defend NATO, Ukraine and Europe.
What appears possible is that the right-wing coalition could fall apart given ongoing tensions between them. Time will tell here. I doubt there will be ongoing stability as she stands on a program which brought her electoral success which will in time provoke. Civil society in Italy is strong and there will be pushback. She is in honeymoon stage for the moment.
“More Washington than Brussels”
Meloni has tried to address the EU and Ukraine issue almost from day one. Her right-wing allies have their own different views on Ukraine and Russia which will trouble her, but she has been adamant that Ukraine will receive support from Italy.
On the EU she might have some more complex matters to deal with. She is in close contact with Macron and there seems to be some rapport there. The EU is very concerned about the Resilience Fund and how it will be managed. This has been controversial even in the period of Draghi who was a source of guarantee to the EU but others including Meloni are not. On the whole Italy’s foreign policy will remain the same except that there might be a little more looking to Washington than to Brussels.”, Mascitelli concluded.
Not another March on Rome
Professor Andrea Benvenuti from the University of New South Wales said:
“With regard to the new government, my view is that the black shirts are not marching on Rome, as some media outlets have suggested. Giorgia Meloni is a conservative politician and not a fascist one. It seems to me that there is a tendency within the Left (in Italy and elsewhere in the West) to use the term “fascist” quite loosely (and wrongly, dare I say?) to undermine their conservative opponents. The strange thing is that no one ever mentions the fact that the PD (Partito Democratico) are the heirs of the Marxist-Leninist Partito Comunista Italiano, which, for many years, justified the crimes committed by Leninism and Stalinism.
That said, Meloni is a capable and intelligent politician who works hard and is across her brief. One may disagree with her political views, but there is little doubt in my mind that she has got what she needs to be a good PM. Whether this will be enough to secure a period of stability is hard to know. For what it is worth, my guess is that the League and Forza Italia won’t be easy partners for Meloni. Brothers of Italy, the League and Forza Italia are bound to disagree on important issues, but I suspect the government will hold in the short and medium term. Neither Berlusconi nor Salvini will want to go to early elections, so the incentive to stay together is strong.
Whether Meloni will be a uniting force is early to say. Much will depend on how her agenda is implemented and to what extent. The early signs are that popular support for her is growing at the expense of her two partners, but this may not last.
With regard to Italy’s support for NATO, Meloni is an Atlanticist and a more vigorous supporter of Ukraine. She is already planning to send more arms to Ukraine. While she has been very critical of the EU, she has toned down her criticism. The EU will find in Meloni a leader with whom it can work.” Benvenuti said.