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Giorgia Meloni Falls Short

Yet another populist politician fails to stop migrants. Is the failure her fault or the system’s?

AI Safety Summit - Day Two
Credit: Alastair Grant - WPA Pool/Getty Images

I arrived in Italy the same month as 19,000 African migrants. I flew, they took boats.

This influx was covered extensively for weeks by the international media. You may remember hearing in September about the ‘‘Lampedusa migrant crisis,” in which swarms of military-aged men (no women, no children) stormed the idyllic Italian island and erected roadblocks and barricades to restrict police access. In response, local Lampedusans erected their own counter-roadblocks and protested in the streets, where they were joined by Deputy Mayor Attilio Lucia. “From today, Lampedusa says enough,” Lucia yelled. “The Lampedusans are tired. Enough is enough! … This is a failed government.”


Italian media covered this invasion, too. I don’t speak Italian, but every time I went into a cafe, restaurant, or store, the drama was unfolding on a TV on the wall, juxtaposing the plight of these desperate men against clips of a stern-looking pretty blonde woman in a pantsuit: Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. She was at that moment embroiled in a sex scandal. Her long-term boyfriend, soon to be ex, had been caught on a hot mic inviting a woman to “do threesomes or foursomes with us.”

Meloni allowed this invasion to occur despite the fact that stopping it was her primary campaign promise. Elected in September 2022, this was Meloni’s first full year in office, and as of September 14, 2023, the number of migrants arriving in Italy this year stood at 125,928. This is sharply up from 105,129 in 2022, 67,477 in 2021, and 34,154 in 2020. 

One wonders at the reasons for this seeming betrayal. Could it be a case of mere incompetence? After all, Meloni only possesses a high school diploma, never attended university, and has never held a real job. A career politician, her most powerful position prior to being elected prime minister was as youth minister of employment from 2008 to 2011, a period which saw youth unemployment in Italy rise from 21 to 29 percent. 

With no tangible accomplishments, her career has consisted solely of making fiery speeches. She’s good at stirring up a crowd, but that’s about it.

The mainstream media went nuts over her election, calling her the next Mussolini. “The Return of Fascism in Italy,” screamed a headline in the Atlantic. “Giorgia Meloni’s party is an heir to fascism,” warned Le Monde. “Today’s far-right rise echoes Mussolini’s a century ago,” chided the Washington Post


The whiplash from watching Meloni pivot from fire-breathing populist to milquetoast neoliberal shill is profoundly disheartening, to say the least. This pivot was evident in her inauguration speech, where she famously prostrated herself to the European Union and the United Nations, calling for greater globalist involvement in Italy because “Italy is part of the West.”

This shift may be financially incentivized: Italy is set to be the biggest beneficiary of the E.U. post-Covid recovery fund, to the tune of €191.5 billion in E.U. loans and grants by 2026. When you are tied to €191.5 billion, suddenly national pride takes a backseat. Meloni is doing whatever the E.U. calls for, as long as the cash keeps flowing.

What value do the sacrifices of past generations hold if their legacy is exchanged for mere stimulus funds? The tale of Meloni is a parable of our times: a leader, once the voice of her people’s hopes, finds herself ensnared in a dance with globalist power structures far greater than herself, forces that orchestrate the political ballet; the semblance of choice was just an illusion. Italian populists, like a broken and betrayed lover, learn the truth too late. Those destined to truly disrupt the system are never granted the keys to the kingdom.

Meloni continues to make allusions to sovereign borders and a naval blockade that will never be allowed to materialize, but her words are empty. In a visit to Lampedusa at the height of the invasion, Meloni stood beside European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and together they laid out a 10-point plan addressing the migrant situation. Three key planks in this plan are to “support the transfer of people out of Lampedusa” (read: spread them out around Italy rather than send them back), provide “legal pathways to migration” (read: solve the problem by legalizing it), and “step up cooperation with the United Nations” (read: less nationalism, more globalism). The rapidly aging population of Italy now seems doomed to be demographically replaced, but at least they will be replaced with a “based and redpilled” girlboss at the helm.

I lived in Rome for two months. When explaining why Meloni has struggled to fulfill her campaign promises, many Italian men I spoke to, with typical Mediterranean machismo, pointed to her gender. There is a widespread belief here that women cannot be effective populist leaders. This interpretation appears reductive, especially when considering the similar obstacles encountered by Matteo Salvini, the male former populist leader who also promised to stem the flow of migrants. Salvini’s struggles weren’t due to gender, but the constraints imposed by Italy’s legal system, which heavily favors migrant rights, creating a judicial barrier to any restrictive immigration policies. It’s not about being a man or woman. It’s about the system being stacked against nationalism.

Giorgia Meloni, acutely aware of the judicial constraints impeding her agenda, has recently adopted a more aggressive posture. In a striking statement, in October she branded certain judges “enemies of the security of the nation” and “obstacles to the defense of public order.” She attempted to implement reforms such as separating the career paths of judges and prosecutors so they can no longer switch from one job to the other. 

In response, the national judges association in Italy released a statement accusing Meloni of undermining judicial independence and autonomy. Carlo Sorgi, a retired magistrate, said: “It’s inevitable that this rightwing government, not being within legal parameters, clashes with those who have to enforce the legal parameters…. It’s absurd, but in reality, they are attacking magistrates because they want faith in magistrates to be weakened in public opinion.”

In her latest endeavor, Giorgia Meloni has boldly contested a court ruling preventing the expulsion of Tunisian migrants. The saga of this legal challenge is still unfolding, with an appeal pending, hinting at a lengthy judicial duel ahead. Is she finally getting serious or just prolonging the charade? What can she do, realistically, without leaving the E.U. or dismantling her judicial system?

As for myself, my time in Italy is drawing to a close. My visa has expired, and I must move on. There’s a certain irony in considering that, had I discarded my passport in the sea and claimed Tunisian origin, my stay might have been indefinitely extended. Adherence to the rules, it seems, has its own set of consequences.