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Giorgia Meloni Is Better Than You Think

Italy’s prime minister may not cut the most radical figure, but she has shown a way to advance her cause against daunting odds.

Fratelli D'Italia party leader Giorgia Meloni attends a rally for the elections in Piazza Roma on May 30, 2022 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Alessandro Bremec/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

When Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party won the largest share of the vote in September 2022, the mainstream media were horrified that the far right was on the brink of power; “fascism has returned to Southern Europe” was the general theme of op-eds on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Meloni, with her right-wing coalition that included the fellow populist Matteo Salvini, represented the best opportunity for a true nationalist government in Western Europe. 

Yet, 18 months after her swearing in, populists are left deflated and betrayed by the first female Prime Minister. They expected Meloni to be a wrecking ball to the EU, the European Courts, and Italy’s political establishment; but, rather than destroy the powers that be, she seems to have joined them.


In less than two years, Meloni has forged an alliance with the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, supported Ukraine in the war against Russia, and never made good on her vow to use the Italian navy to sink migrant boats as they cross the Mediterranean. Her tenure has been marked by a series of disappointments for her international supporters as Italy’s birth rate sinks and immigration climbs, with boats of illegal aliens from Africa continuing to land on the Italian shore. In short, her tenure is viewed as business as usual.

It raises the question of how the most “far-right” politician in Italy became seduced by Europe's political blob. Or are the skeptics wrong? Is Meloni navigating the course of a soft revolution despite the obstacles that have been laid before her?

Governing, Italian Style

It’s no secret that Italy has one of the most chaotic governments in Europe. 


Since the end of World War II, Italy has had almost 70 governments—more than Germany and the United Kingdom combined. This is in part due to the instability of coalition governments, but also because of the way the nation’s constitution is written and the excessive powers given to the bureaucratic state and officials not directly elected by the people.

For example, Italy’s president, who is not directly elected by the people, has some extraordinary powers. He has the right to call or not call elections; is able to send bills back to parliament for reconsideration; and is given the right to appoint the prime minister and the cabinet. This has led to the president outright rejecting political appointments and democratic elections.

If a president decides to oust the elected prime minister, the constitution allows for technocratic governments, crafted by experts and not elected members of the parties or politicians elected by voters, to control the government during political turmoil. From 1993 to 2021, four technocratic or semi-technocratic governments controlled Italy, including the Monti government from 2011 to 2013, which presided over Italy’s financial crisis and brought Italy further under the influence of Brussels. During most of these governments, Italy’s economy weakened, its industrial capacity shrunk, and international politics became a bigger part of Italy’s domestic policy. 

Domestic politics aside, Italy’s prime minister also has to contend with international organizations. Migration policy has to be in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, its budget must stay in line with EU budgetary rules, and the threat of an unstable coalition can usher in another technocratic government of experts that have little interest in Italian nationalism.

So the day Meloni won her election, the daggers were out for her. The pro-EU President Sergio Mattarella made her guarantee she would not damage Italy’s reputation within the European Union, or she may suffer the same fate as Silvio Belusconi, who was ousted and replaced by a technocratic government. The courts dared her to defy international policy around migrants in the same way that landed Salvini in court. The European Union was ready to sanction Italy if she steered too far off course with the national budget.

Much as Donald Trump faced a deep state set on slowing or stopping his agenda, Meloni walked into office knowing that a wrong move could end her time in office before it began.

Even when choosing her cabinet, Meloni had to receive the blessing of Mattarella. In 2018, when Salvini attempted to appoint the economist Paolo Savona as Finance Minister, Matarella blocked him because Savona wrote a paper about how Italy might go about abandoning the euro. It did not matter that Savona repeatedly said he would make no effort to leave the EU’s currency; he couldn’t earn the president’s support.

So the foreign observers who wondered why Meloni wasn’t acting like a human bulldozer against the EU and the nation’s political establishment failed to realize that she simply couldn’t. Safeguards were put in place everywhere to prevent her from veering too far off course. 

Europe’s Empty Nest

Meloni, however, has seized on Europe’s current weakness. 

When Berlusconi took office the second time from 2001 to 2006 and again from 2008 to 2011, he was considered the only man who could unite the fractured and impoverished nation.

Yet he was in the shadows of other giants on the international scene in Europe. Tony Blair was leading the new Labour revolution in the UK, followed by the Conservative Party’s David Cameron. Angela Merkel of Germany governed her country for 16 years, becoming the most transformational leader on the continent. Even France had Jacques Chirac, who became the most well-known European critic of the Iraq War, and then President Nicolas Sarkozy, who became an influential advocate for regime change in the Middle East. Berlusconi never reached the heights of political influence that his fellow European leaders did, let alone matching other heads of state on the international stage like George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Hu Jintao. 

The Europe of today is a shell of the one Berlusconi knew. The UK is shuffling around prime ministers like a banana republic. Emmanuel Macron has lost his legislative majority and is worried about a rising Marine Le Pen. Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor and a relative unknown to international audiences, has underwater approval ratings. Leaders across the EU are wondering how to stem the growing rise of national populism.

Meloni has met this moment by becoming Europe’s essential leader, gaining influence within Europe that few other Italian leaders have ever enjoyed.

Rather than snubbing von der Leyen or taking Italy out of the Eurozone, a promise she probably could not have kept, she’s developed a working relationship and influence over the President of the EU Commission.

It has been joked that von der Leyen spends more time in Italy than in any other country in Europe, and it’s beginning to show. Meloni positioned herself as an ambassador to the nationalist right, getting Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban to agree to a landmark EU fund for Ukraine in exchange for 10.2 billion euros that had previously been withheld from his country. She also managed to secure a similar payout from the EU for Italy.

She also was pivotal in passing a near decade-long debated EU migration compact that had been opposed by Hungary and Poland; she brokered a deal whereby Germany’s left-wing government agreed to drop pro-NGO language around the rights of migrants. While the bill wasn’t considered satisfactory to many on the New Right, it earned worse condemnation from humanitarian organizations because it reflected Meloni’s efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. 

“After years of negotiations, EU institutions are now shamefully co-signing an agreement that they know will lead to greater human suffering,” said Eve Geddie, Amnesty International’s head of the European institutions office and director of advocacy.

It’s not just EU leaders who have praised Meloni. Her decision to exit Italy from China’s Belt and Road Initiative won large support from American leaders on both sides of the political aisle.

Meloni’s statecraft, far less bombastic than that of other right-wing nationalists, is helping to set the agenda in Europe, rather than just screaming into the wind.

The Long Reformation

The foil to Meloni is her coalition partner and Italy’s former deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini.

One of Italy’s largest personalities, Salvini’s popularity and meteoric rise was followed by an equally disastrous collapse. His Lega Nord became the largest right-wing party following the 2018 election, in which it earned 17.8 percent of the vote. Salvini formed a coalition government with the left-wing populist Five Star Movement.

His efforts to combat illegal immigration and his theatrical performance on the national stage earned him wide praise from Italians. By August 2019, polls had his party in the high 30s, and he gambled that he could win enough seats in the next election to have an outright majority; he announced a motion of no confidence in the government to trigger a special election. Mattarella, however, refused to call the election, fearing a populist and anti-EU wave across Italy. So the Five Star Movement created a new coalition government with the center-left Democratic Process. 

The political instability caused Salivini’s support to crater, and his voters moved to Meloni and the Brothers of Italy. He has yet to recover. 

While the bombastic Salvini earned wide praise for his effort to stop illegal immigration by refusing to allow NGOs to dock their ships at Italian ports, the gambit did not work, and he was put on trial for his efforts.

Meloni’s nationalism is much quieter and more disciplined. After seeing the number of illegal aliens coming to the Italian shores double from 2022 to 2023, Meloni signed a slew of new crackdown initiatives, including tougher punishments on human smugglers, stricter procedures to grant humanitarian protection, longer waiting periods in detention centers, and more detention centers. 

With the EU’s blessing and von der Leyen’s assistance, Meloni created bilateral agreements with Tunisia, Turkey, and Libya, as well as an agreement with Albania’s government to house illegal aliens coming to Italy. As a result, illegal immigration dropped by 67 percent from 2023 to 2024. 

On legal immigration, however, Meloni has taken a step back from earlier campaign promises by approving 452,000 non-EU foreign workers from 2023 to 2025, increasing the annual number from 136,000 to 165,000. While the New Right sees this as a betrayal, Meloni is in a precarious situation. Italy’s fertility rate fell below replacement rates in 1976 and has been below 1.6 children per woman since 1980, hitting 1.25 in 2021. The low birthrate has started to take a toll. Italy’s population shrunk from 60.79 million in 2014 to 58.94 million in 2022. The nation’s aging population is forcing her hand, and she has acknowledged that turning around Italy’s low birth rates is paramount.

“My mother always used to tell me… you must always remember that you have the opportunity to do whatever you want, but you must never forget that your first aspiration must be to be a mother yourself,” said Senator Lavinia Mennuni of the Brothers of Italy, earning the scorn from centerists and far-left parties. 

Meloni’s government has moved 1 billion euros to encourage increasing birth rates in the forms of financial aid to female workers with at least two children, extending parental leave, and increasing daycare but only for two children families. 

Hungary’s pro-natalist policies has led to a marginal increase in their nation’s fertility rate from 1.23 in 2011 to 1.59 in 2021. Yet all the effort to reverse falling fertility with economic handouts have never been proven to be effective as a religious revival. When Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia II announced in 2007 that he would personally baptize any third-or-higher Orthodox child born to married parents, the fertility rate rose from 1.67 to 2.2 in 2016, and has remained around replacement levels for half a decade.

It’s yet to be seen if Meloni’s financial incentive can do anything to reverse the falling birth rates, or she can force Pope Francis to start doing personal baptisms; yet she recognizes that the stability of the West rests on increasing fertility rates.

Meloni understands Italy’s fragility as it faces declining fertility, illegal immigration, and a government that seeks to deny the will of the people. That is why her most ambitious political effort is rewriting the Italian constitution.

Under her new changes to Italy’s constitution, the party that secures the most votes will receive 55 percent of all seats in Parliament, similar to Greece’s model. It will also allow voters to directly elect the prime minister to a five-year term in order to ensure more political stability and give politicians mandates to move forward with their agenda. 

“We want to take advantage of the stability of this government to give Italians a reform that will allow them to choose who is going to govern them and allow the ones chosen by Italians to have five years to realize their program,” Meloni said in a social media video explaining the reforms.

The reforms would also abolish the president’s ability to form a technocratic government, thus delivering more democratic control to voters. It would also decentralize more power to each of Italy's individual regions and reduce the bureaucracy of the central government.

The EU’s parliamentary elections are about a month away, and Meloni’s ECR coalition is expected to gain seats, expanding her influence abroad and if her constitutional amendments pass, domestically as well.

Her soft nationalist revolution that seeks to move the needle from within the system is a significant departure from European politics of the past, but, if it succeeds, it will be the model for leaders as the New Right forges its way. Meloni may not be the loudest in the group, but in the end she could be the most important.