Italy’s New Government May Bring Surprises

On Oct. 22, the new Italian government was sworn in. Led by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party (FdI), the coalition is made up of the FdI, Lega, Forza Italia and a minor party called the “Moderates”. On the surface, it looks like a pro-EU, pro-Atlantist government, but a few paradoxes could lead to surprises.

The first is that the Foreign Minister and one of the two deputy Prime Ministers is Antonio Tajani, a former President of the European Parliament and Silvio Berlusconi’s right arm. Such a position traditionally goes to to a coalition partner, but statements by Berlusconi to the FI parliamentary group leaked just a few days before had seriously undermined Tajani’s credentials for the job. “I have re-established contacts with Putin”, Berlusconi said. “For my birthday, he sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter. I answered with Lambrusco bottles and a similarly sweet letter. I have known him as a reasonable person and a person of peace.”

Concerning Italy’s supply of weapons and funds to Ukraine, Berlusconi said he was “very, very worried”. His statements were applauded by the entire faction.

For Giorgia Meloni, who has outdone herself in the past months with a hawkish profile against Russia and China, in order to propitiate Washington, London and Brussels, such statements threatened to torpedo her efforts. Everyone expected State President Mattarella to veto Tajani, but he did not. So, even if Meloni’s first phone call as Prime Minister was to President Zelensky and Tajani’s first statements as Foreign Minister sounded very close to the war faction, the last word has not been said.

The other important aspect is that after many governments led by, or full of, unelected technocrats, this cabinet is entirely made up of elected officials. The Economy Ministry (Treasury) went to Giancarlo Giorgetti, the number two in the Lega party. Unfortunately, he represents the free-market faction in the party and is responsible for its electorally catastrophic support of the Draghi government. But he will work in the cabinet under Lega leader Matteo Salvini, who becomes the second deputy PM.

Salvini also received the Infrastructure portfolio, which is good news. He, as well as the new minister for Development of Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy), Nello Musumeci, have campaigned for building the Messina bridge and upgrading infrastructures in Southern Italy generally.

Another interesting change is the new Environment and Energy Security Minister, Gilberto Pichetto Fratin of FI, who is against the EU’s “Fit for 55” plan. The Defense Ministry goes to Guido Crosetto, a former MP who heads the Association of Aerospace and Defense Industries, and represents the pro-NATO faction.

The new Italian government was sworn in under a Damocles sword, as the coalition campaigned for tax cuts (similar to Liz Truss), and extra spending to help firms and households with the energy crisis, which could unleash a run on Italian debt and make the government a captive of the European Central Bank. However, the real challenge for Rome is to address the erosion of living standards, and deal with the rising social protests.

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