Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has confirmed her government’s support for the European Union, NATO and Ukraine in her first speech to parliament, a month after her far-right party won a historic election victory.
The 45-year-old man, who was sworn in as Italy’s first female leader on Saturday, on Tuesday he also rejected any link with his country’s fascist past, saying he had “never felt sympathy or closeness to anti-democratic regimes…including fascism.”
The prospect of a eurosceptic and populist government at the helm of the eurozone’s third largest economy has caused concern among Italy’s alliesparticularly in the EU.
“Italy is an integral part of Europe and the Western world,” Meloni told the lower house of parliament, adding that “Italy will remain a reliable NATO partner in supporting Ukraine.”
The last government of Mario Draghi was one of the strongest supporters of EU sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and also sent weapons to Kyiv.
Meloni supported that policy, despite being in opposition, and despite Italy’s heavy dependence at the time on Russian gas.
But one of his coalition partners, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was Recorded last week defending his old friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meloni said he would not give in to “Putin’s blackmail on energy.”
Like much of Europe, Italy is battling skyrocketing inflation, fueled by soaring energy bills, which risks pushing the country into a recession next year.
Meloni said he would strengthen existing measures to help businesses and households cope with rising prices, but warned this would hit spending elsewhere.
After his speech, politicians will hold a vote of confidence in Meloni’s government, the most right-wing in Rome since World War II, on Tuesday night.
The vote, followed by another in the Senate on Wednesday, is largely procedural as his coalition has a comfortable majority in parliament.
Before the election, Meloni’s coalition, which also includes Matteo Salvini’s far-right League, agreed to a costly program of tax cuts and spending promises.
But she has emphasized fiscal prudence, wary of Italy’s gargantuan debt worth 150 percent of gross domestic product.
He appointed as economy minister Giancarlo Giorgetti, a relatively moderate League member who was economic development minister under Draghi.
Roberto Cingolani, who served as energy minister in the last government, will also remain as adviser as Italy moves away from Russian gas and seeks to boost the use of renewable energy.
Yet even before she spoke to Salvini, her new deputy prime minister and infrastructure minister, he laid out his own costly government plan.
In a series of tweets late Monday, the League leader promised action to lower the retirement age, extend a flat tax and finally build a long-discussed bridge between mainland Italy and Sicily, which he said would create 100,000 jobs. of work.
The key to Italy’s future growth is almost 200 billion euros ($197 billion) in grants and loans from the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, which are contingent on Rome implementing key reforms from criminal justice to public administration.
Meloni said it was an opportunity to make “real change” but said he would seek “adjustments” to the plan to take into account the rising cost of energy and raw materials.
Analysts say there is little room for maneuver as the funds have already been disbursed and Brussels is unwilling to reopen negotiations.
Meloni had what he called a “fruitful” first meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday in Rome, and spoke by phone on Saturday with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party won a historic 26 percent of the vote in the September 25 elections, promising to defend Italy’s borders, traditional values and national interests abroad.
Salvini’s Liga party won 9 percent of the election, while Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia won 8 percent.