But most of these days — in the midst of chauvinist insults and leaked pro-Russian recordings — it’s hard to tell whether her far-right coalition is coming together or falling apart.
When the Coalition ran away with an electoral victory a month ago, its recipe for popularity — preaching the issue of culture wars while guaranteeing stability in Europe — seemed set to inspire other far-right movements. Now, the bigger question is whether its members can emerge from infighting, fueling anxiety and a sense of unpredictability about the direction of Italy’s politics.
Much of the unrest has been sparked by four-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the 86-year-old billionaire tycoon who now heads Forza Italia, a junior party in the ruling bloc.
First, last week, photographers saw a critique of Meloni’s personality written by Berlusconi. “Overbearing, arrogant,” he wrote.
Then a series of audio leaks showed Berlusconi boasting about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent birthday present, to which Putin sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a “very friendly letter” that Berlusconi said he used “equally sweet.” Letter “in response” and a pack of Lambrusco. The leaks also show Berlusconi offering a Kremlin-friendly narrative of the war in Ukraine, saying Putin reluctantly responded to popular opinion by launching a “special operation” hoping to install it in Kyiv “Smarter Leaders”.
Meloni issued an ultimatum: Anyone who disagreed with Italian Atlantic and European principles “will not be able to become a member of a government, at the cost of not being able to form a government.”
Despite the turmoil, Meloni’s rise is remarkable because of her party’s strong ties to the post-fascist movement and the way she pushed the Fratelli d’Italia from the fringes to the mainstream.
She has said the prime minister’s job will be difficult given inflation, persistent economic stagnation, high government debt and the inherent fragility of Italian politics, which often struggles to stay afloat for more than a year.
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Berlusconi’s comments on Russia pose an additional challenge because they run counter to Meloni’s vision of a government that strongly supports Ukraine and NATO.
Berlusconi has positioned himself as a senior politician in the coalition. His own party, which has declined in popularity, is generally seen as more centrist than its partners, which include Meloni’s Italian Brotherhood and Matteo Sa, who was nominated by Meloni as one of the deputy prime ministers. Alvini’s coalition party.
But Berlusconi — a self-described “natural seducer” who shaped the modern personality-driven political era with a mix of ego, scandal and television dominance — is having trouble making concessions.
Meloni served under him as a youth minister; now she leads a party with three times the approval rating of his own. Some critics, noting Berlusconi’s infamous Bunga Bunga party, his demeaning portrayal of women on TV, and his habit of commenting on female beauty, saying he doesn’t know what to do with a character like Meloni, who can cut , who is smarter than he is using relatively new social media tools.
After Berlusconi’s list of adjectives for Meloni became public, she said he had removed one from the list.
“One adjective is missing: I cannot extort,” she said, apparently referring to an earlier strategy when Berlusconi’s party did not support the Fratelli d’Italia candidate for Senate presidency. Candidate Ignazio La Russa, known as a collector of fascist memorabilia, won anyway.
The leaked audio, reported by LaPresse, is a reminder of the Russian sympathy that has been lurking in the Merloni coalition. Although Meloni has shown no affinity for Putin, Salvini has questioned the effectiveness of Russia’s sanctions, wearing a Putin T-shirt while touring on Red Square.
Meanwhile, Berlusconi has long had a soft spot for strongmen. He hosted Putin at his Sardinian villa, and in 2015 he became one of a handful of Western politicians to visit recently annexed Crimea, calling Putin the world’s “number one” leader.
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Enrico Letta, leader of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party, tweeted that Italy was “going through a dangerous turn”, with positions on Russia and Ukraine becoming more ambiguous. The Five Star Movement, one of the biggest opposition parties, has been pushing for a halt to arms shipments to Ukraine for months.
While Berlusconi’s apparent unreliability won’t make it easier for Meloni’s coalition to govern, the dynamic has worked in her personal favor so far. Mikhailo Podoljak, advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, thursday says While Berlusconi was “influenced by vodka,” Meloni was showing “real principles.”
Meloni once said, “With us in power, Italy will never be the weak link in the West.”
Ferruccio de Bortoli, the former editor-in-chief of Corriere della Sera, said the government “has a lot of inherent ambiguities and weaknesses because two-thirds of its partners are pro-Putin.”
But, he said, Melloni looked “more pro-Western and even more pro-NATO than she used to look”.
“I think Berlusconi’s variety politics represent a small but meaningful advantage for Georgia Melloni’s leadership,” he said.
Berlusconi’s stance forced prominent Forza Italia member Antonio Tajani to serve as Meloni’s foreign minister and her other deputy prime minister, To say that the party and Berlusconi support NATO and oppose Russian aggression. Berlusconi said on Facebook that his “personal positions” included “full and complete adherence to the values of the European and Atlantic alliances”.
Meloni addressed the media on both sides of Salvini and Berlusconi on Friday morning, following consultations with Mattarella on forming a new government. Melloni said they had agreed that things needed to be formalized “in the shortest time possible.”
She said the support behind her was “unanimous”.
Berlusconi looked at Salvini at this time and raised his eyebrows.