Meloni pledges new Italian government will not be the West’s ‘weak link’

Sarhan Basem

Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Italian right-wing leader Georgia Meloni, the county’s most likely next prime minister, confronted her coalition partners on Wednesday by emphasising that her new government would be firmly pro-NATO and fully part of Europe.

“Italy, with us in the government, will never be the weak link in the West,” said Meloni in a statement, stressing that any party that disagreed with this position will not find a place in her administration.

Her statements are a likely response to her coalition partner, Silvio Berlusconi, after a leaked recording of him speaking to his Forza Italia (FI) party lawmakers surfaced in the Italian press, in which the former prime minister boasts that he has renewed ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the recording, obtained by the LaPresse agency, Berlusconi says that Putin and him are exchanging “lovely letters”, in which Putin had called him “number one among his five best friends”. He says that Putin sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a lovely letter for his birthday, and that he reciprocated by sending him bottles of Lambrusco “and an equally sweet note”.

Coalition at odds

The 86-year-old former head of government, who was barred from holding office between 2013 and 2019 after having been found guilty of tax fraud, tried to soften the impact of the leak by claiming he was referring to previous contacts with Putin, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Even before the new government has been agreed upon, Berlusconi and Meloni are already at odds over cabinet appointments. In 2008, Berlusconi appointed Meloni as the country’s youngest-ever minister, at 31. Now, leading her own party Brothers of Italy (FdI) at 45, Meloni has managed to outmaneuver and eclipse the former head of government.

On Tuesday, Berlusconi announced that Forza Italia’s party veteran Elisabetta Casellati, former head of the Senate, will be the new justice minister. Meloni, however, is opposed to Berlusconi coming near the justice ministry, as he is currently on trial for reportedly bribing witnesses in a 2014 trial for paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

With her latest statement, Meloni also attempted to put at ease other European leaders who are concerned that the new Italian ruling coalition might be inclined to change its views on Putin and Russia.

Kremlin’s talking points

Apart from Berlusconi, Meloni’s other major partner, League party leader Matteo Salvini, also expressed admiration for Putin in the past, even wearing a t-shirt with his image on at least one occasion. 

League’s Lorenzo Fontana, the new President of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Italy’s bicameral legislature, hinted at League’s possible position on the matter by arguing that the EU sanctions on Russia are “a boomerang” for Italy.

Meloni, who campaigned on a strong pro-NATO platform and condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, will face a challenge in pushing through her policies while her major coalition partners espouse pro-Russian views and repeat the Kremlin’s talking points.
Meanwhile, Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella announced that he will hold a round of talks with the opposition parties on Thursday, before meeting with the right-wing bloc on Friday, before handing over the mandate to form the government to the party leader most likely to win the majority support in both houses.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.