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Giorgia Meloni sets out vision for Italy in maiden speech as PM

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By Andrea Carlo
Italy’s new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni talks with Deputy Prime Minister in Rome on October 25, 2022.
Italy’s new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni talks with Deputy Prime Minister in Rome on October 25, 2022.   -   Copyright  ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP or licensors   -  

Italy's newly appointed prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, addressed the country's lawmakers on Tuesday in her maiden speech at the lower house of parliament.

The far-right Brothers of Italy politician was sworn in on Saturday, after the right-wing bloc she leads emerged triumphant in a snap general election last month. 

Meloni already faces a confidence vote, which she is expected to survive given the majority her coalition commands in both parliamentary chambers.

In an impassioned 70-minute address where she defined herself as an "underdog" rising from the fringes of Italy's political landscape, Meloni outlined a vision for the country that commentators have described as blending far-right and progressive elements.

Here are some highlights of the speech. 

Fascist antisemitic laws 'lowest point' in Italy's history

Meloni has often faced accusations over her alleged links to Italy's fascist past, which she denies. 

As a 19-year-old activist, she reportedly described Italy's wartime leader Mussolini as a "good politician", while she has praised the founder of the ultra-nationalist Italian Social Movement (MSI) and former Nazi collaborator, Giorgio Almirante.

Meloni's maiden speech saw the newly-elected PM distance herself from fascism - an act welcomed by more moderate commentators and viewed as "performative" by her critics. 

"I have never felt any affinity for anti-democratic regimes... including fascism," she said. "The totalitarian dictatorships of the 1900s have torn apart the whole of Europe -- not just Italy -- for more than half a century, in a succession of horrors that has affected most European states."

Meloni denounced Italy's Fascist-era antisemitic racial laws (leggi razziali), introduced by Mussolini's regime in 1938.

"[They] are the lowest point in Italy's history," she declared. "A disgrace that will mark our people forever."

She also took a jab at the country's "militant" anti-fascists, alluding to the violent clashes between far-left and far-right youth activists that rocked Italy in the 1970s.

'No first and second-class members': Meloni's vision for Europe

The European Union has often been a thorny issue for far-right politicians like Meloni and her coalition partner, the Northern League's Matteo Salvini.

They have frequently attacked the Brussels "elite" and the single currency, to the point of being described as "Eurosceptics" - a label Meloni rejected in a recent interview for Euronews, favouring the term "Eurorealist".

In her speech, the new premier did not hold back her criticisms towards EU institutions, especially ideas towards a two-tier EU, where some members develop deeper cooperation and integration than others at faster speeds. 

"We do not conceive of the European Union as an elite social circle with first-class and second-class members," she said. "The [EU] for us is a common house of European people and, as such, has to be capable of facing the great challenges of our time."

Meloni outlined her willingness to collaborate with Europe, especially as Italy is the recipient of a €191.5 billion post-Covid EU recovery package. 

She still said Italy had the right to challenge aspects of Brussels policy, saying "to pose these questions doesn't mean being an enemy or a heretic."

Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse
Giorgia Meloni addresses the press after speaking with Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Friday, 21 October 2022.Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse

'I am an underdog': Italy's first female PM

Meloni made no attempts to hide the excitement she felt becoming Italy's first female PM.

"I represent what the English call an underdog", she said.

Early on in her speech, she referred to some of Italy's most prominent women, ranging from pioneering educator Maria Montessori and author Oriana Fallaci, to left and right-wing parliamentary speakers Nilde Iotti and Elisabetta Casellati, respectively.

"When I dwell on the significance of [being Italy's first female PM], I inevitably find myself thinking of the responsibility I have towards the many women who at this moment face great and unjust difficulties in affirming their talent, or the right to see their daily sacrifices appreciated," Meloni said. 

"But I also think, with reverence, of those who through their example have built the planks of the ladder that, today, allows me to climb and break the heavy glass ceiling placed over our heads."

The newly-appointed PM offered her support for women and businesses with "effective solutions" for mothers trying to balance their work-home life.

Family is the 'primary nucleus' of society

Brother's Italy has taken a conservative stance on social issues, supporting "traditional" families and largely opposing the expansion of LGBT+ rights.

Meloni has appointed a new minister for family and "natality".

Critics point to Meloni's personal situation -- she has a young daughter and remains unmarried - which they say makes her stand on these issues "hypocritical". 

Meloni's maiden speech raised the importance of "nuclear" family units and values, but did not directly mention LGBT+ rights.

"[Family is the] primary nucleus of our societies ... the place each of our identities are formed," she noted. "We want to support and protect it; and with this, the birth rate too, which in 2021 was Italy's lowest birth rate since the country's unification" 

Last year Italy recorded the 13th consecutive yearly drop in births, with 399,431 being registered.

Meloni's speech included religious allusions and quoted two Popes, but she also maintained her steadfast support for the country's secular civil liberties, including abortion.

She added that youth "brain drain" is one of Italy's longstanding problems, while condemning recent efforts to legalise cannabis through a public referendum.

"[Legalising cannabis] is the easiest response. But we are not here to give 'easy' answers," she said.

Italy to remain a NATO 'partner' and friend to Ukraine

Meloni doubled down on her support of NATO. 

"Italy will continue to be a reliable partner within the Atlantic Alliance, starting with its support for the brave Ukrainian people who oppose the Russian invasion," she said. 

The new PM has been a firm advocate of NATO and sanctions against Moscow after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine in February.

But the Ukraine war remains an issue of contention in her coalition. 

Salvini has admired Putin in the past, while Meloni's other colleague - Forza Italia's Berlusconi - got into hot water earlier this month over claims he had exchanged gifts and 'rekindled' his decades-old friendship with the disgraced Russian leader.

Meloni made it clear in her address that there would be no ambiguity in her position and Italy's stance towards Russia, even if rising living costs have raised concerns about international sanctions in Italy. 

"Those who believe it is possible to trade Ukraine's freedom for our peace of mind are mistaken," she said. "Giving in to Putin's blackmail on energy would not solve the problem, it would aggravate it."

Andrew Medichini/AP
Giorgia Meloni adjusts her hair during the handover ceremony with outgoing PM Mario Draghi at Rome's Chigi Palace. Sunday, Oct. 23 2022.Andrew Medichini/AP

'Mafia is a cancer'

Organised crime is a long-standing issue in Italy. Crime syndicates like the Mafia, 'Ndrangheta and Camorra are powerful, especially in Italy's south, and their illegal activities are estimated to account for up to 10% of the country's GDP.

Paying homage to the victims of the Mafia - namely the late Sicilian judge Paolo Borsellino, killed in 1992 - Meloni outlined a no-tolerance, iron-fist approach to organised crime and proposed to reform Italy's notoriously slow justice system.

"We will face the mafia cancer head on, as we have been taught by the many heroes who have set an example to all Italians with their courage," she affirmed.

"This government will be harsh and unwavering in [handling] Mafiosi and criminals."

Migration: a 'Mattei Plan' for Africa

The question of migration was one of the final issues which Meloni tackled in her speech.

She had recently come under fire for suggesting a "naval blockade" to stop trans-Mediterranean migration flows to Italy, one of the main destinations for African and Middle Eastern refugees.

In her speech, she expressed her desire to fight illegal immigration and stop migrant boats from leaving north Africa's shores, advocating for local 'hotspots' to process asylum claims.

Meloni crucially expressed her wishes to establish a "Mattei Plan" for Africa, referencing the late Italian statesman Enrico Mattei -- who wanted to develop a more equal relationship between European and oil-extracting African countries.

"Italy must promote a "Mattei Plan" for Africa, a virtuous model of collaboration and growth between the European Union and African nations, to counter the concerning spread of Islamist radicalism as well," she said.