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Giorgia Meloni's first 100 days in office: What has Italy's PM done so far?

Giorgia Meloni looks up during a joint press statement with Japanese PM Fumio Kishida at the end of their meeting they held at Chigi Palace. Tuesday, 10 January 2023.
Giorgia Meloni looks up during a joint press statement with Japanese PM Fumio Kishida at the end of their meeting they held at Chigi Palace. Tuesday, 10 January 2023. Copyright Andrew Medichini/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Andrew Medichini/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Andrea Carlo with Reuters
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The Italian prime minister has defied critics in some areas, but faced problems with other actions since being sworn in last October.

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Giorgia Meloni was voted into office last October to the sound of alarm bells ringing across Europe.

As a far-right leader with a bone to pick with the EU, her landslide election perturbed political commentators, who branded her with a range of incendiary epithets: "Eurosceptic", "radical", "demagogic", even Europe's "most dangerous woman".

But now that Meloni marks her first 100 days as prime minister, how has her premiership measured up to such forecasts? 

Has she followed through on her election campaign mantra that "playtime is over" for Brussels, or has she opted for a meeker stance to ingratiate herself with Italy's European allies?

Here is a list of some of Giorgia Meloni’s main steps since being elected: 

Cracking down on rave parties

Few would have guessed Meloni’s "playtime is over" motto would end up taking such a literal turn, but it seems her intent to halt the fun and games was no joke -- indeed, one of her first decisions as PM was to pass an "anti-rave" decree cracking down on unauthorised mass parties.

Meloni and her government defended the decision -- which sees organisers of such gatherings facing hefty fines and up to six years in prison -- on the grounds that it was necessary measure to curb partygoers' antics and align Italy's rules to its European peers.

"We have shown that the state won't turn a blind eye and fail to act when faced with law-breaking," she said at a news conference. 

Critics, however, deemed the move a "distraction" from more pressing political problems and feared it could limit students' freedom to protest.

Migrant feud with France

Shortly after taking office, Meloni found herself in hot waters after sparking a spat with France over a migrant rescue vessel.

In November, SOS Méditeranée's Ocean Viking ship -- which carried over 200 migrants -- was rejected by Italy and subsequently forced to dock at the French port town of Toulon, provoking France's ire.

It comes as little surprise that the PM's first squabble would end up involving Italy’s westerly neighbour, given her own longstanding animosity towards French President Emmanuel Macron and his migration policy.

In a talk show in 2019, Meloni had decried France’s "exploitative" economic relationship with former colonies such as Burkina Faso, arguing that the solution to Africa's problems was not "moving Africans to Europe", but to "liberate Africa from certain Europeans."

The premier has used her criticism of French imperialist activities to justify her anti-migration stance -- indeed, prior to her election, she proposed a naval blockade to clamp down on migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

While such loaded language may have subsided as of late, Meloni’s iron-fisted rhetoric on migration has certainly not softened. Indeed, her latest decree directly targets and curbs non-governmental organisations' lifesaving activities at sea.

But for all the grandstanding and bold predictions, the reality on the ground would point to her promises having fallen flat.

Statistics released by the interior ministry prove migrant boat arrivals have not only failed to slow down, but have grown dramatically since Meloni took office. The first ten days of the new year alone registered an 880% increase from 2022.

An EU-friendly budget

For weeks, Brussels officials waited with bated breath as Meloni's cabinet deliberated its budget plan for 2023.

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But concerns were alleviated when it was announced that the new government's plans for Italy's debt-ridden economy would be considerably closer to the EU line than some had expected.

The budget law -- approved by parliament in record time -- includes proposals such as €21 million tax breaks to relieve businesses from the burdens of the energy crisis, as well as fiscal incentives and a lower retirement age.

While some of the plan's measures remained controversial -- especially a higher cap on cash payments -- it displayed a greater of restraint than what had been touted by Meloni's right-wing bloc on the campaign trail.

Meloni herself subsequently embarked on a charm offensive with Brussels, courting EU President Ursula von der Leyen in her first foreign trip, a move analysts attribute to Italy's dire need to receive its €190 billion EU post-COVID recovery funds -- that itself entails a set of reforms.

"It would have been unthinkable for Meloni to risk missing out on this money. Failure would have been a tragedy," noted Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey told Reuters. 

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"She behaved in the only way she could."

Gregorio Borgia/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Giorgia Meloni, left, welcomes President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at Chigi palace, Premier's office, Monday, 9 Jan. 2023.Gregorio Borgia/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Maintaining Italy's support for Ukraine

Giorgia Meloni was sworn in on a promise that she would maintain her steadfast support to Ukraine as it fends off Russia's invasion, and has certainly not rolled back on any of her pledges -- to the satisfaction of Kyiv.

It appears Meloni has been willing to put her money where her mouth is, as further reports emerge that Italy and France are days away from finalising a deal to supply Ukraine with a SAMP/T "Mamba" air defence system.

The PM and her cabinet's allegiance to Ukaine however, could not be taken for granted. 

Despite welcoming a large share of Ukraine’s refugees, Italy remains one of Western Europe’s most Russia-friendly countries. The burden of decades-long economic hardships and the scars of COVID-19 have left many Italians reluctant to support sanctions, a sentiment which populist politicians -- many belonging to her own bloc -- have been willing to tap into.

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Some of Meloni’s colleagues have themselves cosied up to the Kremlin. Fellow coalition leader Silvio Berlusconi is a long-time confidante of President Vladimir Putin confidante, who was recorded last October admitting to exchanging gifts and "sweet letters" with the maligned Russian leader. 

And Matteo Salvini -- appointed by Meloni as deputy PM -- had previously expressed positive attitudes towards Russia, and had donned a Putin T-shirt back in 2014.

Taking journalists to court

Italy has long been ranked as one of Western Europe's worst countries for journalists, coming in at 58th place in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index

Some journalists have expressed concerns that Meloni's election win has made life even more challenging for reporters in Italy, especially those belonging to the left.

While Meloni -- herself a journalist -- has expressed her support for press freedom, critics point to hostile behaviours from members of her party, Brothers of Italy, towards leftist journalists, as well as legal threats made by the right-wing leader herself against dissenting voices, as signs of a worsening situation.

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Among these is Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian-Italian journalist and academic, who found herself threatened with legal action after claims she had made about Meloni's views on immigration.

"[Meloni and her party] want to take down anyone who ever dares to criticise their policies," she told Euronews. "It's a sign of what's to come."

But while Meloni eventually fell short of taking Jebreal to court, she did not spare another journalist: Roberto Saviano.

In October, she decided to sue Saviano -- one of Italy’s most prominent anti-Mafia campaigners and an avowed Meloni critic -- over comments he had made in 2020, in which he labelled her and Salvini "bastards."

If found guilty, Saviano could face up to three years in prison, a prospect which a global press freedom watchdog described as a "chilling message" to Italy's journalists.

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What do the analysts and the public say?

After 100 days in office, what do commentators and the Italian public say about Meloni so far? 

Analysts have found their fears of a potential far-right takeover have been somewhat mitigated, although they remain unconvinced with Meloni's performance.

"Her cabinet did not do much in its first 100 days," Andrea Mammone, a history professor at Rome's Sapienza University, told Euronews. "The government is basically following the EU on international politics."

"This clearly shows how complex it is to run a country when someone is starting from populist premises," he added.

According to opinion polls, Italians are broadly satisfied with Meloni's job so far. Her party, Brothers of Italy, has soared since she took office, and she currently has a 48% approval rating.

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It would appear Meloni has managed to hit a sweet middle spot, flexing her muscles when necessary to signal strength to her supporters -- the arrest of Italy's most-wanted Mafia boss earlier this month certainly bolstered her image -- while also towing the Brussels line.

As Meloni further consolidates her power, she is likely to continue this careful balancing act which has reaped her significant rewards both home and abroad. But as a string of Italian prime ministers each saw their support plummet shortly after enjoying an initial 'honeymoon' phase, it remains to be seen whether the newly elected PM will manage to cling onto her popularity -- or suffer the same fate.

Additional sources • Reuters

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