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What is Meloni's strategy in Brussels?

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni waits for the start of a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 27, 2024.
Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni waits for the start of a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 27, 2024. Copyright Olivier Hoslet/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Olivier Hoslet/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Marta Pacheco
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From kingmaker to troublemaker — Italian Prime Minister may have time to beef up her strategy in the pursuit of a significant European Commission portfolio before the first European Parliament plenary in July.


Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni joined her Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán last night in opposing the top jobs package agreed by the EU Council, but Meloni's opposition demonstrates how she must negotiate a delicate balancing act as she seeks to carve out a greater role for Italy in the next European Commission.

"I decided not to support it out of respect for the citizens and the indications that came from those citizens during the elections," the Italian premier said, adding: "We continue to work to finally give Italy the weight it deserves in Europe."

Meloni voted against António Costa as president of the European Council, and Kaja Kallas as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, but abstained on Ursula von der Leyen's nomination for president of the Commission.

Von der Leyen's nomination still requires confirmation by an absolute majority of the European Parliament in plenary, however, meaning that a final hurdle remains before the leader of the next Commission can begin appointing her executive and planning her priorities. 

By abstaining Meloni has left the door ajar to potential persuasion by von der Leyen that she is the right fit for the job and she could seek to secure for Rome a high-level portfolio in the upcoming EU institutional term - Italian media reports have suggested that she is keen to secure a Vice Presidential position with a significant portfolio like Competition, Defence or Industry.

Von der Leyen needs a majority of 361 votes in Strasbourg - one more than half the total of 720 MEPs in the chamber - but this support must come in a secret ballot – the biggest challenge to assessing support since it makes lawmakers less accountable, eroding party discipline.

“According to Berlaymont estimates, von der Leyen needs 40 to 50 additional votes because, at the moment, her teams count on a majority of 399 MEPs but they expect 15% of ‘mavericks’ [lawmakers voting differently from their parties],” an EU diplomat has told Euronews, as reported.

Although Greens are likely to provide some extra support, some crucial backing could also come from Meloni's 24 MEPs from Brothers of Italy (FdI). 

This gives Meloni some time before the vote for von der Leyen during the first Parliament plenary in Strasbourg on 16-17 July for some back stage negotiation. However, the abstention also highlights how Meloni is also facing some peril in preserving the position of her domestic coalition in Brussels. 

Euronews reported a source last night saying that Meloni abstained "to reflect the diverging positions within her governing coalition".

FdI governs with the centre-right Forza Italia - which belongs to the same political family as von der Leyen's - as well as Matteo Salvini's Lega, known to be a staunch opponent of the Commission chief.

Meloni also faces a challenge preserving the new found strength of the right wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group which emerged strengthened from the EU elections, securing 83 MEPs and overtaking the liberal Renew Europe to become the European Parliament's third biggest political force.

However groups have until next week (4 July) to reconstitute themselves and the right wing could emerge more fragmented from crunch negotiations on how they will club together in Brussels.

While the European Parliament's right wing is already split into two existing factions - the ECR and the more radical Identity and Democracy (ID) - sources have told Euronews there are two new formations potentially in the making, meaning the hemicycle's right wing could splinter even further.

This week the ECR's constitutive meeting was initially postponed and then cancelled entirely on Wednesday (25 June)  after members of the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) - the second biggest party in the group - failed to turn up in sufficient numbers, signalling divisions on the party's future direction. The group is expected to reconvene next Wednesday (3 July).

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