“Meloni is the only European government leader rewarded by voters.”

“Meloni is the only European government leader rewarded by voters.”

Giorgia Meloni’s face was strongly associated with this European election campaign. By drawing the European list herself, without intending to obtain a seat in the European Parliament as well, she actually called for a referendum on her regime in Italy itself. She has been in power for nearly two years. The Italians did not disappoint her, and made it clear that they certainly admired her government’s right-wing policies. Important side note: With a turnout of just under 50%, enthusiasm for this election was very tepid.

Meloni became prime minister in October 2022, after winning elections a month earlier with 26% of the vote for her far-right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, which has roots in neo-fascism. That result was her goal on Sunday evening: she wanted to do better than she did in the 2022 parliamentary elections, so she could talk about a real victory.

Clearly, that mission was a success. Italians can vote until 11pm on Sunday, after which opinion polls immediately indicated that Fratelli d’Italia remained the largest party in Italy. In electoral forecasts, based on partial results, Meloni’s party’s lead continued to expand to about 29 percent.

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Meloni leaves behind her two partners in the coalition government, the far-right League of Matteo Salvini, and the right-wing liberal Forza Italia party led by Antonio Tajani. Based on preliminary results, Forza Italia (9 percent) surpassed the level of Lega, which was dangling by about 8.5 percent. Five years ago, Salvini was a revelation in the European elections, polling 34 percent. He’s been in free fall ever since. If Forza Italia overtakes the League, his fate as League president appears to be sealed.

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An important political success

“Giorgia Meloni is undoubtedly achieving important political success, both on a personal level and for her party,” says Franco Pavoncello, professor of political science and president of John Cabot University in Rome. “Not only is it achieving excellent results in Italy, but it is also significantly strengthening its position at European level. Meloni is the only head of government who has been rewarded by voters in these European elections.

Italy is the third largest economy in the Eurozone. The leaders of the first and second economies took a hit on Sunday evening. In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz had to painfully conclude that he had been outmaneuvered by the far-right Alternative for Germany party. In France, President Emmanuel Macron suffered a heavy electoral defeat by the National Rally party led by Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen. Their loss makes Meloni’s election victory and especially her political gains in Europe greater. “Its influence in Europe has never been as great as it is now,” Pavoncello says.

The question arises as to what Giorgia Meloni plans to do with this political windfall. Her Fratelli d’Italia party is now part of the European Group of Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). It may be tempted to form a large “super faction” of the European Council for Constitutional Reform and (parts of) the far-right Identity and Democracy faction. Marine Le Pen, whose National Rally party is a member of the National Identity Party, had already been helping Meloni before these elections.

There are advantages associated with such a large group, in terms of speaking time, financial resources and influence in the European Parliament. But the risks seem to outweigh her: For the past year and a half, Meloni has wanted to project herself in Europe as a stateswoman who has brought stability and calm to Italy and has closely followed European and NATO policy on Ukraine. She contacted German Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (European People’s Party), and the two women became close. Pavoncello believes that “Meloni will not marginalize herself now by forming such a large faction to the right of the EPP.”

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The victory of the National Rally party, led by Marine Le Pen, led to the decision to hold new parliamentary elections in France.

Italian influence in Europe

Meloni wants Italian influence in Europe. It can make much better use of this influence by remaining close to von der Leyen and by soon securing an important portfolio for Italy in the new European Commission. For example, economic matters.

The Italian Prime Minister also wants to use her influence in Europe to continue to exert a strong influence on the increasingly strict European migration policy and on the weakening of the European Green Deal. In any case, von der Leyen will have to take Meloni into account, given her significantly increased political weight in the European Council, as prime minister of an important European member state and its economy.

In Europe, the far right made more gains, and in Italy voters confirmed their confidence in the far-right prime minister. But Italy is a divided country. After all, Elie Schlein’s Social Democratic Party comes in second place with 24.5%. “An absolutely excellent performance by the leader of the centre-left Italian opposition,” Pavoncello says, concluding: “Melloni and Schlein are two politicians who will continue to dominate the political scene in Italy for some time.”

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