Giorgia Meloni: who is Italy’s new prime minister?

Founder of far-right Brothers of Italy is nation’s first female leader

Giorgia Meloni
Giorgia Meloni leads the polls ahead of Italy’s general election on Sunday
(Image credit: Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Italy’s first ever female prime minister has taken power after being sworn in as head of a coalition described as the country’s most right-wing government since that of Benito Mussolini.

Giorgia Meloni and her Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party won last month’s election with 26% of the vote. Following weeks of negotiations, Meloni announced a new coalition government on Friday that includes Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Meloni is the “first politician with a post-fascist lineage” to lead Italy since the end of the Second World War, said The New York Times (NYT), after winning power by reassuring her “hard-right base” that she “hasn’t changed” while seemingly convincing more moderate voters and “international sceptics” that she is “no extremist”.

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She immediately “stamped her distinctive style on proceedings” during her inauguration on Sunday, said The Times, by requesting that she “be addressed as il presidente del consiglio, using the masculine form of her title”.

Who is Giorgia Meloni?

Born in 1977 in Rome, Meloni grew up in the “working class and left-leaning” Garbatella district of the capital, said the NYT. She was raised by her mother after being “abandoned by her father, who sailed off to the Canary Islands”, said The Washington Post.

Meloni’s mother, Anna, was a “right-winger who wrote romance novels”, the paper added, while her father, Francesco, was left-wing – prompting speculation that her choice of “political path was motivated in part by a desire to seek revenge on her absent father”, said the BBC.

Aged 15 she joined the neo-fascist Youth Front, part of the Italian Social Movement, before becoming student president of the National Alliance. Meloni’s rapid rise in Italian politics saw her become the youngest minister in the country’s history in 2008, aged 31, as part of Berlusconi’s government.

As “populism swept Italy in the last decade”, Meloni built a following on “harsher tones” and “worked hard to purge fascists and build a new history”, said the NYT.

She formed the Brothers of Italy party in 2012, but won only 4% of the vote in the 2018 general election.

Her support base has “steadily expanded” since then, however, after Meloni “turned her social media accounts into populist pasta on the wall” as part of her push to woo voters.

Radical political shift

Although she is “nearly always labelled ‘far-right’ by the international press”, Meloni insists that she is “not a fascist and poses no threat to democracy”, said Nicholas Farrell, author of Mussolini: A New Life, in The Spectator. She has accused those “well-embedded in the nerve centres of power” of staging “a smear campaign” against her.

Yet Meloni is “adept at both courting and distancing herself from such extremists whenever it suits her”, wrote Jamie Mackay in The Guardian. She has celebrated “‘patriots’ and ‘the natural family’ while attacking ‘the LGBT lobby’ and ‘enemies of civilisation’”.

The Washington Post noted that the new PM has “avoided the pitfalls of nationalist figures elsewhere” during the Ukraine war, condemning Russia’s invasion and Vladimir Putin, while also voicing strong support for Nato. But though Meloni has pledged that Italy won’t take an “authoritarian turn”, the paper added, “those on the left have sounded the alarm” over her views on immigration, gay adoption and her close ties to anti-abortion groups.

Her party’s “close relationship” with Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán is “particularly concerning”, wrote Mackay in The Guardian. Human rights groups are warning that she is “hoping to impose a similar authoritarian regime in Italy”.

For her allies, however, she represents “the radical political shift that Italy needs”, said the BBC.

How will she govern?

The “flipside” of Italy’s recent “executive instability” has been the “resilience of the country’s democracy”, wrote Rosa Balfour, director of the Carnegie Europe think tank, in the Financial Times. A right-wing coalition government led by Meloni that holds a small majority will not be “able to do serious damage to Italy’s laws and society”, Balfour continued. However, the economy “hangs in the balance”.

“Shielding households from rising inflation and the surge in energy prices brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are among the prime minister’s most pressing tasks,” said The Guardian’s Rome correspondent Angela Giuffrida. Meloni is “significantly short of the financial resources required to fulfil election campaign resources”.

The new PM also faces the challenge of balancing Italy’s relations with the EU while managing her party’s nationalist tendencies.

The Financial Times predicted that “her government’s relationship with Brussels will be a litmus test of the credibility of Italy’s right-wing and the EU’s solidity” at a time when Europe is likewise “grappling with the repercussions of Russia’s war in Ukraine and worried about the risk of recession”.

Back at home, “her coalition appears united”, said the BBC’s Paul Kirby, “but that unity may not last”. According to Kirby, “Forza Italia in particular could become an awkward ally, with veteran ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi consigned to little more than a walk-on part”.

Given those tensions, Mackay wrote in The Guardian, the coalition could “break down even sooner than the average 13-month Italian government”. But “however short-lived”, the economic and social consequences of a Meloni administration may still be “terrible”.

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Richard Windsor is a freelance writer for The Week Digital. He began his journalism career writing about politics and sport while studying at the University of Southampton. He then worked across various football publications before specialising in cycling for almost nine years, covering major races including the Tour de France and interviewing some of the sport’s top riders. He led Cycling Weekly’s digital platforms as editor for seven of those years, helping to transform the publication into the UK’s largest cycling website. He now works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant.