Who is Giorgia Meloni? She might be Italy’s next prime minister.

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Who is Giorgia Meloni, the far-right firebrand and Steve Bannon ally who might be Italy’s next prime minister?

Only a few weeks ago, for those unfamiliar with Italian politics, the question was: Giorgia who? But as the country nears a vote to install a new government — its 70th since the end of World War II — it is increasingly becoming: Really? Giorgia Meloni?

Polls suggest the 45-year-old leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, a political descendant of the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) founded by Benito Mussolini’s allies, will likely be the country’s first female prime minister. Meloni’s party dominates a coalition that looks set to win the Sept. 25 vote.

A century after Mussolini’s infamous March on Rome and the beginning of fascist rule in Italy, the possibility has turned an international spotlight on Meloni and what she stands for — and what the choice of this self-professed fan of Steve Bannon might mean not just for Italy, but for Europe writ large.

“He is an ally,” Meloni once said of the recently-indicted former Trump adviser, adding, in an interview with the Daily Beast, that she hosted Bannon at a far-right political event in Rome “because we share ideals. We need to hear what he says.”

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What are Meloni’s ideals? She has railed against LGBTQ rights and called for a naval blockade of the African continent to prevent migrants from setting sail for Europe.

She has blasted left-wing politicians for financing “an invasion” to “replace Italians with immigrants.” That invasion, she claims, has left Italy facing “demographic emergency.” Such rhetoric is a staple of far-right politicians in the U.S. and Europe, and of the racist Great Replacement Theory that has animated them.

Meloni says she is for the European Union — but against the idea of Europe-wide bureaucracy, a position that many fear could threaten European unity. Above all she positions herself — in another favorite trope of right-wing reactionaries in Europe, the U.S. and beyond — as anti-woke. At a 2019 rally she complained of pressures from the other end of the political spectrum “to call us parent 1, parent 2, gender LGBT, citizen X, with code numbers. But we are not code numbers … and we’ll defend our identity.”

Given her political party’s roots, a main focus of Meloni’s critics has been on the F-word—“fascist” — a label that Meloni has been working overtime to refute as she becomes the center of attention in the campaign. So much so that last month she issued a video message — in Spanish, French and English — telling the new legion of outside experts (and reporters) now following her career that, no, she’s not a fascist.

“For days, I have been reading articles in the international press about the upcoming elections that will give Italy a new government, in which I am described as a danger to democracy, to Italian, European and international stability,” she said. “None of this is true.”

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But Meloni’s past statements haven’t helped, including the emergence on social media of a video from her teenage years, when she was already an activist for the Italian far right. Asked about Mussolini, Meloni told a French TV crew that “everything he did, he did for Italy,” according to a Financial Times translation. “And there have been no politicians like him for 50 years.”

Her history and her current rhetoric — which places her firmly on the right wing of the European political spectrum, with allies including the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orban — have raised questions about how she might govern amid a European war and a worsening cost-of-living crisis on the homefront.

“No one should be in any doubt as to the threat she represents to what Europe is supposed to stand for,” Britain’s left-leaning Guardian newspaper warned in an August editorial.

Meloni’s chief rival in the election, the former premier and leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, put it more pointedly.

A win for Meloni, he said in an interview with The Associated Press, would mean “danger for the future of Italy.”

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Meloni and the Brothers of Italy

Meloni has a long history on the right flank of Italian politics. Brought up by a single mother in a working-class area of Rome, she was a teenage activist for the youth wing of the MSI, the old pro-Mussolini party. She won her first local election at the age of 21.

As for Meloni’s political party, it was established in 2012. Until the year before, Meloni was a junior minister in the scandal-prone government led by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. She left with a group of other right-wing politicians to set up the Brothers of Italy; the name is taken from the opening lines of the national anthem. Their insignia? The same flame symbol as the fascist MSI.

“The background [of her party] is one which has its roots in the postwar fascist nostalgias,” Carlo Bastasin, a leading Italian commentator based in Rome and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Grid. “The novel thing with Meloni and her party is that it would be the first time that a party reflecting these opinions will come to have such political responsibilities. Some members of parties that have these kinds of roots have been ministers but they were really marginal figures.”

A Prime Minister Meloni

So what might it mean for Italy — and for Europe — were Meloni to move from the margins to the helm of a new Italian government?

Throughout the campaign, Meloni has said again and again that she supports standing with Ukraine as it resists Russia’s invasion, telling the Reuters news agency in a recent interview that the war was “the tip of a conflict whose objective is the revision of the world order.” Unlike Orban — or for that matter, Steve Bannon — Meloni has shown no sympathy for the Kremlin.


But things aren’t as clear cut within the coalition she heads. Among its key partners is the right-wing League Party, led by Matteo Salvini, who has questioned the utility of European sanctions against Moscow. “If we adopt an instrument to hurt the aggressor and after seven months of war it has not been hurt,” Salvini said at a recent political conference in Italy, “at least considering a change seems legitimate to me.”

Those remarks came amid growing concerns about rising energy prices across Europe. As Grid has reported, worries about Russian energy imports have driven up European natural gas prices; in early September, already-high prices climbed by roughly a third amid a shutdown of a key pipeline connecting Russia and Europe. Italy is feeling the pain; the country depends on Moscow for around a quarter of its gas needs, and ordinary Italians have seen their energy bills spike. In Naples, the growing burden has already prompted protests.

Analysts point out that Meloni herself, though pro-Ukraine in her statements, is close to Hungary’s Orban, perhaps the most shamelessly pro-Putin outlier in the anti-Kremlin European arena. In a letter to Meloni last year, Orban highlighted the need for what he said were “reliable companions in battle who have a common vision of the world and give similar responses to the challenges of our times.”

Her proximity to Orban and other figures on the European right touches another controversial policy question: Meloni wants a weaker European Union, arguing for national capitals to hold on to more political power, instead of transferring authority on key matters to Brussels.

“Don’t let Brussels do what Rome can best take care of,” Meloni said recently in Milan, adding that “if I win, for Europe, the fun is over.”

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To her critics, that attitude risks European unity at a critical juncture, as Russia continues its brutal assault on Ukraine.

Domestically, there are concerns about what a Meloni premiership would mean for the migrant population, and for the rights of women. Although Meloni herself has said she would not abolish an existing law that legalizes abortion, many are worried about her public statements on the matter.

“Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death,” she said at a right-wing rally earlier in the summer. The concerns don’t stem simply from her own words: The Brothers of Italy party has a record of pushing to erode abortion rights, including putting forward a proposal to designate Rome a “city for life” and allow anti-abortion groups into family planning clinics, according to Politico Europe.

Last woman standing

Meloni’s popularity has soared recently — and the fact that she and the Brothers of Italy are now so close to power raises begs another question: What brought them here?

A decade ago, the party’s vote share in Italian elections stood at under 2 percent. As recently as 2018, it was at a mere 4 percent. An August survey showed just how dramatically its fortunes had changed: Brothers of Italy alone was polling at around 24 percent, according to a Bloomberg report. The wider right-wing coalition that it leads, and which features Salvini’s party as well as Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, was registering almost 50 percent support among Italian voters.

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So what happened? One answer is an Italian version of an old political maxim: Throw them all out.

“Italians simply are in a protesting mood, and have been so for decades,” Bastasin said. “And they are ready to write off politicians who take responsibility in government and don’t deliver.”

Brothers of Italy was the only major party that sat outside the broad unity government led by technocrat Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who resigned over the summer, setting the stage for the coming elections. Meloni’s party had the distinction of distance — an outsider status that might prove its biggest strength, according to Bastasin, particularly at a time of growing economic pain.

Inflation across the Italian economy is currently near a four-decade high. In August, the country’s manufacturing sector saw factory production drop for a second time in as many months. All this came, according to analysts at the financial firm Standard & Poor’s, amid growing fears of a recession.

To be sure, Meloni’s nationalist rhetoric also fits into a broader public narrative on key topics such as immigration. A study published last year by the London-based Overseas Development Institute showed that while Italy, with an aging population and low birthrate, faced a “growing need for migrants,” public attitudes toward immigration were often hostile amid a skewed understanding of the issue. In a 2017, survey, for instance, most Italians said the proportion of non-European Union migrants in their country stood at just under 25 percent. The real number was 7 percent. On the issue of LGBT rights, a 2019 survey showed that while the majority of Italians — some 68 percent — supported equal rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, a significant minority — around 27 percent — disagreed.

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This backdrop, combined with economic malaise and a growing sense of disenchantment with the political establishment, could propel Meloni into power.

“Italians are supporting, at the moment, the only political party that has had no political responsibility in governing the country in recent decades,” Bastasin told Grid. “They are looking for the next possible option to express their criticism for how the country has been run. Brothers of Italy is [at this moment] the last possible option available for them.”

Thanks to Dave Tepps for copy editing this article.

  • Nikhil Kumar
    Nikhil Kumar

    Deputy Global Editor

    Nikhil Kumar is the deputy global editor at Grid, reporting on global affairs.