Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni named Italian prime minister

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ROME — Giorgia Meloni, whose political party with neo-fascist roots got the most votes in Italy’s national elections last month, was sworn in on Saturday as the country’s first far-right prime minister since the end of the Second World War. She is also the first woman to serve as Prime Minister.

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Meloni, 45, was sworn in before President Sergio Mattarella, who formally asked him on Friday to form a government.

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Her Brothers of Italy party, which she co-founded in 2012, will govern in coalition with Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League and the conservative Forza Italia party led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose parties had lost popularity with voters in recent years.

Meloni signed a pledge to be loyal to the postwar Italian republic, and Mattarella countersigned it. As head of state, the president is the guarantor of Italy’s Constitution, drafted in the years immediately following the end of World War II and the demise of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The 24 ministers of Meloni’s government were also sworn in in a lavish hall in the Quirinal Palace.

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Meloni made no public comments during his first hours in office. She is expected to outline her priorities when seeking support from parliament ahead of the required votes of confidence from new governments next week.

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The votes could point to cracks in the three-party coalition if one of Berlusconi’s or Salvini’s lawmakers, perhaps unhappy at not getting the ministries he wanted for his party, doesn’t go along with it.

Meloni’s government replaces that led by Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank who was appointed by Mattarella in 2021 to lead a pandemic national unity coalition. Meloni refused to join this coalition, insisting that voters must decide the composition of their governments.

During his campaign for the September 25 elections, Meloni insisted that national interests would prevail over European Union policies in the event of a conflict.

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Salvini’s right-wing League party has at times leaned eurosceptic. An admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Salvini has questioned the wisdom of EU sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, arguing that they are likely to harm Italian business interests more than Russian ones.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen struck an optimistic note in a congratulatory tweet noting that Meloni was the first woman to serve as prime minister.

« I count on and look forward to constructive cooperation with the new government on the challenges we face together, » the EU chief said.

Meloni tweeted von der Leyen that she was « looking forward and ready to work with you to build EU resilience in the face of our common challenges ».

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An immediate challenge for Meloni will be ensuring that Italy remains firmly aligned with other major Western nations to help Ukraine fight off Russian invaders.

In the days leading up to his nomination as prime minister, Meloni issued an ultimatum to his other main coalition partner, Berlusconi, because of his declared sympathy for Putin and his dismissive comments about the Ukrainian president.

Berlusconi, in remarks to Forza Italia lawmakers, appeared to justify the Russian invasion in February to install what he called a « decent » government in the Ukrainian capital.

After making it clear that she demanded unwavering support for Ukraine, as well as NATO and EU positions on Russia’s war – « Italy with us in government will never be the weak link of the West, » she said – Meloni has hired a longtime Berlusconi stalwart as foreign minister. with strong pro-EU credentials. Antonio Tajani was previously President of the European Parliament.

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In his congratulatory tweet for Meloni, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made no reference to Berlusconi slamming him. “I look forward to continued fruitful cooperation to ensure peace and prosperity in Ukraine, Italy and around the world!” Zelensky wrote.

Meloni replied later on Saturday that Italy « will always stand with the brave people of Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom and for a legitimate peace. » You’re not alone! »

US President Joe Biden, in congratulating Meloni, hailed Italy as « a vital NATO ally and close partner as our nations tackle common global challenges together. »

« As G-7 leaders, I look forward to continuing to advance our support for Ukraine, to hold Russia accountable for its aggression, to ensure respect for human rights and democratic values, and to build sustainable economic growth,” Biden said.

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The new prime minister then thanked Biden for his congratulations.

« The United States and Italy are united by a deep friendship and by the transatlantic partnership, based on common values, » Meloni said in a statement, referring to NATO. She added that she looked forward to working together « for freedom and international security ».

With potential hesitation in parliament from sympathetic Russian allies, as well as former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a populist opposition leader, over continuing arms supplies to Ukraine, Meloni appointed one of his party’s co-founders, Guido Crosetto, as Defense Minister.

While Meloni presented herself as crucial in combating left-wing ideology, Crosetto struck a more conciliatory note.

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« Whoever governs represents the whole nation, sheds his partisan garb and assumes that of collective responsibility, » the new defense minister told reporters.

The European political right, eager to dominate on the continent, welcomed Meloni’s rise to power.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, referring to Meloni and Salvini, wrote on Twitter: “Across Europe, patriots are coming to power and with them, this Europe of nations.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also hailed the birth of Italy’s new government as a « great day for the European right ».

In an unusual twist for a country used to male-dominated politics and power, Meloni’s partner, a journalist in Berlusconi’s media empire, attended Saturday’s swearing-in ceremony with the 6-year-old daughter of the couple, Ginevra.

— Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to it.

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