Italy’s prime minister shows how far-right parties can go mainstream

Giorgia Meloni has embraced EU institutions and sought to change policies from within, including on immigration.. Photographer: Stephanie Gengotti/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)
Giorgia Meloni has embraced EU institutions and sought to change policies from within, including on immigration.. Photographer: Stephanie Gengotti/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)


Giorgia Meloni’s broad appeal across the political right is giving Italy an unusually stable government.

A few days ago, Italy’s right-wing prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, was campaigning for votes as a scrappy underdog, presenting herself as “that bitch Meloni."

Now she is preparing to ascend the pinnacle of the global elite: hosting President Biden and other leaders of Group of Seven major advanced economies at a summit in southern Italy.

Meloni’s strong performance in Sunday’s elections for the European Parliament has confirmed her as one of Europe’s rising power brokers, and as that rarest of phenomena in Rome: the head of a stable government.

“I’m proud that this nation will present itself at the G-7 and in Europe with the strongest government of all," Meloni told supporters of her Brothers of Italy party on Sunday, noting the novelty. Italians are used to their governments collapsing every other year.

Her rise owes much to her ability to please her party’s far-right base on identity issues such as Muslim immigration and same-sex parents, while simultaneously reassuring center-right voters that she is a safe pair of hands, including in managing Italy’s fragile finances. Her hybrid of right-wing culture war and establishment-friendly foreign and economic policies could become a model for other far-right parties in Europe that are looking to gain power and broader acceptance.

The G-7 summit, which starts on Thursday at a luxury resort in the southern Puglia region, gives Meloni three days in the global spotlight to project the smoother side of her political persona: That of a respectable stateswoman negotiating with allies about global trade and geopolitics.

The continent’s political right performed strongly in the European Parliament elections, but it is rife with divisions—especially between moderate pro-business conservatives and nativists with authoritarian leanings. Few politicians have yet managed Meloni’s trick of straddling both voter groups.

“She has quite cleverly positioned herself as the respectable radical right, and as someone that Europe and the U.S. can do business with," said Daniele Albertazzi, a political scientist at the U.K.’s Surrey University.

Meloni has broken with the European far-right’s traditional admiration for Vladimir Putin, instead becoming an advocate of sanctions against Russia and Western aid for Ukraine. While other right-wing populists rail against the European Union and its currency, the euro, Meloni has embraced EU institutions and sought to change policies from within, including on immigration.

During the European election campaign she displayed the pugnacious style that fires up her base. Meeting a center-left opponent who once described her as a stronza, equivalent of “bitch," she introduced herself by adopting the epithet: “I’m that bitch Meloni. How are you?" The video went viral. Her main European election rally in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo replayed the clip to the cheers of 20,000 supporters. On stage, Meloni vowed to stand up to the left and its insults, her voice sliding deeper into a working-class Roman accent. “We are all stronzi," read one supporter’s placard.

“Her message is ‘I’m still Giorgia, I’m just one of you.’ She speaks like a woman in the local supermarket. It’s traditional populist rhetoric," said Albertazzi.

Many of the other G-7 leaders are struggling at home. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to be trounced in British elections in July. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz both suffered heavy setbacks in the European elections. President Biden is facing a tight election race against Donald Trump.

Voters are penalizing political incumbents in most of Europe currently, but not in Italy, Meloni noted in an interview with Italian state broadcaster RAI on Monday. “Italy can be an anchor in the chaos and uncertainty," she said.

Brothers of Italy won 29% of the vote on Sunday, its best-ever result in a nationwide ballot, and Meloni’s overall center-right alliance reached 47%. Both were an improvement on Italy’s national elections in 2022, when Meloni won office. In Italy’s previous national elections in 2018, Brothers of Italy was still a fringe player, winning just over 4%.

Meloni’s coalition has benefited from being relatively united compared with Italy’s divided center-left opposition. Italy has been led by the center-right for most of its history since World War II, often in brittle coalition governments held together mainly by shared opposition to Communism. But since the era of Silvio Berlusconi, who dominated political life for much of the 1990s and 2000s, the Italian right has lacked a leader who could assemble a broad-enough coalition to govern.

“It was Berlusconi’s intuition that you could form an alliance ranging from the moderate center-right to post-fascists," said Lorenzo Pregliasco, an opinion pollster and head of Turin-based political consulting firm Quorum. Meloni has taken over Berlusconi’s big tent, Pregliasco said. “In spite of international reservations about her, she represents a mainstream sort of leadership, not very different from a typical center-right prime minister in Italy."

She has followed broadly similar policies to Berlusconi, centered on trimming income taxes and welfare benefits, without pushing ambitious economic overhauls to boost Italy’s chronically low growth. Ironically, Meloni’s support remains solid even though voters think she has performed poorly on her signature issue: controlling immigration. She promised to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, but has found there is no easy way to do it.

Much of Europe’s political establishment still views Meloni with suspicion, especially on the center left, because of her ideological roots. She was a youth activist in the Italian Social Movement, or MSI, a party founded by former members of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime. She rose through the ranks of MSI’s successor parties, eventually founding Brothers of Italy, which has kept the MSI’s symbol of a flame in Italy’s national colors. Meloni says fascism is history and her party is democratic.

Write to Marcus Walker at

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