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Giorgia Meloni becomes Italy’s first female prime minister

ROME — Giorgia Meloni has been named Italy’s first female prime minister at the head of a right-wing government, after holding talks with the country’s president.

After a week of infighting which overshadowed the negotiations, Meloni’s warring coalition put forward a united front, backing Meloni to lead the country during formal talks with President Sergio Mattarella, on Friday.

Later on Friday Mattarella asked Meloni to form a government. 

Meloni, after arriving for talks in a Fiat 500, accepted unconditionally, a spokesman for the president’s office said. The right-wing coalition emerged triumphant from the election, with 44 percent of the vote, led by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which took 26 percent.

But even before a government could be cobbled together, rivalry emerged inside the coalition, with allies arguing over Meloni’s unwillingness to accommodate Silvio Berlusconi’s preferred nominations in her cabinet.

At the opening of the new parliament, Berlusconi, leader of the Forza Italia party, said in a note left in public view that he found Meloni “overbearing … domineering … arrogant … offensive.”

No sooner were peacetalks concluded than Berlusconi was recorded asserting that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was to blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and affirming his friendship with Vladimir Putin.

Meloni replied saying that anyone who did not agree with her pro-Europe, pro-NATO orientation “cannot be part of the government, even if that means not forming the government.”

Despite the clashes, the right-wingers made up in order to take over as Italy’s new government. Meloni met with the President on Friday alongside her fellow leaders in the right wing bloc, Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, and Berlusconi.

Meloni is set to name her team on Friday with the new cabinet sworn in on Saturday and a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday.

Her team must immediately roll up their sleeves, working to deadlines including the Budget, which has to be sent to Europe for approval by the end of the month, and the Recovery Plan, the EU’s post pandemic economic aid program. Some 55 targets and milestones have to be met by the year’s end to unlock almost 20 billion euros in funding for Italy under the program.

The new government’s priority will be to tackle a cost of living crisis exacerbated by sky-high energy prices and rising interest rates, which weigh on Italy’s heavy public debt.

Caretaker prime minister Mario Draghi, who was ousted in July, has attempted to smooth the transition, pushing for a cap on energy prices in Europe and setting out the narrow margins for manoeuvre in the budget.

Draghi, in his last news conference as the head of the Italian government, said: “Italy must be at the centre of the European project with the credibility, authoritativeness and determination fitting of a great country like ours.”

But Meloni’s new team is likely to struggle to reconcile the expensive electoral promises they made on pensions and tax cuts with the economic reality. A recession is forecast for next year.

European leaders indicated they were ready to work with Meloni’s government.

At the end of the European Council in Brussels, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “We are all together as European nations within the EU and it is essential that we democracies cooperate a great deal.”

“Every time that there is a change of government because of elections, as [happens] in a democracy, it cannot change the good relations that we have with the other member states or, for example, that we have between Germany and Italy … We will continue to work with very good cooperation between the countries and within the sphere of the European Union.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “I am ready to work with Meloni.” Macron is visiting Rome on Sunday and Monday to meet President Mattarella and Pope Francis, and said he could meet Meloni then, too. “We will see on Monday according to institutional developments, in compliance with protocol,” he said.

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