Giorgia Meloni, the ‘Most Dangerous Woman in Europe,’ Confounds Her Critics
Italy’s right-wing premier turns Italy into the continent’s gatekeeper.
Giorgia Meloni has now governed as Italy’s prime minister for more than 100 days. She has proven wrong those who warned of Italy’s slide into fascism. Without much fanfare, too, she has taken to fashioning Italy as Europe’s gatekeeper amid what is becoming an intractable migrant crisis – one exacerbated by Russia’s growing influence in Africa.
“The most dangerous woman in Europe” is how in September one German magazine described Prime Minister Meloni. She is out to “transform Italy into an authoritarian state,” it asserted. Similar alarms were sounded by the New York Times, CNN, the BBC, the Economist, all warning that Mrs. Meloni and her party, Brothers of Italy, are authoritarians, nationalists, and, ergo, menaces to democracy.
Yet the pundits’ reality is not quite the reality. For there is little in Ms. Meloni’s agenda that would signal danger, unless, of course, the term is understood to mean a reassertion of traditional Italian identity, support for moderate conservative values, more police, less crime, lower taxes, control over illegal immigration, and the occasional tribute to Sir Roger Scruton.
There is also scant indication of the prime minister’s desire to oversee the European Union’s undoing – at least not yet. While herself a Euroskeptic who once called for Italy to leave the euro, and though beholden to the belief that the EU should do less, and do it better, Ms. Meloni is no arsonist.
Brussels has allotted the largest share of its Covid Recovery Fund – 200 billion euros in loans and grants – to Italy. The payments started to arrive in August and will continue until 2026. For a country whose economy has hardly grown in real terms since the introduction of the euro in 1999, with public debt 147 percent of its GDP, unemployment among the highest in Europe, and burdened by high inflation, the EU funds are nearly existential for Italy. So Ms. Meloni has chosen to tread lightly.
The prime minister has in recent weeks hosted a flurry of bilateral meetings with her European peers, including with Chancellor Scholz with whom she met on Friday for their first one-to-one meeting in Berlin. At the top of the agenda was the tide of illegal migration to the continent – a topic that also featured prominently in Ms. Meloni’s tête-à-tête with Prime Minister Kristersson of Sweden and President Novák of Hungary.
There were 330,000 illegal entries into the EU in 2022 – the highest number since 2016. Some 90 percent of entrants were men, a great many from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. More than 100,000 arrived through Italy’s southern border having set sail off the coast of Libya.
Since Angela Merkel in 2015 opened wide Europe’s doors with her cry of “We can do this,” Italy has found itself on the front lines of these inflows. Now the situation has become worse. As Russia has become isolated from the West it has turned its attention to the African Sahel, where it is arming governments and shaping domestic politics.
Inflows of Russian mercenaries, weaponry, and propaganda into a region prone to upheaval could open another front against Europe. Ms. Meloni appears more aware of this than most. To curb illegal arrivals at Italy’s ports, her government has taken recent measures to complicate the work of charity ships that ferry migrants across the Mediterranean.
In January, Italy signed an $8 billion gas deal with Libya, the largest investment in Libya’s energy sector in two decades. The deal is intended to diversify Italy’s gas supplies away from Russia. It is also intended to boost the Libyan economy – a reflection of Ms. Meloni’s view of African development as a buffer against migration.
The prime minister will present her migration agenda at the EU summit being held in Brussels today and Friday. It is unlikely to be met with much enthusiasm – least of all with any action. Despite tacit agreement among EU leaders that the crisis must be managed, their humanitarian and woke proclivities have prevented them from taking up the task. So, it seems, much could be left to Ms. Meloni and her government. Rather than overseeing Europe’s demise, the Italian prime minister could yet emerge its greatest protector.