Italy’s Giorgia Meloni Wants for a Coalition Partner

Why is her deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, roiling the political waters at every turn, risking the stability of the governing conservative coalition?

AP/Luca Bruno, file
From left, the Dutch Party for Freedom's Geert Wilders, Italy's Matteo Salvini, the Alternative For Germany party's Jörg Meuthen, and France's Marine Le Pen at Milan in 2019. AP/Luca Bruno, file

Who is Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini? Is he the astute politico who transformed the once separatist Lega Nord into the nationalist party that advocates on behalf of the Mezzogiorno’s ambitious infrastructure proposal, the Ponte sullo Stretto project?

Or is Matteo the secret secessionist who longs to unseat Giorgia Meloni at Palazzo Chigi? And why has he continued to roil the political waters at every turn, risking the stability of the governing conservative coalition?

On the day after the fiaccolata, or torchlight procession, at Rome honoring the murdered Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, Mr. Salvini refused to blame Vladimir Putin for the crime.

If it’s difficult to know everything that happens in Italy, Mr. Salvini said, “how can I then judge something occurring on the other side of the world?”

Such linguistic drivel contrasts sharply with the public denunciations of Mr. Putin by both Prime Minister Meloni and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.

Nevertheless, the deputy prime minister persisted, declaring that it will be up to Russian doctors and judges to determine what caused Navalny’s death.

The center-left leader of the Azione party, Carlo Calenda, has threatened to call for a no-confidence vote against Mr. Salvini unless he disentangles the Lega from any connections with Mr. Putin.

Not to be outdone, the reigning doyenne of the Partito Democratico, Elly Schlein, chimed in: “It’s unacceptable that Salvini won’t be clear about their relations with Russia.”

Though she can be a tad histrionic in her attacks on the Meloni government, Ms. Schlein is on the right side of history when it comes to this existential issue: “Salvini is a minister today and there can’t be any ambiguities of any kind on what happened, on the Russian regime’s clear responsibility on the death of Navalny who was in custody.”

And though Mr. Salvini helped put the migration issue on the map — as it were — his theatrics undercut his message. He tends to come across as more of a rabble rouser than a statesman. Plus, his cozying up to Russia’s autocratic leader is as obsequious as it is bizarre.

Which is why the former premier, Matteo Renzi, who is now the centrist leader of the Italia Viva party, excoriated Mr. Salvini after the death of Navalny, noting that “there is a glaring and indisputable responsibility on the part of the Kremlin, and denying that means denying reality.”

Furthermore, Mr. Renzi detailed Mr. Salvini’s prior idolatry of Mr. Putin: “You can’t cancel the t-shirt with Putin’s face at the European Parliament, you can’t cancel the stroll in Red Square with the electoral placard saying ‘no to Renzi’s referendum’, and you can’t cancel the ‘give me half Putin in exchange for two Mattarellas’ or ‘I prefer Putin to Renzi.'”

In many ways, Mr. Salvini is a disruptor. He shocked the global intelligentsia when his Lega gained 34 percent of the vote in the European Parliamentary elections five years ago. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Flashing forward to the present, however, the Lega’s electoral prospects have dimmed considerably. Pollsters are predicting that Signore Salvini’s party may not even attain 9 percent of the vote in the June European Parliamentary elections.

Should such a scenario come to pass, Mr. Salvini’s days as the leader of the Lega party could come to an end. Yet he continues to lurch to extremes, affiliating the Lega with the rightist Alternative for Germany and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National group in France.

Whereas Signora Meloni has established her credentials as an effective center-right leader who is able to bridge the divide between the EU’s moderates and hardliners, Mr. Salvini continues to disrupt his own government’s agenda.

The premier has forged a strong working relationship with the EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, who is up for re-election.

Mr. Salvini went out of his way to publicly embarrass Signora Meloni, though, as reported in Reuters. “I wouldn’t vote for Ursula von der Leyen,” Mr. Salvini said last month, just after the president had visited Rome to endorse publicly an African cooperation pact that is a cornerstone of Signora Meloni’s foreign policy.

Rather than spewing such vitriol, Matteo should point to his pivotal role in bringing about the construction of the longest single-span bridge in the world, linking Sicily with the mainland.

Railway Gazette International reports that the “final design for the rail and road bridge to link Sicily with the mainland has been approved by the board of project company, Stretto di Messina.” Ben fatto, Matteo.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use