Italy's far-right Giorgia Meloni emerges stronger from EU vote

AFP , Monday 10 Jun 2024

Giorgia Meloni's far-right party won a decisive victory in European elections in Italy, unofficial results showed Monday -- making her one of the few EU leaders to emerge stronger after the vote.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speaks about the results of the European Parliamentary elections at a press conference at the Fratelli d Italia party electoral committee in Rome, Monday, June 10, 2024. AP


"Thank you!" the Italian prime minister posted on social media alongside a photo of her making a V-for victory.

Meloni's post-fascist Brothers of Italy party had secured 28.82 percent of the vote Monday with 97 percent of all votes counted -- surpassing the 26 percent she secured in September 2022 national elections.

Meloni had pitched the weekend elections for the European Parliament as a referendum on her leadership, asking voters to write "Giorgia" on their ballots.

In brief remarks to the media around 2:00 am, Meloni said she was "extraordinarily proud" of the result, which comes just days before she hosts G7 leaders in Puglia.

"I am proud that this nation presents itself at the G7 and in Europe with the strongest government of all," she said.

The result is a remarkable reversal from 2019 European elections, when Meloni's then-marginal party secured just six percent of the vote.

By contrast it was a tough night for several of Meloni's fellow EU leaders, notably France's Emmanuel Macron, who called snap legislative elections after his centrist alliance was routed by Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition also suffered a stinging defeat, while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists were beaten by the right-wing Popular Party.

In Italy, the 49.69 percent voter participation rate was the country's lowest ever.

'Political strength'

All eyes will now be on what Meloni will do with her increased influence in Brussels.

She has been courted both by Ursula von der Leyen of the centre-right EPP group -- who is vying for a second term leading the powerful European Commission -- and Le Pen.

"In a few hours Giorgia Meloni could be the best positioned prime minister in terms of political strength in the EU," noted Lorenzo Castellani, a political analyst at Rome's LUISS University, on X as the results rolled in.

While on the campaign trail, Meloni said she wanted to lead a far-right victory in Europe similar to what she did in Italy.

But there are tensions between her and Le Pen, who sit in different groupings in the European Parliament.

"I don't think Meloni wants to go back to working with the likes of Le Pen," said Daniele Albertazzi, co-director at the Centre for Britain and Europe think tank.

"She will have fewer MEPs than Le Pen, but she is prime minister."

"I think she will keep trying now to play the game with the big guys and focus on the EPP" -- and the negotiations for the next European Commission chief, he told AFP.

Since taking office 15 months ago at the helm of Italy's most right-wing government since World War II, Meloni has maintained a careful political balancing act.

She campaigned on a promise to restore Italy's national pride and boost the economy, protect the country's Christian culture and traditional family values, and reduce illegal immigration.

But despite railing against the EU "superstructure", she has also worked closely with von der Leyen and won support in Washington for her strong support for Ukraine.

Meloni hailed the success of her entire government in the vote, but her junior coalition partner, Matteo Salvini's far-right, anti-immigration League party, saw his support slump.

Salvini had triumphed with 34 percent in European Parliament elections in 2019, but has since been eclipsed by Meloni, reaping only 9.12 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results Monday.

The League leader also appeared to have been surpassed by Forza Italia, the right-wing party founded by late ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, with a 9.72 percent showing.

By contrast it was a good night for Meloni's main opposition, the centre-left Democratic Party, who secured more than 25 percent of the vote, according to the early results -- above expectations.

The Five Star Movement of former premier Giuseppe Conte was heading for under 10 percent.

Meloni stood for election herself but will not take up her seat, as being an MEP is incompatible with national political office.

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