The first female PM of Italy has made many promises for the Italian people, such as greater wealth, lower migration and more traditional values but has fallen short of being as truly different as advertised.

One should not be surprised that in Niccolo Machiavelli’s homeland, some words are thrown around just to produce an effect and that promises are rarely, if ever, fulfilled. In her second year in office, the same can be said about Giorgia Meloni. Her promises and strong-woman speeches have so far, when it comes to policy and action, proven to be on paper only, and issues that appeared to only require a strong will to be resolved have presented themselves as overwhelming in nature. It’s the usual suspects; the economy, war, migration, and low-birth rates, and what has been missing is a united response to all of them. 

Hardly anything about these issues is new other than they have grown in severity and have at this point spanned multiple governments with no end in sight, but the frustration building up has also reached Meloni.

The Economic Deadlock

After Italy was badly hit by the pandemic, assistance from the European Union was needed, and that came in the form of 191.5 billion euros back in 2021, when Mario Draghi was still PM. Yet this came with certain strings attached, like how to use that assistance and when to repay it, which shapes the current spending habits of Italy. This ran and still runs contrary to the current PM’s vows, like supporting families to revitalise Italy’s negative birth rates. This is another area that shows no signs of improvement, just like the North-South divide, making traditional problems arguably worse. In late January, more sovereignty for the different regions was passed in the senate, which strengthened the hand of the more affluent North, becoming more independent from Rome, while the South, in need of more aid and development, is again taking a backseat. This hardly looks like the national push and former “stance” of the current PM. 

These issues are entangled with greater problems throughout the EU, like the war in Ukraine, its costs and strain on the whole Union and NATO as a whole. The same applies for migration. Not having enough funds and being very limited in spending, fighting migration, and managing an ageing population with such little means and from a position of economic weakness do not go well together. The recent crisis on the island of Lampedusa, where in September last year, in a mere 48 hours, the local population of 6,000 was overtaken by 7,000 migrants, has shown how little can be done. 

The government appears to recognise the need for some migrants that are “acceptable,” that is, those who are educated because of the aforementioned negative birth rates. Again, again another reversal and dead-end.

Foreign people in foreign lands

Such has been the frustration that a “simple” promise of curbing migration has proven to be impossible the world over. A wall never completely materialised in the US that could make the migrants simply go away, nor did Meloni’s idea for a naval blockade in the Mediterranean Sea. This plan agreed in March 2020 and should have incorporated EU-states involved in Operation Sophia, a former plan designed to curb migration flows from North-Africa and the Middle-East by targeting human traffickers and their bases. The third—and never implemented—phase of Operation Sophia was supposed to stop the trafficking of refugees at its root countries. To do this, a UN Security Council measure and the acceptance of any coastal nation in question was required, which simply (and unsurprisingly) did not materialise. Instead, Meloni has tried to find her way around the issue, by talking with Tunisian PM Kais Saied, who came to rule Tunisia by a “soft coup” in 2021 and Albanian PM Edi Rama, who is currently embroiled in a scandal involving former high-ranking FBI agent Charles McGonigal,. 

The former monetary help for migration control deal with Saied reportedly ended in failure and is now frozen. Meanwhile, the transfer of migrants rescued at sea will be processed in two camps in Albania, manned and paid by Rome, which is seen as radical, since the camps will be outside of the EU’s jurisdiction. In return, Tirana’s bid for the EU will be supported by Meloni. 

Examples like these currently serve Meloni as minor victories yet none of them are in effect and one might question if they will ever come into fruition at all. Currently, it looks more like business as usual with Meloni, in stark contrast to the great changes that she promised.

From one to the other

This brings up the question, do such populist leaders really believe in what they say? Meloni has presented herself internationally as far more moderate than to her domestic audience. She has great sympathy for Ukraine and supports continuing the EU’s assistance against the invasion of Russia, proving her to be a good European. This is markedly different from other leaders, like Viktor Orban, who has proven to be a true hurdle for both Brussels and Kyiv alike. Meloni, who nevertheless has good relations with Orban, the main interior-antagonist of Brussels, was able to change his mind with French support in lifting the blockade of a €50 Billion aid package, desperately needed by Kyiv. These changes came after the widely accepted failure of the much-awaited spring offensive yet Meloni appeared undeterred.

Radical is the new normal

Before the nature and complexities of many problems started to match the policy and rhetoric of Meloni, a controversial video was shared by the then-candidate in late August 2022, showing a Ukrainian woman being raped by an African migrant on the streets of Piacenza in the North of Italy. This very saddening incident was promptly used to bolster the Meloni campaign, especially at a time when inflammatory rhetoric in Europe towards migrants became more widespread but as mentioned above, these kinds of provocations are less commonly heard from Meloni today. The reality of being in power means Meloni has had to reign in her rabble rousing rhetoric as she struggles with the realities Italy continues to struggle with.

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