Sun, 24 Sep 2023

Far-right Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni looks set to become Italy's first woman prime minister at the head of the country's most right-wing government since World War II. Reactions from elsewhere in Europe included veiled criticism from Spain; Germany and the EU Commission saying they are ready for constructive engagement; and rapturous responses from populist leaders.

France said on Monday that it respected the choices made by voters in Italy after Sunday's election there ushered in the country's most right-wing government since World War II, President Emmanuel Macron's office said.

"As neighbours and friends, we must continue to work together," the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

"It is within Europe that we will overcome our common challenges."

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Monday that France will be "attentive" to the respect of the right to abortion and other human rights in Italy following the victory of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Monday.

"We will be attentive, with the president of the European Commission, that these values of human rights, the respect of one another, notably the respect of abortion rights, are respected by all," Borne told BFM television.

But Borne declined to comment directly on the strong showing for Meloni's Brothers of Italy party on Sunday, which should see the Eurosceptic populist party secure a majority in both houses of parliament.

"I am not going to comment on the democratic choice of the Italian people," Borne said.

Meloni has said she will maintain the country's abortion law, which allows terminations but permits doctors to refuse to carry them out. The law was passed by the Christian Democrats - postwar Italy's hegemonic political force - in 1978 and emphatically upheld by a referendum in 1981.

Guarded reactions

Other guarded reactions from Europe included the German government's statement that it expected Italy to continue to be a "very Europe-friendly country".

"We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won't change," Chancellor Olaf Scholz's deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters.

For years, Meloni was regarded as a Eurosceptic. But more recently she has emphasised her commitment to the EU. And despite previously expressing pro-Russian views, Meloni is adamant that Italy must continue with sanctions on Moscow and arms deliveries to Ukraine as part of the Atlantic alliance.

But Meloni's top coalition partner, League leader Matteo Salvini, questioned Italy's participation in sanctions on Russia during the campaign. Her other coalition partner, ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi, said last week President Vladimir Putin was "pushed" into Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.

The EU Commission's response on Monday was similar to Germany's. The commission said it hoped for a constructive relationship with the next Italian government.

The commission by principle works "with the governments that emerge from the elections", said EU spokesman Eric Mamer at a news briefing.

"This is no different in this case. Of course we hope that we will have a constructive cooperation with the new Italian authorities," he added.

Washington reacted likewise. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States looked forward to working with Italy's new government on human rights, highlighting that he expected Rome to maintain its backing for Kyiv.

"We are eager to work with Italy's government on our shared goals: supporting a free and independent Ukraine, respecting human rights and building a sustainable economic future," Blinken wrote on Twitter. "Italy is a vital ally, strong democracy and valued partner," he said.

Spain's Socialist government, which has faced competition from populists of the left and right in the shape of Podemos and Vox, offered thinly veiled criticism of Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party.

Populist movements always surge during difficult times but always end badly, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said.

"These are uncertain times and at times like this, populist movements always grow, but it always ends in the same way - in catastrophe because they offer simple short-term answers to problems which are very complex," he told reporters at a briefing.

Congratulations from populists

By contrast, leaders of populist parties were forthright in their praise. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday hailed Meloni's win.

"Great victory! Congratulations!" Morawiecki said on Facebook, using emojis to say that the two countries would be strong together.

Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party and the Brothers of Italy are both part of the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

Other Polish governing politicians highlighted the overlap between the two parties, including their emphasis on Catholic family values.

France's far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen wrote on Twitter: ""The Italian people have decided to take their destiny in hand by electing a patriotic and sovereignist government.

Congratulations to Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini for having resisted the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union by winning this great victory."

Balazs Orban, political director for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, wrote a similar response on the social network: "Congratulations to Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi on the elections today! In these difficult times, we need more than ever friends who share a common vision and approach to Europe's challenges."

Orban himself was more succint: "Bravo Giorgia!" he posted on Facebook.

The Russian government also seemed pleased with Meloni's victory: "We are ready to welcome any political forces that are able to go beyond the established mainstream, which is filled with hate for our country ... and show willingness to be constructive in relations with our country," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about Meloni's win.

Throughout the election campaign, many analysts have suggested that Meloni's far-right fans will be disappointed, suggesting there is substance to her insistence that she is now part of the mainstream right like the British Conservative Party.

Meloni is a "conviction politician and she is certainly right-wing", Giovanni Orsina, a professor of political science at Rome's LUISS University, told The Economist. "But part of that is a belief in the national interest, and that makes her a realist. She tends to see the world as it is."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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