Giorgia Meloni’s Perspective on the European Union

In one of the key points of her speech on 25 October 2022, the day of the parliamentary vote of confidence in her government, Giorgia Meloni described the European Union as „the common home of the European peoples, [which] as such must be able to face the great challenges of our time, starting with those which the Member States can hardly face alone“.

Many read these words as a reassurance that the new Italian government will remain faithful to European commitments. This was significant since both Meloni and Matteo Salvini, the leader of Lega, had previously expressed criticism of European governance, the single currency, and the EU’s effectiveness in addressing Italy’s enduring economic, social, and geopolitical challenges. During her first months as Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni carefully avoided criticising the European Union and instead guaranteed Italy’s active participation in the Euro-Atlantic commitment to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion of February 2022. She also reaffirmed Rome’s loyalty to NATO, even though in recent years she has repeatedly called for a review of its strategic role and governance.

Beach Concessions and Taxi Services – Italian or European Challenges?

The Italian government’s stance towards the EU began to unravel in the spring, when Brussels repeated its demand for implementation of the Bolkestein Directive in Italy. This required a reform of the system of awarding beach concessions by opening public tenders to non-Italian operators. Thus cracks started to show in the Italian administration’s pro-EU facade. However, this proposal would put an end to the quasi privatisation of Italian beaches, which have consistently been  awarded to the same operators through repeat tenders spanning several decades. The Italian Court of Auditors reports that there are 12,166 concessions ‚for tourist use‘, which generated € 92.5 million for the State in 2020, a pittance compared to the estimated € 15 billion turnover.

Similar challenges arose in relation to taxi businesses, where resistance to the increased number of licenses required by the Bolkestein Directive has persisted despite the obvious deficiencies in taxi services in many large Italian cities, including the capital. Both beach operators and taxi drivers are generally considered to be aligned with the right, which explains the government’s slow response to European regulatory demands.

What Can Europe Expect from Italy?

Economic Policy and Stability Pact Concerns

In Rome, concerns have also recently arisen with respect to the forthcoming reform of the Stability Pact. After being suspended due to the pandemic, the Pact is set to resume as from 2024 with the aim of restoring order to the budgetary policies of EU Member States. However, this is a risky prospect for the Italian budget, which would find it difficult to adapt to a new Pact based on excessively rigid parameters. Moreover, Italy’s failure to ratify the European Stability Mechanism, the only European state yet to do so, has effectively blocked the agreement’s entry into force for all the signatory countries. This situation has not been conducive to serene relations between Rome and Brussels concerning economic policies. Until early summer, Meloni’s pro-European stance, announced in Parliament last October, seemed to be unquestioned. However, the Prime Minister did not fail to emphasise her closeness to Eurosceptic political forces and leaders such as the Vox party in Spain, and the heads of government of Hungary and Poland, Viktor Orban and Mateusz Morawiecki, whilst Salvini claimed an alliance in Europe with Marine Le Pen and the AfD.

In fact, on 16 July it was Ursula von der Leyen, alongside Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who accompanied Meloni on a visit to the Tunisian President Kais Saied. The aim was to explore the possibility of implementing a model similar to the one used for years in Turkey: economic aid in exchange for the national government’s commitment to halt the departure of migrants to Europe. Currently, the agreement has not yet been enacted. Additionally, many political and humanitarian stakeholders in Europe contest the idea of entrusting Tunisia with the role of gendarme in the context of North African migration to the EU, due to the country’s continued violations of human rights over an extended period.

Meanwhile, Salvini disputes the usefulness of Meloni’s ‚diplomatic‘ line with Europe and advocates a policy of ‚closed harbours‘, which he claims was in place during his tenure as the interior minister (2018-19), when the number of migrant landings was significantly lower than 2023. Recent decisions by France to intensify border controls with Italy, and by Germany to temporarily suspend the voluntary reception of some migrants arriving via Italy, have reignited Eurosceptic rhetoric in the Italian government. Some within Italy have pointed fingers at Berlin and Paris, accusing them of pursuing a European strategy detrimental to Italy’s interests. In truth, apart from inaction on the migratory emergency by the EU, which has always exploited the Dublin agreements to leave the management of the registration and initial reception of migrants solely to the countries of first entry, France and Germany have more recently been among the EU Member States trying to promote a new European regulation of asylum and migration policies, each voluntarily taking in 3,500 migrants who originally arrived in Italy. The reform proposal currently under discussion in Brussels, which is strongly criticised by many for the risks of fundamental rights being compromised if approved in this form, bases solidarity between Member States on elements that are no longer only voluntary, but also binding. Hungary and Poland have emerged as opponents of the reform, curiously coinciding with the stance of the Italian Prime Minister, who considers both governments to be her key allies in Europe.

Will she see Brussels as a partner with whom to engage in dialogue to improve the living conditions of European citizens, including Italians

Meloni’s European Vision and Need for European Cooperation on Migration

So, rather than drawing up assessments of her first year in government, nine months before the European parliamentary elections, perhaps the time has come to clarify which Giorgia Meloni Europe can expect in the near future. Will she continue along the path she took in 2018 when she was among the signatories of a proposal to remove all references to the EU from the Italian Constitution, a potential first step toward Italexit? Or will she see Brussels as a partner with whom to engage in dialogue to improve the living conditions of European citizens, including Italians?

The migrant issue, in all its tragic complexity, shows how such a far-reaching phenomenon cannot be managed by any one country in isolation, but only based on shared decision-making at the European level. To achieve this, constructive dialogue between the governments of the Member States , and particularly those who endorse the idea of European solidarity and are actively seeking the political and legal mechanisms to implement it, is crucial. European elections are scheduled for June 2024, but in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Rome, many are hoping for clear answers to this question much earlier.

Andrea De Petris is currently Scientific Director of the European Policy Centre Italy and Assistant Professor in Comparative Public Law at the University of Rome.

In addition to the analysis of European legislation, he deals with migration law, comparative legal systems, electoral law and forms of political participation. He has published over 100 contributions on comparative law, and has been a Fulbright Research Fellow at the University of California, Irvine, and DAAD Stipendiat at the Universities of Düsseldorf and Berlin.

Copyright Header Picture: shutterstock_Alexandros Michailidis