Italy’s first woman PM?

A Meloni administration will try to force the migration issue and hence controversies with Malta are bound to increase, perhaps even more than has already happened in the past whenever there was a right-wing Italian government

Giorgia Meloni
Giorgia Meloni

This Sunday Italians will vote – or decide to abstain – in a ‘snap’ general election, the consequence of yet another Italian government crisis which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi. President Sergio Mattarella had no option but to call for new elections after dissolving the Italian Parliament on 21 July, fully eight months before its legal constitutional end.

Following the 2020 Italian constitutional referendum, the size of Parliament will be reduced with respect to previous elections. Under the amended Constitution, in Italy there will be 400 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 200 elected members of the Senate of the Republic, down from 630 and 315, respectively. Moreover, following the approval of a constitutional law in 2021, the minimum voting age for the Senate will be the same as for the Chamber of Deputies – 18 years old and no longer 25. Hence, for the first time the two houses will have an identical electorate.

On 28 July, the centre-right coalition, formed by no less than seven political parties, found an agreement on the distribution of single-member districts between them and agreed also on the candidate for the premiership, which will be proposed by the party that gains most votes. Due to its strong showing in opinion polls, Giorgia Meloni’s ‘Fratelli D’Italia’ has become the leading party in the coalition which was further strengthened by yet another three parties joining the so-called PD list. At the same time, it was announced that two former ministers who had left Berlusconi’s party will be running in the upcoming election under the banner of one of these three parties.

Coalitions in Italy are very complicated things, more so with so many different political parties.

In contrast with other democratic countries, electoral debates between party leaders are not so common before general elections in Italy; the last debate between the two main Prime Ministerial candidates was in 2006, between Silvio Berlusconi and Romano Prodi. With few exceptions, almost every main political leader has refused to take part in electoral de-bates ‘against’ other candidates, preferring interviews with TV hosts and journalists; while many debates between other important members of the main parties are held.

However, this year’s election saw the first debates between the main leaders in 16 years with opposing politicians being jointly interviewed, the most important of which was that between Enrico Letta leader of the Democratic Party and Giorgia Meloni on the website of the popular Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The most recent polls indicate that the right-wing group led by Giorgia Meloni will win the elections and that Meloni will probably become Italy’s first woman Prime Minister.

The electoral programme of the coalition led by Meloni is based on six issues – inflation and the cost of energy; finance; enterprises, work and wages; education and young people; climate change; and last but not least: immigration.

Many of the proposals under these six groupings make sense and the overall impression is far from them being some extreme right-wing inspired programme.

On inflation and energy, the proposal calls for gas being considered on its own and separate from other sources of energy. This relies heavily on proposals for gas pipelines from North Africa lowering the cost of gas in Italy especially in the deprived south.

The proposals on finance are inspired by the need to consider the situation of the poorer end of the population that has dramatically increased in recent years. On taxation, a flat rate for companies and enterprises replacing the existing complicated tax regime is being proposed. On education Meloni’s coalition has proposals for an education system that prepares young people for work while as regards climate change the coalition insists on technological innovations that are to be pursued at a European and at a global level.

The fly in the ointment is the sixth issue: immigration. Meloni proposes what it calls a ‘naval blockade’ described as a European mission negotiating with Libya in order to stop the influx of immigrants from Libya and a system of distributing immigrants who deserve refugee status among all 27 EU member states. Those who do not qualify as refugees will be sent back.

Although there is actually nothing new in Meloni’s stand on illegal immigration, how this policy can – and will – be achieved is not very clear. Actually, it has already been tried but co-operation from northern EU member states was not readily forthcoming. Without this co-operation, this policy cannot succeed.

A Meloni administration will try to force the issue and hence controversies with Malta – about who is responsible to save every illegal boatload of immigrants leaving Libya – are bound to increase, perhaps even more than has already happened in the past whenever there was a right-wing Italian government.

The other policies of Meloni’s coalition will not affect Malta adversely, but the policy on dealing with illegal immigration will probably hit Malta hard. Wait for it.

Malta on autopilot

The Prime Minister is in New York for the UN General Assembly with a huge contingent of more than 30 people, including 14 from his office, his family and a three-strong film crew hired for the occasion – a delegation costing some €140,000.

The official delegation also includes Labour MP Michael Farrugia, other ministry officials, a public relations team and security officers.

Apart from the PM’s delegation, Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg and Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne are also in New York with their own delegations.

The Prime Minister will address the General Assembly, apart from having several bilateral meetings, as is usual during the UN general assembly.

The OPM has also contracted a three-person film team to cover all the events Malta is participating in. According to a report in The Times, a government spokesperson said this team will be assigned to film and prepare audio-visual material related to Malta’s relations with the UN, with particular emphasis on Malta’s role in the Security Council.

I have a vague suspicion that this film will in future find itself part of Labour’s electoral propaganda material. In the current situation Owen Bonnici has been appointed Acting Prime Minister but, as far as is known, no acting ministers have been assigned in the case of the portfolios of the two Ministers accompanying the PM.

Malta is indeed on autopilot.