Italy: the first five months of the Meloni government- interview with Marco Veruggio

Q: It has been five months since the archconservative coalition under the leadership of Meloni has been elected in government. What have been the main focal points of this government in this initial period?

MV: Although Meloni’s party has been the only opposition party over the last 5 years, the key feature of her policies is the continuity with the previous Draghi government. This applies to her economic agenda as well as to Ukraine. Meloni is also going on to dismantle some social measures implemented by the 5 Star Movement (5SM) a couple of years ago, such as the Reddito di cittadinanza (basic income) and the 110% Ecobonus for house renovation. Draghi had already started to undermine these measures, but he couldn’t do that to the same extent, as the 5SM was part of his coalition. On the other hand, Meloni’s party is forced to resort to bombastic rhetoric on civil rights, LGBT issues, immigrants, sometimes even more than its leader would like to do. They try to let people forget that they were anti-EU, anti-establishment, pro-Putin and anti-Draghi not long ago. In Italy we say they are a “party of struggle and government”, that is anti-establishment in words, but very much pro-establishment in deed.

Q: A number of far-right parties have distanced themselves from the Western coalition in support of Ukraine. What is the position of Meloni in the Ukraine war? Does it reflect the attitude of the Italian ruling class?

MV: As I said before, her stance on Ukraine is the very same of Draghi. Italy was traditionally the fifth pillar of American imperialism in Europe. Lacking an independent perspective, the Italian “beggar imperialism” prefers to get behind Biden. And Meloni is no exception to this. Although there’s no doubt that some of her supporters, those more nostalgic of the old far-right anti-Americanism, do not appreciate it so much. And as war goes on, even layers of the ruling class begin to get more perplexed and anxious about the outcome.

Q: There have been some tensions between the government parties reported in the media, especially between Berlusconi and Meloni. What is the internal situation of the government coalition?

MV: Berlusconi has always been very sensitive to polls. He’s aware that most Italians do not support the EU approach to the Ukraine war and that Italian and European interests do not fully match with the American ones. That’s why in 2011 he tried to oppose the Anglo-French military intervention in Libya, traditionally part of the home backyard of Italian imperialism. But also Salvini’s Northern League is concerned about sanctions and inflation, which are damaging Italian factories, agro-industry and small business, particularly in northern regions. Nevertheless they have adopted a very careful approach. They do not openly oppose Meloni’ policies. They seem rather to be waiting. However, when the first signs of wavering appear, we should expect a change of strategy towards the government. On March 22, the ministers of the Northern League walked out of the discussion held by the Parliament, where Meloni announced she would reassert Italy’s full support to Kyiv at the EU Council meeting. That was clearly a message in a bottle.

Q: There have been a number of deadly accidents in the seas outside Italy, in which tens of migrants died. What has been the policy of the italian state towards migration, and did it change under Meloni?

MV: On February 26, a vessel coming from Turkey and carrying about 200 migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Somalia, sank after it crashed against rocks due to rough weather off the coast of Cutro in the Calabria region. The vessel had been spotted 74 km from the coast of Italy on Saturday night by a plane operated by Frontex, which alerted the Italian authorities. Nevertheless, the Guardia di Finanza, which polices the coastline to prevent “illegal immigration” sent two patrol boats only in the early morning of Sunday, but they gave up due to weather conditions. When the first rescue volunteers, members of civil protection, policemen and local fishermen intervened, it was already too late. Only 80 migrants have been rescued. The tragedy has had a tremendous impact on the population. The way the relevant ministers, Salvini and Piantedosi (Salvini’s right arm in 2018-2019), managed the situation unleashed huge polemics. After the tragedy, Piantedosi, the Minister of the Interior, said that people from African and Middle East countries should stay at home instead of trying to cross the sea and exposing their children’s lives to the risks of unsafe sailing. Meloni has been strongly criticized also, as she didn’t go to Cutro to pay tribute to the victims. Then she convened the Council of Ministers in Cutro in order to regain credibility, but at the press conference appeared to be in dire straits. On the other hand, we should say that center-left governments did similar things in the past. In 2016-2018, Marco Minniti, Minister of the Interior and member of the Democratic Party (PD), implemented new rules against NGOs active in the Mediterranean and paid 5 million euros to human smugglers so that they stopped the migrant flow from Libya to Italy.

Q: In her recent speech at the CGIL conference, Meloni was “greeted” with singing of the Bella Ciao song. What is the situation in the workers movement and in the Left? Are there discussions on how to challenge the new government?

MV: With her speech at the CGIL conference Meloni managed to regain ground after the huge mistakes made in relation to Cutro’s tragedy. Maurizio Landini (the General Secretary of CGIL- Italian General Confederation of Labour), has been strongly criticized for having invited her. But this is not the real issue. CGIL is used to invite government and party leaders of all political colors to its conferences. The real mistake was to let Meloni speak without any immediate and strong reply. On the other hand, the delegates of the left minority of CGIL decided to walk out of the meeting hall singing “Bella Ciao”. In my opinion, if they had stayed in and booed her, for instance, when she said she is against the introduction of a statutory legal minimum wage – as well as the same CGIL leadership – they would have spoken to millions of workers who hardly make ends meet every month. The real issue is that CGIL is the only left force which could put pressure on the government on war and social issues, but its leadership lacks a strategy and is scared by the idea of mobilizing its members. They act like a punch-drunk boxer. At the same time, Elly Schlein, the new leader of the Democratic Party, whose victory has been described as a turn to the left, confirmed her support to Meloni’s foreign policy but did not attend the last parliamentary discussion on Ukraine, the first after her election, “for personal commitments”. 

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