Italy: PM Meloni seeks to reassure in first speech as Italy PM

Rome: New Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni outlined her programme for government, reaffirming her support for the EU, NATO and Ukraine and presenting herself as a steady hand to guide her country through turbulent times.

One month after her far-right Brothers of Italy party won general elections, Meloni used her inaugural speech to parliament to seek to allay concerns she will guide the eurozone’s third largest economy down a radical new path. “Italy is fully part of Europe and the Western world,” the 45-year-old told the lower house, adding that it would “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine”.

Meloni, who was sworn in as Italy’s first woman premier on Saturday, denied accusations she will restrict civil rights and said she had “never felt sympathy or closeness to undemocratic regimes… including Fascism”.

The prospect of a Eurosceptic, populist government in Italy — a founding member of NATO and the European Union — had sparked concern among its allies, particularly in Brussels. Meloni strongly backs EU sanctions against Russia for its war in Ukraine, but her coalition ally Silvio Berlusconi last week was recorded defending his old friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Italy was heavily dependent on Russian gas before the war and is currently battling soaring inflation, fuelled by sky-high energy bills, which risks sparking a recession next year. On Tuesday, Meloni said the country was “in the midst of a storm”. She said her priority was to help businesses and households cope and to continue find new sources of energy, saying she would not give in to “Putin’s blackmail”. Lawmakers will hold a vote of confidence in Meloni’s government on Tuesday evening, followed by another in the Senate on Wednesday.

The votes are largely procedural as she has a comfortable majority in parliament thanks to her coalition with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and Matteo Salvini’s far-right League. In a speech lasting more than an hour, Meloni promised to cut taxes for businesses and families while simplifying bureaucracy to encourage investment, and also announced a one-off tax amnesty. She said “lasting and structural growth” was the answer to reducing Italy’s debt — forecast to be 145 percent of gross domestic product this year, the highest ratio in the eurozone after Greece. But Giuseppe Conte, former premier and leader of the opposition Five Star Movement, accused her of “empty rhetoric”, saying there were no concrete solutions to the cost-of-living crisis. Meloni also warned that help for energy bills would “drain” much of the available funds and other unspecified spending projects would have to be postponed.