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Giorgia Meloni’s Balancing Act

In taking her brand of hard-right nationalism to the hearth of EU and Western institutions, Meloni must navigate treacherous political waters in which she must seem both moderate and radical. But she won’t be able to remain under the radar for long.

ROME – When Giorgia Meloni delivered her maiden speech in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies on October 25, you didn’t know what to believe – the language or the body language, the message or the choice of words. Meloni, a former Benito Mussolini admirer and teenage neo-fascist activist, whose Brothers of Italy party leads the new government coalition, now reigns over the decaying political class of an aging country. How does Italy’s first-ever female prime minister (and, at 45, its second youngest), raised by a single mother in a rough Rome neighborhood, intend to govern a country famous for its low social mobility and the European Union’s second-lowest female employment rate?

Meloni called herself an “underdog who upended predictions,” adding, “I plan to do it again.” But, as ever with Meloni, it’s all about what you choose to look at. Form and content are so much at odds that both moderates and the far right can find something to like. The sharp gestures, the fiery eyes, the screaming into the microphone are all trademark fascist devices. But she then quotes Montesquieu and denies she ever had any sympathy for illiberal regimes – even after inviting Hungary’s autocratic prime minister, Viktor Orbán, as a special guest to the Brothers’ two most recent annual gatherings.

Her government’s first decree showed the gulf between her background and what she can possibly achieve in a constitutional democracy. Allegedly with the aim of preventing rave parties, the decree made unauthorized gatherings of more than 50 people punishable by up to six years in prison if deemed “dangerous.” The outcry that ensued, even in parts of her majority, will force her to backtrack.