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What can we expect from Giorgia Meloni’s first trip to Brussels?

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Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new far-right prime minister, will travel to Brussels on Thursday for her first meetings with the leaders of European Union institutions.

She will first meet Roberta Metsola, the President of the European Parliament, at 16.30. An hour later, she will talk with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, before crossing the road to join Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, for a meeting at 18:30 CET. 

The talks are expected to focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine and the energy and cost of living crises with Meloni saying ahead of the trip on social media that “Italy’s voice in Europe will be strong: we are ready to tackle the big issues, starting with the energy crisis, collaborating for a solution to support families and businesses and to curb speculation.”

No joint press conferences will be held although Meloni is scheduled to talk to the press at around 19:00 CET.

“From everything we’ve seen so far, Meloni will try to signal that she is going to be assertive but not disruptive and that she can build a constructive relationship with the EU institutions,” Luigi Scazzieri, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform (CER) told Euronews.

“Her main ask is going to be greater joint EU efforts to cope with energy costs – following in [former Italian Prime Minister Mario] Draghi’s footsteps. To that end, she is likely to try to push for minor changes to Italy’s EU recovery plan, to devote more of it to dealing with higher energy costs,” he added.

‘Clear willingness to engage’

The new prime minister’s visit to the European capital comes just days after she delayed the application of a justice reform that is necessary for the country to receive EU post-pandemic recovery funds.

Rome is set to receive about €200 billion, making it the largest beneficiary of the bloc’s €806.9 billion post-COVID package. 

The disbursement of the funds is however conditioned on a number of milestones negotiated with Meloni’s predecessor, Mario Draghi. Other reforms that have been agreed upon are over competition and the country’s administration.

Meloni’s appointment of Giancarlo Giorgetti as the new economy minister was largely seen as a nod to markets and the EU that Italy would respect its engagement. The politician, from the populist right-wing La Lega party, was in Draghi’s cabinet as minister of economic development.

“The noises we’ve been hearing from Rome are largely positive,” an EU official said on Thursday, citing a “clear willingness to engage and play within the rules of the game, that of course, is highly positive.”

“What’s going on in Italy is very much in line with what happens in the context of national elections, there is campaign and there is a government, and then there is engagement with Europe, I’m confident the (Italy’s) engagement will happen in good spirit,” they added.

Meloni ‘ready to blame EU’ for government failings

But Meloni has also adopted a combative stance towards Brussels, calling for changes to the €200 billion deal, arguing that the current situation is vastly different from when it was first struck, something the Commission has said it is unlikely to allow.

At home, she has also blamed the bloc for some of the country’s woes, such as inflation and illegal migration, and once described Brussels as a “usurer”.

“Her attempt at pleasing Brussels – by suddenly embracing a constructive European spirit – hides a deeper, possibly deleterious, new European doctrine. Meloni is already depicting the EU as the ultimate responsible for the solution of all Italian problems – from inflation to migration – so as to be ready to blame it for what her coalition might not be able to deliver,” Alberto Alemanno, a Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law at HEC Paris, told Euronews. 

“In Meloni’s world, EU-bashing is the ultimate insurance against political failure.”

“While pursuing this doctrine, Giorgia Meloni won’t hesitate to side with her ‘best friends’ sitting in the EU Council: Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki to gain more leverage at the EUCO’s table,” he added.

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