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Italy’s “whip-smart” PM has confounded her critics

Meloni: governing like a traditional conservative. Valeria Ferraro/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

When Georgia Meloni was sworn in as Italian prime minister last October, pundits wondered whether she would still be in office by Christmas, says Lee Hockstader in The Washington Post. In fact, the “telegenic, fast-on-her-feet, whip-smart” 46-year-old has made it all the way to Easter. Meloni is Italy’s first female PM, and the only one in more than 12 years to clinch the job via an election rather than “coalition jockeying”. Her party, the Brothers of Italy, has roots in “post-World War II Italian fascism”; Meloni herself has long played on nationalist, anti-immigration and anti-LGBTQ themes.

But in office, she is governing much like a traditional conservative. Previous talk of “ethnic substitution” has been replaced with a border policy that’s virtually indistinguishable from Joe Biden’s. In contrast with other European populists like Viktor Orbán and Marine Le Pen, Meloni’s backing for Ukraine has been “unflinching”, and includes the sending of lethal military aid “which about half the Italian public opposes”. Once a vocal Eurosceptic, she’s now playing nice to secure nearly €200bn in pandemic recovery funds promised by Brussels. And fate is on her side too: in February, Italy’s “traditionally centrist” Democratic Party chose a far-left politician as its new leader, giving Meloni an opportunity to hoover up centrist voters. Still, the average lifespan of Italian post-war governments is just 14 months, and the PM’s coalition partners are “allies of convenience” who may eventually turn on her. “Any misstep could mean a quick end to her honeymoon.”