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Analysis. Meloni wants to reduce the political contest to a personal rivalry between her and Elly Schlein. ‘The system is becoming bipolar again, and that's a good thing.’ But in Brussels, the FdI is an afterthought.

Meloni celebrates in Rome, but her power in the EU is limited

When she walked out onto the stage at the Hotel Parco dei Principi on Sunday evening, Giorgia Meloni was truly satisfied, and it showed: “More so tonight than two years ago – because back then we were only a hope – this time they voted for us for who we are.”

She might have hoped for something more when she decided to take to the field. But in recent weeks, she’d had reason to fear much worse, as FdI ran the risk of falling below the 26 percent it got almost two years ago in the political elections: an insignificant difference at the ballot box, but a very heavy blow in political terms. Most importantly, while incumbent prime ministers across Europe have been steamrolled every which way, she was the only winner, able to boast that “we are the strongest government in the G7.”

In all, she had every reason to celebrate, and this includes the success of the PD. Polarization, the reduction of the political contest to a personal rivalry between her and Elly Schlein, is a goal Meloni has been coldly pursuing, convinced that the PD leader will also reap benefits, but Meloni herself stands to gain even more. This is something she is willing to own openly: “The system is becoming bipolar again, and that’s a good thing.”

Meloni can claim to be even more satisfied as leader of the right-wing coalition and prime minister. Almost two years after its victory, the right wing is growing in support. Within the alliance, FdI’s primacy is so clear-cut that it guarantees her a position of leadership that barely needs to be tempered by the demands of diplomacy, even more so than what Berlusconi enjoyed in his time. At the same time, there is great value to Meloni in Forza Italia still showing signs of life, because the FI, unlike the Lega, allows the right to seek out a moderate electorate that would otherwise be inaccessible.

The only cause for concern is the fate of the declining Lega. The premier has been doing what she can to hide it from the eyes of the Lega themselves, complimenting Salvini’s result as well as Tajani’s. But that is an impossible feat. The fact that the Lega fell below Forza Italia is a heavy blow for the Lega leader, already hit by Bossi’s excommunication. It’s almost a certainty now that as the final results are tallied, the Lega will land below its 2022 result.

In the near future, the premier is facing the prospect of having to deal with a party terrorized by the specter of disintegration, which could render it uncontrollable and unpredictable. Or, indeed, with a Lega no longer led by Salvini – with a big mouth but harmless to her interests, someone she had learned to trust – but by someone else: an unknown quantity.

The paradox (albeit only an apparent one) is that on the European front, the right-wing surge doesn’t make Meloni’s plans as ECR leader any easier, while she remains perhaps the only one among the leading figures in Italian politics for whom the Brussels game is as important, and indeed more important, than the one being played in Rome. The Populars, Socialists and Liberals already have the numbers to perpetuate Ursula’s majority, perhaps even doing away with Ursula herself, without needing the support of the ECR, or even just the Italian wing of the ECR. Predictably, as the price for its support, the PSE will insist that the EPP must accept a cordon sanitaire that will shut out the entire right wing, even the seemingly more moderate one represented by FdI.

For Meloni, it is crucial to be a key player in the process of choosing the next president of the Commission. If she is turned away at the door, or allowed to enter only through the back door as an unwelcome guest, this would be a heavy snub, and not without consequences on the critical front of relations between Rome and Brussels on issues regarding the public accounts.

However, the current tenant of the Palazzo Chigi will have her own cards to play. The European Council must nominate the candidate for EC president and then ask the European Parliament for its approval; and at the upcoming meeting of the Council, those heads of government who are used to being the ones dealing the cards – France’s Macron and Germany’s Scholz – will come burdened with their heavy defeats in these elections (not to mention that Macron might be in even worse shape by then). They might not be in a position to snub the premier of the third-largest EU country.

It will all depend on which path the EPP decides to take in the face of a right-wing surge that threatens to overwhelm the Union: whether it will try to bar the gates or – as many centrists have done in the last century – open them wide.

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