“We are not Martians,” said Giorgia Meloni, insisting that she and her government are not only from the same planet, but from the same European continent.
At the end of the whirlwind of meetings, the Italian premier was as clear as she could be: “I want to give a signal about our will to collaborate with the EU and to defend our national interest … I am aware that member states have different realities, but we must find the courage and political will to act as we did during the pandemic, by joining forces … Italy will never be the weak link of the West with us in government.”
She went even further, picking up where Mario Draghi left off at the last European Council. She said she was very happy with the outcome of the “frank and very positive” meetings, also on the level of personal relations, and stressed the importance of finding concrete solutions for the energy crisis and the price cap as soon as possible: “On energy and inflation, people need us now, we must act now.”
Draghi could not have said it better, and even when she deviated slightly from her predecessor’s line, on the NRP, the new premier did so with the most delicate touch, mentioning that the topics of the talks had included how to best spend the Plan’s funds in the face of rising commodities and inflation, without any hint of a renegotiation. This is Giorgia Meloni the European.
Thursday was a full day for her, with lunch with Paolo Gentiloni, then an hour-long meeting in Italian with European Parliament President Roberta Mestsola, who was jubilant at the end: “We are totally aligned on Ukraine. We will continue to stand firm on sanctions. And we are united in reaffirming our support for Ukraine,” adding that “the meeting confirmed Italy will continue its central role in EU decision making.”
Then there was the climactic meeting with EC Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen, whose comments at the end were decidedly more lukewarm: “Thank you @GiorgiaMeloni for the strong signal sent by your visit to 🇪🇺 institutions on your first trip abroad,” von der Leyen tweeted. “It was a good opportunity to exchange on critical issues.” To end on a high note, Meloni also met with European Council President Charles Michel.
The difference between Metsola’s and Ursula von der Leyen’s tones speaks volumes. On “critical issues,” the path of collaboration is still at an incipient stage, and the gap remains wide, especially with Germany, on immigration, which is the most sensitive front right now, and not only. In short, how the situation will develop remains to be seen, but as far as the general context, Thursday saw the beginning of a thaw towards Meloni, especially since the Italian brought the right credentials and references with her, in the form of three commitments that are essential preconditions for the European Union: full support for Ukraine, the pledge to promote national interests in full respect of the treaties – and thus without changing course on fiscal matters – and abandoning any sovereignist and critical rhetoric towards the Union.
It’s not a lot, but it’s a starting point that will allow the Italian Prime Minister to face the first real test of her government with greater peace of mind, after the very inauspicious beginning with the anti-rave decree, the budget adjustment and sky-high bills.
The Council of Ministers met on Friday to review the budget adjustment with the updated Economic and Finance Document and to line up the next support measures to subsidize energy bills, although not yet enacting them. The deficit will be raised from the 3.1% projected by Draghi to around 4.5% – which is a real change, however one wants to define it. Just over €7 billion will come from Europe, between RepowerEu and cohesion fund surpluses. The “war chest” inherited from Draghi amounts to €10 billion. Overall, the budget adjustment should amount to between €30 billion and €40 billion, closer to the higher end. Seven billion euro will be allocated immediately to pay for Draghi’s measures, particularly the 30 cent/liter cut in fuel excise taxes and the nullification of system fees on utility bills.
The bulk of the budget adjustment will then go to support the next Aid Decree: the figure starts at an estimated €15 billion, but is set to grow. While it’s true that the price of gas has dropped by 12.9%, it remains the case that an increase of between 20-25% is expected for November-December.
There is still the issue of how to come up with cash, a task which will test Giancarlo Giorgetti in his debut as Economy Minister. Surprisingly, there will be no cancellation of fines for the unvaccinated, a measure that could, however, be part of a later measure. On the other hand, there will be the “extraordinary maintenance of the citizenship income” (a euphemistic name for a deep cut) and of the Superbonus. The latest plan for the former is to turn it into a benefit reserved only for those who are unable to work, which, as a mere “maintenance” measure, is not bad. The intervention on the Superbonus is much more modest: a 10% cut and redefinition of the thresholds.
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