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Commentary. The young leader “without masters and who doesn’t owe favors,” allergic until recently to the hypocrisy of politicking, showed that she was willing to learn even the most well-worn rules of the game to stay center stage.

The empress’s new clothes

Rumor is that after recovering from the physical ailment that hit her hard during the holiday period, Giorgia Meloni spent the last few days in a full immersion session with her aides to prepare for her end-of-year press conference, which, to her discontent, had ended up delayed to the beginning of the new year. And, even though this delay meant even more thorny issues such as the Pozzolo scandal and Mattarella’s reminder about the EU competition directives were added to the already exhausting list of topics to be discussed, one must admit it was a brilliant performance.

True, the premier’s first end-of-year press conference got off to a shaky start, as she immediately indulged in her irrepressible temptation to mount a calculated attack on the opposition (particularly those who had doubted she was really ill) when she could have elegantly glossed it over. But then, the former underdog of the far-right that gained support on the outskirts (the political periphery), the young leader “without masters and who doesn’t owe favors,” allergic until recently to the hypocrisy of politicking, showed that she was willing to learn even the most well-worn rules of the game by heart in order to remain at center stage.

She answered most questions with statements as peremptory as they were vague (for instance about the EU directive), untroubled that she might be contradicting herself. She kept claiming she would keep the tiller firmly to the right, while making blatant exceptions (she will vote for the new Brussels commission even if she does so together with the Socialists). Untroubled by possible comparisons with her illustrious predecessors from the First or Second Republic, she fired off random figures and rankings and showing skill in the art of the bait-and-switch, doubling down on the loophole in the windfall profit tax on the banks and ending up singing their praises. She reiterated in strong terms that she cannot be blackmailed, while declining to openly denounce those who she claims are trying to blackmail her.

Of course, with this last argument she has gone quite a bit beyond the repertoire of the classics and there are areas where she can still improve, but she made it clear that she would try her hardest, at all costs. Of that she warned both her enemies and her friends: “I intend to be inflexible,” because “I’m not willing to do this, with all the responsibility I have on my shoulders, if the people around me don’t understand that responsibility.” In other words, gun-toting Pozzolo is out. All the others who don’t go to parties bearing arms, but who, like Pozzolo, tend to praise Mussolini, are fine, as long as they don’t look too conspicuous. No to transformism, yes to camouflage.

However, the empress’s new dress doesn’t cover up her old stripes. She kept lapsing into her usual tics during the three-hour marathon with reporters. A paradigmatic example is the metaphor (or not so much) of the RAI having been “occupied” by the left, which the premier famously promised during the election campaign that she would restore to being based on “merit”: “I remember the news programs in which the FdI growing to 4 percent was only covered late at night. We are rebalancing.” As a result, major figures in public TV can safely and openly declare themselves to be FdI militants during FdI’s own political initiatives. In short, “now it’s our turn”: in public companies, cultural institutions, even companies partly owned by the state (without necessarily having to put her own sister on the board, as she has proudly proclaimed she’d never do).

So we’re not talking about a simple spoils system, nor a run-of-the-mill occupation of seats with a new government, but an attempt to win a rematch against history itself. Meloni herself doesn’t hide this when she talks about her term in office: “It won’t be a referendum on me, but on the future of the nation.”

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