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ROME — Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will meet EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday as she tries to win over skeptics in high places, though she can’t yet hope to make too many powerful friends.
Over the past few months, Meloni has attempted to present herself as a moderate and reliable partner in international relations, attempting to shed her image as a far-right firebrand among deeply Eurosceptic colleagues.
Yet even as she tried to put on a friendly face to Brussels, Meloni found her efforts were not reciprocated by the European establishment.
On the eve of the September elections, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested that Italy’s planned far-right government could erode democratic standards. Then, after Meloni’s victory, French politicians joined in the criticism, provoking her to issue an angry response.
Now, Meloni has chosen to travel to the heart of the European Union on his first trip abroad since taking office. Instead of visiting Hungary or another country with a right-wing colleague in charge, she is heading to Brussels in what her allies believe sends an important signal of goodwill from Rome to the EU high command.
“The trip itself is the message,” said an insider from Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party.
On Thursday, she will meet von der Leyen with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and Charles Michel, President of the European Council.
The main talking points will be the energy crisis, pandemic recovery plans and the war in Ukraine, according to a European Commission spokesperson.
Meloni is expected to push for a joint EU response to sky-high energy costs, which have tripled in Italy for families.
Europe Minister Raffaele Fitto told Italian television on Tuesday that Europe needed “a united response from the EU” to tackle speculation and keep prices low. “But that’s not enough,” he added. “We have to recover resources by talking to the European Commission.”
One method could be to create an EU shared debt program to fund energy aid for families and businesses. This is an idea that was proposed by Italian European Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni. But Germany and the Netherlands oppose it.
The Italian economic context will weigh heavily on his conversations in the Belgian capital. She is expected to pledge her will to cut the deficit and will also want to know how much wiggle room there is on Italy’s deficit next year, so she can work out which of her coalition government’s costly election promises she can afford to hold on.
In favor of Italy, its quarterly growth is higher than that of France and Germany and its GDP debt ratio has improved thanks to inflation.
One sticking point is likely to be Italy’s pandemic recovery plan. Meloni wants to sharpen the deal between Rome and the EU, in light of the war in Ukraine, allocating more funds to energy security and supply and diverting cash to cover rising material costs raw.
The Commission has already indicated it is not ready to be flexible on the recovery plan, and Meloni’s visit seems unlikely to change that. Commenting on the talks on Wednesday, a Commission spokesperson said: “Naturally Ukraine will be part of the talks, as will the need to implement this recovery plan, which Italy is already working on.”
Meloni was not entirely flattering to the EU during her election campaign. In comments addressed to her national electorate, she warned that “the good times have passed” in Brussels and that she was ready to assert Italy’s interests in Europe. In a forthcoming book, she criticized Europe as “overbearing in the little things and absent in the big things”.
European leaders will not have forgotten either that she voted against the launch of a rule of law procedure by Brussels against its allies, Poland and Hungary.
But there is likely to be more common ground on Ukraine. Since the outbreak of war, Meloni has been unwavering in his support for Kyiv and confirmed that the government will continue to support EU sanctions.