Excited by the election, Meloni became the center of attention when Italy hosted the G7

Five years ago, when her party won 6% of the vote in the European Parliament elections, Giorgia Meloni tried to open a bottle of sparkling wine, but the cork clumsily fell among some of her supporters. .

This week, Ms. Meloni, now Italy’s prime minister, emerged as the big winner of the election, and she and dozens of members of her Brothers of Italy party celebrated at a five-star hotel in Rome, where waiters carried bottles of wine in silver basins filled with ice. Far-right parties accounted for nearly 29% of the vote. The victory is even more meaningful because Ms. Meloni is the only leader of a major country in Western Europe to be strengthened after the vote.

For Ms. Meloni, the elevator could hardly have come at a better time. All eyes are on Italy this week as Meloni prepares to host a three-day summit of the Group of Seven major economies starting on Thursday. It’s another chance for you to become a legitimate member of the club of the world’s most influential leaders.

“This country will go to the G7 and to Europe with the strongest government,” she told supporters early Monday after the results. “They can’t stop us.”

When she became prime minister in 2022, it made the entire European leadership shudder because of her far-right, Eurosceptic ideology and views. her post-Nazi origins. That establishment now considers her to be a pragmatic partner on important international issues.

Meloni’s approach is being held up as a model for other far-right leaders seeking to break into the mainstream.

In France, Marine Le Pen has taken a softer stance on important issues and refined her image. Her National Rally Party finished strongly in the European elections, with more than 30% of the vote, so much so that President Emmanuel Macron Dissolve the National Assembly and call for new National Assembly elections.

“Giorgia Meloni’s government has actively polluted Europe,” said Giovanni Donzelli, a lawmaker for the Brothers of Italy on Sunday night. “A wall has fallen across Europe – they realize the right can govern well.”

In recent months, Ms. Meloni has been courted across central Europe as a potential ally and parties have even thrown their support behind her as they try to create a united national front.

While organized by the center in the new European Parliament, Ms. Meloni may still emerge as a key figure in individual votes, including the re-election of Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, who Needs legislative approval to secure a second term.

Experts say Ms. Meloni may decide to support Ms. von der Leyen as a way to gain more influence in Brussels.

“Meloni is going to be a major player in Europe,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at consulting firm Eurasia Group. “When Meloni stays centered and constructive, she gets a lot of rewards.”

On the broader international stage, Ms. Meloni also sees herself as a key player on issues such as support for Ukraine, which sets her apart from other elements of the more pro-Russian far right. .

That has put her in good standing among the group of Western leaders who will gather this week in Italy’s southern Apulia region, especially after the election.

“All the light is on her,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political scientist at the LUISS Guido Carli university in Rome. “Her image was enhanced even more.”

G7 attendees will include President Biden, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Rishi Sunak of Britain, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan. Ms von der Leyen and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, also plan to attend.

Ms. Meloni also invited Pope Francis; President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine; Newly re-elected Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi; and Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, among others, including several African leaders. She pledged to focus part of the summit on development plans and cooperation with Africa.

The meeting will take place at Borgo Egnazia, a luxury resort with sparkling swimming pools surrounded by rosemary bushes and olive trees. Stone townhouses and villas are filled with baskets of almonds and lemons, and narrow alleys are filled with rusted bicycles and wooden carriages bearing the marks of time.

Except the whole place was built in the early 2000s on land was razed by Mussolini to build an air base. The resort recreates ancient Apulian towns and farms in a project that some locals liken to a Mediterranean Potemkin village.

World leaders will follow guests such as Madonna, the Beckhams, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, who got married at the resort.

“Meloni wants to make a great impression and I’m sure she will,” said Romeo Di Bari, 41, a shop owner in the town of Alberobello, where the leadership’s partners are scheduled to visit. boyfriends kneel on the cobblestones to take pictures of their girlfriends twirling among the area’s distinctive pointed trulli huts.

Nearby, in the city of Bari, locals praised Ms. Meloni for bringing new prestige to their region and country.

“Our country is leading,” said Giovanni Pirlo, 68, a retired surveyor. “Our country has always been marginalized; Now with Meloni something is changing.”

Ms. Meloni has performed a delicate balancing act by participating in the European regime on international affairs while also pleasing her base at home with tough position on abortion or LGBT rights cost her very little in Europe (and in cash).

She has also taken on the role of a woman of the people and an international stateswoman. She has emphasized standing up to Italians, urging them to write “Giorgia” on their ballots, and she asserts that she has defended Italian interests in Brussels by helping pass conservative policies on immigration and the environment.

At home, Ms. Meloni presides over a stable coalition, supported by two weaker parties that desperately need her to stay in power. Forza Italia, founder Silvio Berlusconi died last year, received about 10% of the vote in the European Parliament elections after conducting a seance-like campaign with Mr. Berlusconi’s name and image on billboards. Matteo SalviniThe Alliance party, which attracts the right wing of Ms. Meloni’s constituency, fell to 9% of the vote this year from 34% in 2019.

The biggest challenge for Italy’s nationalist leader may be her own country, experts say.

Italian productivity has lagged behind the European Union and wages have largely stagnated. While employment has increased, youth unemployment remains rife in the South and tens of thousands of young Italians leave the country each year.

In the town of Savelletri, near the resort hosting the G7, locals passed the time at a cafe near two newly built helipads as military trucks patrolled.

Stefano Martellotta, a 51-year-old fisherman, said he did not pay much attention to what he called the G7 “show.” What worries him is that his two sons, 22 and 27 years old, have to move to the Netherlands to work in restaurant kitchens because in Italy “no one pays them a decent salary,” he said.

“It is a tragedy for us, our youth has left us,” said Annamaria Santorsola, 75, a mother and grandmother, adding that her area needs “jobs, not G7”.


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