Italy’s Prime Minister celebrates her first 100 days in office. Lessons learned and implications for the possible destiny of populism and what she should do in the next 100 days to cultivate her legacy.
Ms. Giorgia Meloni has been in office for 100 days. She is the first woman Prime Minister in Italy’s history since its unification in 1861. The 100 days milestone, as defined by a top aide to President Obama, David Alexrod, is a “Hallmark Holiday”—
lots of attention but no significance. One might, however, start to appreciate the direction a top government official is pursuing. Italy is an interesting political lab to understand the evolution or possible extinction of populism. The Five Star movement, whose idealogue is a stand-up comedian, and the current government coalition have won the general elections on populist platforms. The first, after losing half of the popular vote, is today a normalized member of the left leaning coalition. The latter is on its way to become a conservative party and, possibly, a member of the European People's Party Group.
Ms. Meloni is a professional politician and knows the brutality of domestic politics. On this front, as compared to past Prime Ministers coming from the private sector, her learning curve has been relatively flat. As a neophyte on foreign affairs, vice versa, the curve has been particularly steep. Ms. Meloni has been swiftly and intensely exposed to global and regional gatherings, bilateral meetings and state visits. She has met personally or in remote most heads of state from Europe, America, Asia and North Africa. Unlike many of her predecessors, her English is good with a charming Italian accent. Flattered but not intimidated, she projects self- confidence and commands respect. She must have learned, one must assume, a great deal judging from her metamorphosis as compared to the narrative that characterized her as a leader of the opposition. Back on September, Stern, a German weekly magazine, dubbed Ms. Meloni as “the most dangerous woman in Europe” while EU's Ursula von der Leyen delivered a warning of consequences should her policy veered away from democratic principles, issuing a barely veiled threat to her.
She proved all wrong supporting our September perspective.
Faced with global and regional issues, she has quickly assessed Italy’s weight and the limit of its geo-political power. She is incrementally appreciating the idea of building, one day, a United States of Europe that has more benefits than downsides. With Italy’s debt at 147% of GDP, her office has limited space for manoeuvring. As she gets lifted into the troposphere of international affairs, she is starting to view Italian matters from a different perspective and with more realism. She is most likely realising that populism is a short-term mephitic beast that denies the fuel – i.e. an implementable vision-- to lead and rule. Her narrative and policies have, so far, been moderate.
Among others, the bulk of 2023 budget law is contributing to lower the cost of energy for businesses and families, she is focusing on providing Italy with alternative sources away from Russia including drilling in the Adriatic Sea, she is supporting Ukraine and is a committed US ally, she is addressing the aging of Italy’s population, following high tensions with France, immigration is becoming a common European challenge not Italy’s only. This first 100 days have been all together impeccable. Even The Economist, a UK weekly business magazine, had to admit it through gritted teeth “After a steady first 100 days, choppier waters await Giorgia Meloni. Division and disunity could rock her boat”. The Economist’s concern has merit. The stats are against Meloni's tenure. The lack of longevity of Italy’s governments has been the rule since the dawn of the Republic in 1948. Italy has enjoyed 68 different governments in 74 years and 31 prime ministers. Data suggest that her time in office will be between 1 and 3.9 years. No cabinet has endured the constitutional five-year term.
International observers and investors, naturally, compare Italy’s performance, during the same period of time, to the ten Presidents of the French Republic and the nine Chancellors of Germany. Ms. Meloni must propose a concrete action program to rethink the political system and to redesign its institutional arrangements. She must propose a revision of the constitution. History comes handy in this case. Two of her predecessors – Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Renzi—tried to address this issue via a parliamentary process. Both failed. They appeared to be ideologically partisan and the popular vote became a referendum on their leadership. Ms. Meloni must promote a constitutional law that convenes a 100-member Assembly or establishes a Commission. In both cases, 75 must be non-parliamentary members or members of the government in office, elected in a single national constituency and 25 indicated by the President of the Republic. This group must revise the Constitution and propose a new version in one year, non amendable.
As populism seems to be archived, Ms. Meloni should remain humble and rise to the rank of states-woman, finally indicating a way to political stability and predictability. The next 100 days will tell if she is destined to be a victim of statistics or a protagonist in the history of Italy.
NEWEST Opinion, February 2 2023