Von der Leyen faces Socialist revolt over her far-right flirtation with Meloni

Europe’s Socialists have warned Ursula von der Leyen they won’t back her for a second term as European Commission president if she continues to suggest she could work with hard-right MEPs aligned with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Perhaps most crucially — just as French President Emmanuel Macron visits Germany to try to forge Franco-German consensus on Europe’s political landscape after the June 6 to 9 election — even Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Social Democratic Party are signaling that they are willing to torpedo a second term for von der Leyen.

Some even have a replacement in mind: former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. And that’s a choice that will go down well in Paris.

In multiple comments over recent days, high-ranking Socialists including Scholz and the SPD lead candidate for next month’s EU election Katarina Barley threatened to scuttle von der Leyen’s candidacy if she accepts the backing of the hard right to secure a majority in the European Parliament.

“We will not work with the far right,” Barley said on the Berlin Playbook podcast, reiterating the pledge made by the Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, the Greens and the Left to “never cooperate nor form a coalition with the far right and radical parties at any level.”

The comment was the latest sign of the left-leaning parties’ alarm at von der Leyen’s stance on Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which belongs to the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen, who hails from the center-right European People’s Party, has indicated that if she fails to secure a majority with the backing of center-left and liberal lawmakers after the EU election, she could work with the ECR

On Friday, Scholz warned von der Leyen against such a move, saying: “When the next Commission is formed, it must not be based on a majority that also needs the support of the far right.” He added that “the only way to establish a Commission presidency will be to base it on the traditional parties.”

Putting the boot in further, Nicolas Schmit, the Socialists’ lead candidate for the EU election, said in an interview published Sunday: “Von der Leyen wants us to believe that there are good right-wing extremists and bad ones.”

Meloni is “politically extremely right wing” and her vision is “certainly not a strong, integrated Europe,” Schmit said. “For Ms. von der Leyen, however, she is probably a conservative.”

The questions now are whether Scholz and his German Socialists would actually kibosh a second term for fellow German von der Leyen — and who they might have in mind to replace her.

One potential challenger to the incumbent is Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

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For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Just last week, Draghi received the backing of one of Emmanuel Macron’s closest allies, Pascal Canfin, an MEP from the French president’s liberal Renaissance party who is known to have a direct line to the Élysée.

Asked by POLITICO whether France supports von der Leyen’s reelection bid, Canfin said: “France and everyone in the presidential ecosystem would like Draghi to play a role.”

Macron has long been rumored to be maneuvering to put Draghi at the head of the EU executive — and now he appears to have allies in Berlin.

Markus Töns, a German MP from the Social Democrats, told POLITICO’s Brussels Decoded: “Draghi has experience at the European level and knows the current challenges. I would have no problem seeing him in this position — he might even be better than Ursula von der Leyen.”

Ralf Stegner, an influential SPD member of the Bundestag, on Friday said: “If Emmanuel Macron is critical of another term for Ursula von der Leyen, who lacks sufficient clarity regarding alliances with the right-wing bloc, I have every sympathy for him.”

With both Paris and Berlin expressing dissatisfaction with her stance on working with the ECR, von der Leyen’s bid for a second term as Commission chief faces a serious challenge.

While von der Leyen is the EPP’s lead candidate going into the EU election, in theory making her a shoo-in for the post, she will require support from European leaders like Scholz, Macron and Meloni to secure it.

The electoral arithmetic is difficult as she will need 361 votes in an approval vote in the European Parliament, and the EPP is on course only for some 176 seats. The Socialists and Democrats are expected to win 144 and von der Leyen’s prospects will be in severe trouble if the center-left MEPs do not support her.

If they do decide to forgo EPP lead candidate von der Leyen in favor of a curveball, it wouldn’t be the first time: That was precisely the way von der Leyen herself got the job after the 2019 EU election, installed after leaders shunned the EPP’s Manfred Weber.

Macron is currently in Germany for the first state visit with full ceremonial honors by a French president in 24 years. Macron will meet Scholz in Berlin on Tuesday.

It’s hard to believe there won’t be any mention of the electoral mathematics — and of Meloni and Draghi.

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Why is Italy so old?

Declining birth rates and higher chances of survival for older people have significantly aged Italy’s population, to the point that economists are worried about the country’s future.

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Italy’s ageing problem is starting to take its toll on the country’s world-famous ‘dolce vita’. 

The country’s growing number of pensioners isn’t nearly matched by the number of newborns, and efforts by Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government to boost birth rates have so far failed to turn the tide on Italy’s demographic decline.

According to the latest data from Eurostat, Italy is the oldest country in the European Union, with half of the population currently having an average median age of above 48. Together with Portugal, Italy has the highest percentage of residents older than 65, equal to 24% – or roughly one in four.

This increase reflects a European-wide trend, with the bloc experiencing an overall rise in its median age (44.5 years old). The number of elderly people now represents more than one-fifth of the bloc’s population. 

“However, what’s even more significant is the ageing trend within Italy’s older population itself,” Cecilia Tomassini, a professor in Demography and Social Statistics at the University of Molise, told Euronews. 

“Specifically, the proportion of individuals aged 80 and above has risen to 7.7% of the total population, a notable increase from a mere 3.3% recorded in 1991,” she added.

“Essentially, while the overall population increased by 3.4% since 1991, the segment aged 80 and above more than doubled during the same period.”

But the Italian ‘nonni’ – well-beloved figures in the country as well as abroad – are not the problem, Giovanni Lamura from Italy’s National Institute of Health and Science on Ageing told Euronews.

“To have people live longer should be a goal on the political agenda of any country’s government,” he said. “The problem is that fertility rates in Italy are low, we have fewer and fewer children.”

How has Italy gotten so old?

The reason for Italy’s ageing population is simple: the number of deaths, due to its ageing population, far surpasses the number of births.

For the past 40 years, the median number of kids per family in Italy has been below 1.5, Alessandro Rosina, professor of Demography and Social Statistics at the Università Cattolica di Milano, told Euronews. “The most recent data is below 1.24 per woman,” he said.

A rate of 2 births per woman is needed to keep a population stable. 

This decline in fertility rates started in the 1980s, according to Tomassini, albeit with occasional fluctuations. 

“Migration flows have only marginally slowed down this ageing process,” she said. “Otherwise, its impact would have been considerably more pronounced.”

While there was a period during which this negative balance was offset by a higher rate of positive migration, “this is no longer the case,” said Tomassini. “As a result, the population decline in Italy is becoming more pronounced.”

The fact that elderly people in Italy are living longer is actually positive news, Lamura said.

“People were able to live longer thanks to beneficial policies, generous pensions and a free healthcare system which allowed even those who couldn’t afford it to receive care.”

But there’s a flip side. 

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Lamura claims the country hasn’t invested as much in younger generations as it did in previous ones. 

“Italy should do more to financially help young families, but it has a massive GDP debt [140.6% of its entire GDP as of September 2023] which is under international scrutiny, so it cannot afford to fall further into debt with some generous new pro-family policies,” he said.

“People in Italy plan and dream of having children and a family as much as other Europeans. What’s lacking is adequate policies to support the realisation of these plans and dreams,” Rosina said. 

“Italy has one of the highest average ages for parents to have their first child [in Europe], mostly because young people struggle to enter the workforce and find stable jobs, as well as facing difficulties getting their own homes.”

Those who have kids then face the challenge of trying to juggle family life and work life in a country which lacks both economic support and adequate infrastructure for young parents and their children. 

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“In Italy, the birth of a child is likely to represent a worsening of the parents’ economic conditions, as well as a complication of their life from an organisational perspective, more than in other countries,” Rosina said.

“The country’s limited policies aimed at supporting young families send the negative message that having a family doesn’t bring value to the community and it’s not worthy of support.”

What future of Italy?

For Tomassini, the ageing of the Italian population and the drop in birth rates are expected to continue in the future. 

That’s “unless significant interventions occur, such as mortality crises or a new baby boom,” she said. “In the short term, migration may play as a significant variable that could influence population dynamics, albeit it can be politically slippery.” 

Meloni’s government has made increasing birth rates one of the priorities of her government, but has so far failed to achieve concrete results. 

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The right-winger has halved the VAT on nappies and baby milk, but childcare remains expensive and hardly affordable for many.

The biggest fear for the country is that its already weak economic growth will continue declining, with Italy eventually unable to afford its pension and welfare system.

“If fertility rates should remain the same, Italy could have just 320,000 newborns in 25 years, with an ever more unbalanced demographic structure,” Rosina said. 

“It’s not a dystopian future, but simply the most likely scenario according to the current dynamics. If Italy doesn’t follow the example of the best policies in Europe in this field, the country’s development and social sustainability will be at risk in the next decades.”

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Nazi death camp survivors mark anniversary of Auschwitz liberation on Holocaust Remembrance Day

A group of survivors of Nazi death camps marked the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War II in a modest ceremony Saturday in southern Poland.

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About 20 survivors from various camps set up by Nazi Germany around Europe laid wreaths and flowers and lit candles at the Death Wall in Auschwitz.

Later, the group will hold prayers at the monument in Birkenau. They were memorializing around 1.1 million camp victims, mostly Jews. The memorial site and museum are located near the city of Oswiecim. 

Nearly 6 million European Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust — the mass murder of Jews and other groups before and during World War II


Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the survivors will be accompanied by Polish Senate Speaker Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, Culture Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz and Israeli Ambassador Yacov Livne. 

The theme of the observances is the human being, symbolized in simple, hand-drawn portraits. They are meant to stress that the horror of Auschwitz-Birkenau lies in the suffering of people held and killed there.

Holocaust victims were commemorated across Europe.

In Germany, where people put down flowers and lit candles at memorials for the victims of the Nazi terror, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that his country would continue to carry the responsibility for this “crime against humanity.”

He called on all citizens to defend Germany’s democracy and fight antisemitism, as the country marked the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“Never again’ is every day,” Scholz said in his weekly video podcast. “Jan. 27 calls out to us: Stay visible! Stay audible! Against antisemitism, against racism, against misanthropy — and for our democracy.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country is fighting to repel Russia’s full-scale invasion, posted an image of a Jewish menorah on X, formerly known as Twitter, to mark the remembrance day.

“Every new generation must learn the truth about the Holocaust. Human life must remain the highest value for all nations in the world,” said Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and has lost relatives in the Holocaust. 

“Eternal memory to all Holocaust victims!” Zelenskyy tweeted.


In Italy, Holocaust commemorations included a torchlit procession alongside official statements from top political leaders. 

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said that her conservative nationalist government was committed to eradicating antisemitism that she said had been “reinvigorated” amid the Israel-Hamas war. Meloni’s critics have long accused her and her Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, of failing to sufficiently atone for its past.

Later Saturday, leftist movements planned a torchlit procession to remember all victims of the Holocaust — Jews but also Roma, gays and political dissidents who were deported or exterminated in Nazi camps.

Police were also on alert after pro-Palestinian activists indicated that they would ignore a police order and go ahead with a rally planned to coincide with the Holocaust commemorations. Italy’s Jewish community has complained that such protests have become occasions for the memory of the Holocaust to be co-opted by anti-Israel forces and used against Jews.

In Poland, a memorial ceremony with prayers was held Friday in Warsaw at the foot of the Monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto, who fell fighting the Nazis in 1943.

Earlier in the week, the countries of the former Yugoslavia signed an agreement in Paris to jointly renovate Block 17 in the red-brick Auschwitz camp and install a permanent exhibition there in memory of around 20,000 people who were deported from their territories and brought to the block. Participating in the project will be Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia

The gate with “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets you free) written across it is pictured at the Auschwitz-Birkenau former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp during events marking the 79th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Oswiecim, Poland on January 27, 2024. © Bartosz Siedlik, AFP

Preserving the camp, a notorious symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust, with its cruelly misleading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes One Free”) gate, requires constant effort by historians and experts, and substantial funds.

The Nazis, who occupied Poland from 1939-1945, at first used old Austrian military barracks at Auschwitz as a concentration and death camp for Poland’s resistance fighters. In 1942, the wooden barracks, gas chambers and crematoria of Birkenau were added for the extermination of Europe’s Jews, Roma and other nationals, as well as Russian prisoners of war. 

Soviet Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, with about 7,000 prisoners there, children and those who were too weak to walk. The Germans had evacuated tens of thousands of other inmates on foot days earlier in what is now called the Death March, because many inmates died of exhaustion and cold in the sub-freezing temperatures. 

Since 1979, the Auschwitz-Birkenau site has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage.

(AP) 



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NeverEnding Story: Elon Musk attending Giorgia Meloni’s fantasy party

Elon Musk and VOX’s leader Santiago Abascal will be among the guests attending Giorgia Meloni’s bizarre 4-day fantasy-themed Christmas party, “Atreju”, which celebrates Italy’s conservative youth.

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This year, Giorgia Meloni’s Christmas party for young conservatives, called “Atreju”, is going to have a little more sparkle than the festival had in the past 26 years.

Back in 1998, Meloni was not a well-known figure in Italian politics. But as the head of the Rome branch of Azione Giovani (the youth section of the now defunct Alleanza Nazionale party), she created a nationwide event dedicated to celebrating the country’s conservative youth.

The event was named by Meloni after Atreyu, one of the main characters of the 1984 fantasy film “The NeverEnding Story.”

For those who already know about Meloni’s obsession with the fantasy genre, which she consistently interprets through her right-wing lens, this name won’t be surprising. 

Neither would be the fact that she got the idea to create Atreju after attending Hobbit Camp in the 1990s, a Woodstock-like retreat organised by the post-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano party for young people to celebrate J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.

But this edition of this right-wing fantasy festival, which will run from Thursday 14 December to Sunday 17 December, and is now backed by Meloni’s party Brothers of Italy, will be different from the ones that have come before.

First of all, Meloni is no longer at the fringe of Italian politics, but right at its top. Second, Meloni’s new role has allowed her to attract some high-profile guest stars to her bizarre, fantasy-themed event, including tech billionaire Elon Musk and leader of Spanish populist party Vox Santiago Abascal, recently at the centre of a nasty controversy.

What’s the festival about?

According to Piero Garofalo, Professor of Italian Studies at the University of New Hampshire in the US, Atreju is “less a political convention than a partisan political event.” The festival, which this year will have a Christmas village and an ice rink, features youth-oriented concerts, exhibits, debates, and humour and has a focus on socialising rather than just talking politics.

The theme of this year’s edition is ‘Bentornato orgoglio italiano’ (‘Welcome Back Italian Pride’),” a title that’s perfectly in line with Meloni’s electoral manifesto and constant mantra. And while the event has kept its traditional social, jovial nature, its political importance is undeniable this year.

“Today, with Giorgia Meloni’s political ascent and Brothers of Italy’s recent electoral successes, Atreju has gained increasing importance by [previously] attracting high-profile guests – like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon – and media attention,” Garofalo tells Euronews.

“The festival now serves as a platform to showcase Giorgia Meloni’s international stature and the Italian right’s integration into the international community,” he added. 

Who’s going to attend?

The guest list of the party is a who’s who of the European and international right.

Among the most prominent guests, there are Elon Musk, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, and Spanish leader of the far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, “who shares with Giorgia Meloni unorthodox approaches to addressing the influx of migrants, will apparently meet with Premier Meloni on Saturday morning during the festival though not necessarily at the festival,” Garofalo says.

According to Garofalo, participation at Atreju does not automatically signal solidarity with or support for Giorgia Meloni.

“For example, several leaders of opposition parties, including Matteo Renzi, Carlo Calenda, Angelo Bonelli, and Michele Emiliano, will also attend the festival in the hope of attracting votes and making themselves relevant,” he says.

“Indeed, participation signals the increasing importance and visibility that the Atreju platform provides speakers. That said, beyond the attendees, who will likely exceed 100,000, and the extensive media coverage (due in large part to the prominent guests) over the next four days, Atreju is not an event followed with particular interest by the general public although it will certainly take centre-stage this week,” he added.

Notably, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, has declined Meloni’s invitation to the festival.

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What’s with ‘The NeverEnding Story’?

The Italian rendering of the name Atreju is an homage to the dragon-riding warrior protagonist of the 1979 German fantasy novel, The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, Garofalo explains.

The novel became a Hollywood hit in 1984 and made more than $100 million at the global box office. It was particularly successful in Germany where five million people flocked to the cinema to watch the epic fantasy movie, which featured special effects which were groundbreaking at the time. 

“This name was chosen because, for the event’s organisers, the fantasy character represents committed youth who in the eternal battle between good and evil resist nihilism to preserve ideals,” he says.

Giorgia Meloni underscored the novel’s importance in a 2019 Facebook post commemorating the 40th anniversary of the novel’s publication, writing: “A very significant novel that marked my childhood. Atreju’s struggle and victory against The Nothing, an enemy trying to wear down the imagination of youth by stripping it of values, still represents an inspiring symbol today. With this model in mind, I have always carried forward my political passion!.”

“The Neverending Story” and Atreyu are far from the first fantasy novels and heroes that Meloni has co-opted for her political use. During her long career, she has often mentioned J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”, which was the subject of a major exhibition in Rome this year.

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Among Meloni’s fantasy idols, there is also George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and the manga character and space pirate Captain Harlock. 

Playing into an old tradition

“The fascination with and appropriation of the fantasy genre by the post-fascist far-right pre-dates Giorgia Meloni and emerges as a recognisable phenomenon in 1970s Italy,” Garofalo explains. “Italian nationalists positioned themselves as a small fellowship of truth-holders who stand against an overwhelming obfuscating force that enshrouds society.”

Fantasy narratives provide vivid oppositions to and rejections of the modern world, according to Garofalo, depicting “as noble the struggles of traditional societies to preserve an idealised past against the threats of change embodied by external forces.”

In this context, Meloni’s appropriation of fantasy symbolism in the political discourse plays into this tradition “precisely because it provides a teleological rationale for political actions whose immediate effects are not recognizably relatable to long-term goals,” Garofalo says.

“When the symbol is real, the end result is real. As Giorgia Meloni has stated: ‘I don’t consider The Lord of the Rings fantasy’.”

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Scorecard: What has Giorgia Meloni achieved in her first year as PM?

It’s been a year since Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right party Brothers of Italy, became the country’s first female prime minister, at the head of a coalition government – but what have they achieved?

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It’s been 12 months since Giorgia Meloni, a controversial politician who for years had been a vocal member of the opposition within her post-fascist party Brothers of Italy, became the country’s first woman to cover the role of prime minister.

The worst fears raised after last year’s election results have not turned into reality: the country has not turned its back on Ukraine to embrace a more pro-Putin stance or made any moves to leave the European Union. Any references to Brother of Italy’s fascist roots have been down-played, and Meloni has significantly dialled back her own vitriol against immigrants.

But, as much as the fears that followed the establishment of the most hard-right government in Italy since World War II, many of the changes promised by Meloni have also largely failed to materialise.

Here’s Euronews’ scorecard for the Italian premier’s first year in government. Meloni made a total of 25 promises in her government’s programme, which we’ve grouped by topic.

Stopping illegal immigration: Fail

One of Brother of Italy’s electoral promises was to defend “the country’s frontiers” by creating a naval blockade off the coast of North Africa, an idea that has re-emerged in recent months as the country faced a surge in migrant arrivals on its shores.

This promise, clearly, has not been turned into reality – possibly because it’s legally tricky to implement, if not outright illegal.

A naval blockade can only be created unilaterally by a state in cases of legitimate defence when a war or an act of aggression from another country is involved – situations that don’t apply to the current circumstances.

Italy is not at war with either Libya or Tunisia, the countries of origin of most arrivals and with which the Italian government has actually forged agreements to curb migration.

In general, Meloni’s promises to curb migration have largely failed, leading to the premier’s admission that she had hoped to do better than she actually did.

By mid-October, more than 140,000 migrant arrivals had been registered by Italy’s Interior Ministry so far this year, compared to 70,000 in the same period last year.

But that doesn’t mean that Meloni’s government hasn’t tried to keep its electoral promises – including targeting NGOs which “encourage illegal immigration,” as Brothers of Italy wrote in its programme.

Since the autumn of last year, Meloni’s government has restricted the activities of NGOs and rescue ships, and struck a controversial deal with Tunisia’s President Kais Saied to assist the country in stemming migration. It has also made it easier to evict migrants from the country and send them back to “safe countries” like Tunisia.

For Meloni’s critics, human rights and migrant rights activists, that’s enough harm done.

Spending EU funds promised to Italy: In progress

In 2020, the European Union made available a huge fund of €191.5 billion to Italy to get back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic, called the National Recovery and Resilience Plan or PNRR.

Meloni promised to spend this huge sum without delays and without any waste of money on projects aimed at reforming and updating Italy’s infrastructure. But in April her government was still struggling to find ways to spend the EU funds due to Italy’s elephantine bureaucracy and delays at local levels.

While Meloni’s government has indeed started spending some of the EU funds already transferred, inefficiencies at every level of the process made it so that a big slice of the PNRR was still being withheld by the EU this summer.

In late July, Meloni presented a new plan to Brussels to spend the promised money – but the premier is facing an uphill battle before she can spend the entire €191.5 billion promised.

Supporting Italian families and encouraging new births: Pass/In progress

This was the very first point in Meloni’s party’s programme: to increase Italy’s birth rate and support couples wishing to build a family. By this, of course, Meloni meant the traditional, heteronormative family.

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The party had promised up to €300 a month for every family during the first year of a child’s birth; and up to €260 between the second year and the child’s 18th birthday.

This is something that the Meloni government is still partially working on, having already introduced cheques for families with children but also planning new policies in this direction. In its latest budgetary plan, the government has included one billion euros to be assigned to projects supporting new births in Italy.

New measures include a cheque for families having a third child, fringe benefits up to €2,000 for families with kids, an extra month of parental leave paid at 60% of a worker’s salary and tax deductions for companies hiring new mothers.

“She’s introduced tax benefits and checks for families proportionally to the number of children that they have,” Marianna Griffini, Assistant Professor at Northeastern University London and an expert in Italian politics, told Euronews.

“Meloni even participated in Hungary’s summit on demography. She met with Viktor Orban and she was acclaimed as an ideologue by the Hungarian leader, so she’s definitely doubling down on the importance of the traditional family.”

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Other, less traditional types of families have on the other hand been punished by the Meloni government, with surrogacy having been made illegal for Italians even outside of the country. During the past year, queer parents across the country have seen their names removed from their children’s certificate, as Italy passed a law saying that only the biological parent of a child can appear on it.

Promoting “Made in Italy,” boosting Italian pride, and relaunching tourism: Pass

Meloni’s government definitely kept its promise to defend the concept of “Made in Italy” and try to boost Italian pride, though that doesn’t mean these efforts received international approval.

Earlier this year, the government pushed forward a controversial measure defending the Italian language and identity against the contamination of English words. The legal initiative would punish the use of foreign words in official communication with fines between €5,000 and €100,000.

“They did very well on this, I think,” said Professor Griffini laughing. “They tried to interfere with linguistic choices, and then they invested in the cultural sector with that ‘fabulous’ project boosting tourism, Open to Meraviglia.”

The project was largely mocked online for putting Botticelli’s Venus in the clothes of a 21st-century influencer as well as for using footage of Slovenia to advertise tourism in Italy. The ad campaign was dead in the water just a few months after launching, sparking an investigation in Italy about potential abuses of public money.

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Changing Italy’s constitution for the direct election of the country’s president: Fail

One of the promises of Meloni’s party was to fight political instability in Italy by changing the country’s constitution and giving more powers to the president – making Italian politics look a lot more like French politics. With the constitutional reform suggested by Meloni, the Italian president would be elected directly, unlike now, and be a powerful head of state rather than a largely symbolic figure.

Meloni floated this idea earlier this year, but the initiative was strongly opposed by the centre-left opposition, which fears having too much power in a single person.

“They haven’t done much on this, they haven’t done anything on it, actually,” Griffini said. It’s unlikely that Meloni will make more progress on this issue in the coming months and years as opposition is unlikely to dwindle.

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‘Ghost parents’: Same-sex couples in Italy are losing their rights

Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has demanded local councils only list biological parents on birth certificates, flinging hundreds of same-sex couples into a legal morass.  

Last year, Denise Rinehart and Giulia Garofalo Geymonat’s six-year-old son was rushed from his school in Bologna, Italy to a nearby hospital with a life-threatening allergic reaction. In a panic, the two mothers scrambled to the emergency services to find their son. He had gone into anaphylactic shock. As healthcare personnel treated him, one nurse turned to Geymonat and asked: “Who are you?” The question fell on her like a tonne of bricks.  

Geymonat is not officially registered as her son’s parent on his birth certificate. In the eyes of the law, his only official parent is her wife, Rinehart. “[The nurse] had the power to kick me out,” Geymonat says. “It was up to her to decide whether I would be by my child’s side in a life-threatening situation. It’s all in the hands of other individuals.”  

Because Rinehart was the one to carry their eldest son to term, when he was born in Pisa in 2016, she was the only one registered on his birth certificate. Geymonat, despite being his mother from the moment he was born, is not officially recognised as such because she is not his biological mother.  

‘Ghost parent’ 

After same-sex civil unions were legalised in Italy in 2016, and in the absence of any clear legislation on parental rights for same-sex couples, a handful of city councils across the country started listing parents of the same gender on their children’s birth certificate. Unfortunately for Geymonat and Rinehart, the city of Pisa did not. 

For seven years now, the couple have been swallowed up in a legal morass to grant Geymonat parental recognition. After their first son was born, the council of Pisa only registered Rinehart as a parent on his birth certificate. For Geymonat to be recognised as his parent as well, the couple had two choices: appeal the council’s decision and try to get full parental recognition or attempt the adoption route. Knowing the adoption process would be intrusive and time-consuming, they went for the first option. They appealed Pisa’s decision and their case has been in and out of various courts ever since. It was most recently heard in Florence’s court of appeals, which ruled in favour of their argument that Geymonat be on her son’s birth certificate, and will now be dealt with in Italy’s highest court on October 6. 

Throughout that time and until today, Geymonat has been what she calls a “ghost parent” to their eldest son.  

But in recent months, Italy’s right-wing government has been cracking down on city councils to stop listing same-sex parents on birth certificates. Led by the hardline traditionalist Meloni, the ministry of interior issued a directive in January 2023 instructing Italian mayors to stop automatically registering the births of children conceived or born abroad through assisted reproductive methods. It cited a case from December 2022, in which Italy’s top court ruled that a child of a gay couple who was conceived through surrogacy abroad shouldn’t have their birth certificate automatically transcribed in Italy.  

Though the directive primarily concerned surrogacy, which is banned in Italy and now even a crime for those seeking surrogacy abroad, its interpretation by local councils has disproportionally affected LGBTQ families – including those who resort to other reproductive methods.  

Single women and same-sex couples do not have access to assisted reproduction treatments in Italy. 

Read more‘Mother, Italian, Christian’: Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s far-right leader on the cusp of power

By April, the Milan prefecture broadened its interpretation of the directive to include same-sex couples who had children abroad through IVF or artificial insemination. Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala, who had previously allowed the automatic transcription of birth certificates, would no longer be able to do so. He confirmed he would stop the practice moving forward, but chose not to amend the birth certificates he had previously approved.  

In the northeastern city of Padua in June, the state prosecutor took things even further and opened a legal case demanding that the 33 birth certificates issued to the children of lesbian couples since 2017 be changed to remove the name of the non-biological mother. A court will rule on the request later this year.  

The decision caused outrage. Centre-left MP Alessandro Zan, who has pushed for LGBTQ rights in Italy for years, called it a “cruel, inhumane decision”. 

“These children are being orphaned by decree,” he said.  

A close call 

Alice Bruni, Bróna Kelly and their son Zeno are one of the 33 families involved in the Padua case. In July, just four months after the birth of their son, Bruni and Kelly received a letter from the state prosecutor summoning them to a court appearance in November. Bruni was fuming with anger. “It makes you wonder what this is all about. We are citizens, we pay our taxes like everyone else … we should have the same rights as everyone else,” she says. “It’s pure discrimination.”  

After Zeno was conceived through IVF at a clinic in Greece and Bruni became pregnant, she contacted the Padua municipality to ensure they could register both names on their son’s birth certificate. She was reassured by the administrative office that this would be no problem, but that she should “call back when the baby is almost there” to make sure nothing had changed. 

When news of the directive sent out by Meloni’s government came out, Bruni began to panic. But they were lucky. Zeno was born in March, three months before Padua’s state prosecutor opened the case against lesbian parents.  

“I think we were the last couple to be registered before the case opened,” says Bruni.   

While the case is ongoing, the couple have been told their son’s birth certificate is valid. To limit any risk of Kelly losing her parental rights as Zeno’s non-biological mother, they have started the process of getting him an Irish passport, since Kelly is from Ireland. Their lawyer has assured them that, if both parents are registered on an official document from another European state, the Italian government must accept the same.  

“That’s made us feel a little better,” says Bruni. “But it doesn’t solve the problem. We care a lot about all the other families, and it’s a matter of principle.”    

‘It’s never done until it’s done’ 

The consequences of restricting the parental rights of same-sex couples are dire, something Geymonat and Rinehart know all too well. Stripped of her parenting rights, Geymonat avoids taking her eldest son to doctor’s appointments and never crosses borders without her wife. She cannot even pick him up from school without a written permission from Rinehart. “Even within the country, we avoid being on our own,” the couple says.   

Behind the bureaucratic difficulties families face are also emotional strains. The years the couple have spent fighting to get Geymonat parental recognition put a financial burden on the household. “We just get the feeling we have to pay for our rights. And putting down the money is not a guarantee that we will,” says Rinehart. To cover legal fees like paying a lawyer and getting documents notarised, the couple created two crowdfunding campaigns and are now opening a third for what they hope will be the last step towards parental recognition.

When the couple have tried explaining the situation to their eldest, they are faced with utter incomprehension. “His reaction was, ‘To say that you are not my mum is like saying a light isn’t a light, or that this chair isn’t a chair!’,” Rinehart says, laughing with Geymonat at their son’s poeticism.

In 2021, five years after the birth of their first son, the couple moved to Bologna where Geymonat gave birth to their second child. “We knew that in Bologna, we would both be registered as his parents on his birth certificate,” says Rinehart. “But it’s never done until it’s done … You just never know if things can change.”   

For now, the mayor of Bologna has interpreted the government notice more loosely. But at any moment, the Italian state can take the mayor to court and override his decision. “Municipalities act as organs of the ministry of the interior, so everything will boil down to the will of the government,” explains Vincenzo Miri, president of Rete Lenford, an association that provides legal help for LGBTQ people.  

A family policy … for heterosexual families? 

Tracing its roots to political factions steeped in post-war neofascism and Catholic conservatism, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party has long been hostile to LGBTQ equality, especially in the realm of domestic life. Although Meloni has tried to package some extremist views into progressive trappings, like arguing that surrogacy is anti-feminist as it exploits women’s bodies, her brand of conservatism under the slogan “God, homeland and family” clearly excludes same-sex families.  

Since taking power in October 2022, Meloni has vowed to rail against what she calls the “LGBT lobby” and has repeatedly reiterated her view that children should only be raised by heterosexual parents.  

“Under [former PM] Draghi, the government had stopped opposing automatic transcription of birth certificates,” says Miri. “But now Meloni has decided to resume challenging these registrations.”  

In defence of the decisions taken by Meloni’s government in the past months, Minister for the Family Eugenia Roccella told Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra: “In Italy, one becomes a parent in only two ways – either by biological relationship or by adoption,” and urged same-sex parents to follow the adoption procedure.  

But in Italy, adopting the child of a same-sex partner is extremely difficult. Non-biological parents can obtain parenting rights through the special stepchild adoption procedure, but it takes years, can cost thousands of euros, involves countless court hearings and involves invasive interviews by social services.  

“Couples are told [by lawyers] not to start the adoption procedure until the child is older, since social workers have to verify the emotional relationship between the child and non-biological parent,” Miri says, to ensure there is no abuse or mistreatment and that the person is fit to be a parent. “In those years, anything can happen. Either parent could die, they could split up, many situations could put the child in an extremely vulnerable position,” he says.  

That’s why for Rinehart and Geymonat, adoption was never on the table. They preferred trying to get Geymonat recognised as a legal parent.  

Rete Lenford and another LGBTQ organisation, Famiglie Arcobaleno, are representing hundreds of cases like Rinehart and Geymonat’s in court. 

“I don’t understand why the government has to impose a whole judicial rigmarole on a family just because a mother or father wants to assume their duties as a parent,” Miri says. “It’s not like they are appealing to claim their rights as activists. They are saying they want to protect their child and take on parental obligations. They just want their child to be part of their family.”  

For now, the hundreds of families who have been plunged into a legal limbo have no choice but to go to court, or risk becoming “ghost parents” like Geymonat.

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Does making a deal with Tunisia’s Saied mean Europe can be extorted?

By Tarek Megerisi, Senior Policy Fellow, ECFR

During their most recent visit to Tunis, European leaders just threw away the continent’s best chance of living up to its much-professed values and tackling the forces that actually drive Tunisian migration, Tarek Megerisi writes.

Tunisia is suffering. A collapsing economy has caused shortages of basic foods and medicines for over a year now, while inflation has rendered any protein a rare delicacy. 

Cities are left without water during the evenings as local agriculture is devastated. And it’s not just the quality of life which is oppressive.

Politicians, judges, journalists, and activists are all being arrested in droves for the crime of standing up to their authoritarian President Kais Saied, who keeps fiddling as his country burns.

After two years of nonchalance, Europe, at last, has been roused into action. 

Last week, a coalition led by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and including Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and Dutch PM Mark Rutte travelled to Tunis.

Their timing was almost cinematic, coming shortly after the Tunisian central bank announced it could only afford 91 more days of imports and the country’s credit rating was downgraded yet again. 

But the European leaders weren’t coming to help Tunisia: they were desperately trying to stop Tunisian migrants. 

And in their panic, they’ve thrown away Europe’s and Tunisia’s best chance to reform its political economy and bring migration under control.

Fears of supercharged migration made European leaders make the wrong call

Emigration out of the North African country has been rising exponentially over the past two years, as young Tunisians progressively lost hope in their country and their capacity to amend the two issues they feel the most passionately about: the lack of economic opportunity and a security service that brutalises rather than protects them.

Europe’s fear is that migration will be supercharged if Tunisia defaults on its crushing loan repayments or runs out of the foreign currency needed for food, fuel and medicinal imports. 

What’s even worse is that this crisis is completely unnecessary and could have been avoided altogether.

An IMF cash injection was agreed with Saied’s government last December. But, the populist and paranoid president keeps refusing to sign off on it, repackaging the unpopularity of cutting subsidies to the public sector as a violation of Tunisian sovereignty.

However, he has failed to articulate any plan of his own beyond whispers of an Argentina-style voluntary default.

A golden opportunity wasted

Then, Meloni’s “Team Europe” landed in Tunis under the pretence of trying to get this IMF deal over the line.

Behind that façade, they hashed out a deal to essentially keep Saied afloat so long as his navy dealt with any migrant boats found on their way to Europe. 

It’s a story that the region and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies will recite the next time Europeans invoke their values to marshal support for Ukraine.

The non-European Mediterranean has witnessed a reaffirmation of European weakness. 

This openness to extortion is something other strongmen like Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have and will continue to routinely exploit whenever they need a cash injection. 

The pressure on all to avoid Tunisia’s economic apocalypse could have been used to amend the IMF deal and include reforms long-demanded by the Tunisians focused on turning the private sector into an engine of wealth creation.

This would’ve given the populist president the optics needed to sign off on the deal and given Tunisians a reason to stay.

But Europe hasn’t just squandered a golden opportunity to reform Tunisia’s economy. 

They’ve casually discarded their one tool to protect the country’s democracy and reverse President Saied’s destabilising tyranny: their leverage over Tunisia’s security services.

A small act of accountability would have gone a long way

Saied has always been a typical strongman who, despite first being a constitutional law professor and then writing the new country’s constitution himself, consistently operated outside Tunisian law to achieve authoritarian goals, from freezing out the parliament in 2021 to his current violent arrest campaign.

He has always been wholly reliant on Tunisian security services to support his diktats, from parking their tanks outside parliament to putting political prisoners on trial in front of military courts.

These same security services receive considerable funding from Europe and the USA and privileges including equipment, training programmes, easy travel for their families to Europe, and the prestige of being a major non-NATO ally.

These privileges, which Tunisia’s senior military class are extremely fond of, could’ve been used as leverage to simply demand that they follow Tunisian law if they are to remain part of the liberal world order’s security establishment. 

It’s a small act of accountability that could have had a monumental effect in restoring the political opposition, media scrutiny, and rule of law — all parts of a democratic society that Saied has shown to be against — and that could have been the vehicle for change. 

Not only has Europe discarded this tool. Even worse: its leaders gave all their power in this relationship to Tunisia’s security structures instead by begging them to become Europe’s border force.

The forces that drive Tunisian migration could have been tackled differently

At the end of Team Europe’s trip, von der Leyen’s unedited message is that Saied and his forces are poised to receive just over €1 billion of European taxpayer money — meaning that Europe will continue to work in Saied’s favour to weaken IMF conditionality by simply covering Tunisia’s debts.

There will be no economic reforms to enable promised trade, no media to report that promised green investments will never come, and no political opposition to scrutinise the cooperation on curbing migration.

Saied’s security services’ salaries and privileges will be ring-fenced. They will receive state-of-the-art European equipment to help them oppress their population. 

As a result, young Tunisians will be even more desperate to migrate.

The continent’s leaders just threw away Europe’s best chance of living up to its much-professed values and tackling the forces that actually drive Tunisian migration. 

Instead, they committed to paying a billion euros solely to advertise to the wider region that they’re open for extortion.

As Meloni, Rutte, and von der Leyen patted each other on the back on the flight home, the irony that they’ve committed Europe to further years of migration anxiety will be lost on them —  just as the rights of Tunisians and the value of democracy was lost on them during their day trip to Tunis.

Tarek Megerisi is a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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NATO peacekeepers injured in clashes with ethnic Serb protesters in Kosovo

Over 30 peacekeepers deployed in a NATO-led mission in Kosovo were injured Monday in clashes with Serb protesters who demanded the removal of recently elected ethnic Albanian mayors, as tensions flare in the Balkan nation.

The KFOR mission said it had faced “unprovoked attacks” while countering a hostile crowd, after demonstrators clashed with police and tried to force their way into a government building in the northern town of Zvecan.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said 52 Serbs were hurt, three seriously, while one was “wounded with two gunshots by (ethnic) Albanian special forces”.

Hungary‘s defence minister said on Facebook that “more than 20 Hungarian soldiers” were among the wounded, with seven in a serious but stable condition.

Italy‘s foreign minister said three of its soldiers were seriously wounded, and the country’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni joined NATO in calling for “all parties to take a step back to lower tensions”.

Kosovo‘s Serbs had boycotted last month’s elections in northern towns, which allowed ethnic Albanians to take control of local councils despite a minuscule turnout of under 3.5 percent of voters.

Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government officially installed the mayors last week, defying calls to ease the tensions by the European Union and the United States, which have both championed the territory’s 2008 independence from Serbia.

Many Serbs are demanding the withdrawal of Kosovo police forces — whose presence in northern Kosovo has long sparked resistance — as well as the ethnic Albanian mayors they do not consider their true representatives.

Fractures and burns

Early Monday, groups of Serbs clashed with Kosovo police in front of the municipal building in Serb-majority Zvecan and tried to enter, after which law enforcers responded by firing tear gas, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.kf

NATO-led peacekeepers in the KFOR mission at first tried to separate protesters from the police, but later started to disperse the crowd using shields and batons, an AFP journalist saw.

Several protesters responded by hurling rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers, but were quickly repelled a few hundred meters away from the Zvecan municipal building.

“While countering the most active fringes of the crowd, several soldiers of the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingent were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices,” KFOR said in a statement.

Eleven Italian soldiers were injured with “three in a serious condition”, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said.

“We will not tolerate further attacks against KFOR,” said Meloni. “It is essential to avoid further unilateral actions by the Kosovo authorities and for all parties to take a step back to lower tensions”. 

NATO strongly condemned the “unprovoked” attacks against KFOR troops, adding that such actions were “totally unacceptable”.

“Violence must stop immediately. We call on all sides to refrain from actions that further inflame tensions, and to engage in dialogue,” NATO said in a statement.

The Commander of the KFOR Mission, Division General Angelo Michele Ristuccia, slammed the “unacceptable” attacks and underlined that KFOR will “continue to fulfil its mandate impartially”.

Kosovo police said “organised” demonstrators rallied in northern Kosovo towns, home to many ethnic Serbs who reject Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.

“The protesters, using violence and throwing tear gas, tried to cross the security cordons and make a forced entry into the municipality facility” in Zvecan, Kosovo police said in a statement.

“Police were forced to use legal means, such as (pepper) spray, to stop the protesters and bring the situation under control.”

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and Belgrade and its key allies Russia and China have refused to recognise it, effectively preventing Kosovo from having a seat at the United Nations.

Serbs in Kosovo remained largely loyal to Belgrade, especially in the north, where they make up a majority and reject every move by Pristina to consolidate its control over the region.

International concern

KFOR said it had bolstered its presence in northern Kosovo following the latest developments and urged Belgrade and Pristina to engage in an EU-led dialogue to reduce tensions.

“We call on all sides to refrain from actions that could inflame tensions or cause escalation,” KFOR said in a statement.

Police had already used tear gas Friday to disperse Serbs in northern Kosovo who protested the installation of the mayors.

Belgrade responded by placing its army on high alert and ordered forces towards the Serbian border with Kosovo.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking on a visit to Kenya, said that “Serbs are fighting for their rights in northern Kosovo”.

“A big explosion is looming in the heart of Europe, where NATO in 1999 carried out an aggression against Yugoslavia,” Lavrov said, referring to the 1999 NATO intervention against Belgrade that effectively ended the war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

The US ambassador and European Union envoy have summoned the ethnic Albanian mayors to a meeting in Pristina in a bid to ease tensions.

Two media teams from Pristina reported that protesters had slashed their tyres and spray-painted their vehicles, while a local journalists’ association called on law enforcers to provide a safe working environment for the media.

After his first-round victory at the French Open on Monday, Serbian tennis superstar Novak Djokovic penned the message “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a television camera.

“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, centre of the most important things for our country,” Djokovic told reporters.

“I am against war, violence and conflict of any kind and I have always publicly shown that. Of course I have sympathy for all people but what is happening with Kosovo is a precedent in international law.”

(AFP)

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‘Weapon of mass distraction’: What’s up with Italy’s oddball policies?

First came a controversial crackdown on rave parties. Then, a ban on the much-debated ChatGPT chatbot, the first of its kind across the world, followed by a ban on synthetic meat. Finally, a plan to issue hefty fines for using English words in official communications — which many people initially thought was an April Fool’s joke, but turned out to be real. 

After Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government pushed forward a series of unlikely policies in the past few months, some people have been left scratching their heads wondering: what’s really going on with Italy’s leadership, and these oddball policies?

Francesco Strazzari, professor in International Relations at the Pisa-based Scuola Universitaria Superiore Sant’Anna, told Euronews that the recent wave of improbable legislation passed by Meloni’s government is “a weapon of mass distraction.”

As Italy faces serious issues which are currently shared with many European countries, like a lingering energy and cost-of-living crisis and a growing flow of migration to its southern shores, these somewhat petty legislative initiatives have the ability to spark endless debates on social media and among the Italian public – even if only to ridicule the government.

“Every time Meloni’s government is in a difficult moment, it comes up with controversial policies which have the power of deflecting attention from its poor performance and its disastrous policies,” Strazzari said.

What bigger issues hide behind these “shallow policies”?

When the Italian government passed a law banning illegal rave parties last November, it did so despite the fact there was no urgency for such a law, Strazzari told Euronews, as the issue didn’t pose an immediate challenge to the country and could have been solved in due time. 

“But there was a strong attempt to inflate the ban, in terms of public attention, in the face of looming danger — a new law surrounding the search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, around which there were already strong arguments,” Strazzari said.

Shortly after the rave ban, Meloni’s government passed a law forbidding NGOs’ search and rescue ships from embarking on more than one operation at a time and forcing them to disembark in the harbours indicated by authorities, which Strazzari said they’re usually “very remote.” 

This decree-law, which significantly limits the operation capacity of NGOs’ search and rescue ships, has already caused tense situations in the Mediterranean between NGOs and Italian authorities.

The most recent policies surrounding ChatGPT, synthetic meat, and the use of English and foreign words in official communications came at a time when a very serious debate around the country’s prison system and sentences is unfolding in Italy, rekindled by inmate Alfredo Cospito’s hunger strike.

According to Strazzari, the harsh punishment imposed on Cospito, an Italian anarchist serving a strict prison regime usually reserved for mafia bosses, is “very controversial in terms of international norms, because in rule-of-law countries the severity of a sentence has to be measured in terms of time length, not imprisonment conditions.”

But instead of addressing complex, long-term challenges like the ones posed by Cospito’s hunger strike or migrant arrivals on the Italian shores, Meloni’s government has focused its legislative efforts on a series of policies “in the name of cultural nationalism, […] an idea of the nation as something that is not negotiable, that exists in purity in some idyllic past, against contamination from migrants, anarchists, and the food industry,” said Strazzari.

The debate around these nationalist policies once again works as a distraction from much more consequential — and controversial — new laws that Meloni’s government is trying to pass — like a bill criminalising surrogacy done abroad.

Last month, the Italian parliament started discussing a controversial law which would extend Italy’s long-standing surrogacy ban on couples travelling abroad for the procedure to countries like the US, Canada, and India. Under the proposed law, sponsored by Brothers of Italy and the League, those found seeking a surrogate mother for their babies abroad could be imprisoned for a time between three months and two years or face fines between 600,000 and 1 million euros. 

For same-sex couples trying to have a baby through surrogacy, the law would be extremely damaging.

A sovereign push that’s likely to put Italy against the European Union

The recent controversial policies introduced by Meloni’s government are not only a game of smoke and mirrors: these legislative efforts are also “well in line with the party’s ideology,” Marianna Griffini, lecturer in the Department of European and International Studies at King’s College London, told Euronews. 

“Meloni’s party is one pushing for Italy’s sovereignty, and these policies are sending the message: ‘Do not interfere with our domestic affairs,’ even if it’s only about cultural affairs, cultural sovereignty,” she said. The recipient of this message? The EU.

Italy’s ban on synthetic meat, Griffini said, can be seen as a way for Italy to reclaim sovereignty over the EU for matters related to its food, after the EU had already given the green light to lab-grown meat in the bloc.

Griffini isn’t the only one to see it this way. For Strazzari, Meloni’s government’s “ridiculous” policies “mobilising shallow calls to national identity and national rhetoric” all lead in the direction of a sovereign push whose ultimate goal is to wriggle out of the European Union’s control — following the footsteps of Poland and Hungary.

“There’s a clear way in which Meloni is trying to benefit from the shifting of the very centre of European politics towards the East with the war in Ukraine […], a shift which has given more gravity to Poland and Hungary,” Strazzari said. “[These countries] are second to no one when it comes to social conservatism and nationalism — especially Poland, with its stress on the traditional family and Catholicism.”

Because of its anti-LGBT policies, Poland has entered in contrast with the EU over the question of the primacy of national law over EU law — an issue that has been raised by Meloni before she even came into power last year.

In 2018, when Meloni was still in the opposition, the far-right politician was the first signatory of a legislative proposal which asked for modifying two articles of the Italian constitution which state that Italy recognises the primacy of European law over national law. “That proposal is still there,” Strazzari said. “It hasn’t been discussed but it hasn’t been withdrawn either — it’s kind of frozen there.”

According to Strazzari, there’s now “an attempt to find congruence” in Italy with Poland and Hungary in terms of introducing nationalist policies which have the potential to go against the EU’s recognised fundamental rights. The proposed surrogacy ban is an example of this initiative.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Tajani, who served as president of the European Parliament from 2017 and 2019, recently commented on the European Parliament’s criticism of Meloni’s government for the introduction of a law that could ban surrogacy for Italians travelling abroad to have the procedure saying  that “Italy’s regulations are made in Italy, not in Brussels.”

“It’s quite a stunning declaration on the part of someone who was the head of the European Parliament and knows pretty well what are the prerogatives of the EU Parliament, which is elected by Italians, among others. We delegate parts of our sovereignty to that Parliament,” Strazzari said. “But this statement was rather blunt in rejecting criticism coming from the Parliament. […] This raises alert from a European point of view.”

But Griffini sees Meloni’s government’s sovereign efforts simply as “symbolic battles” rather than a real attempt to rebel against the EU. “There is too much at stake,” Griffini said. “There are the famous national recovery and resilience plan’s funds at stake, so I don’t think that the relationship with the EU will come to the point of outward hostility.”

Italy’s recovery plan, which followed the unprecedented crisis of the pandemic, consists of 132 investments and 58 reforms and is supported by €68.9 billion in grants and €122.6 billion in loans to the country.

“Italy still needs this money,” Griffini said. 

“During her campaign, Meloni turned down her Euro-scepticism, and a glaring example of this is that her first state visit was to the EU, when she met Ursula von der Leyen. It’s unlikely that she will fully rebel against the EU. These policies seem more symbolic than anything.”



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Why Elly Schlein is freaking out Italy’s ‘soft’ socialists

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Right-wing hardliners could not dream of an easier target than Elly Schlein, the new leader of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party (PD).

A global citizen with a female partner and an upper-middle-class upbringing, the youngest and first female leader of Italy’s most-established progressive party has sparked the ire of the country’s conservatives.

“CommunistElly,” the right-wing newspaper Il Tempo dubbed her after the leadership contest was decided on Sunday. Schlein defeated the favorite Stefano Bonaccini with 53.8 percent to 46.2 percent of the vote.

Far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s allies have been relishing the polarization around Schlein — the two political leaders, though both female, stand for very different values.

“She promised to prioritize the poor, public education and workers,” right-wing commentator Italo Bocchino said in attacking Schlein. “But unlike Meloni, she has never known the poor in her life,” he continued, pointing out how she attended a private school “for rich people” in Switzerland. Nor can Schlein know workers “as she’s never worked in her life,” he ranted.

Schlein’s surprise win has not only fired up her opponents, but also unsettled many in her own party. Fellow social democrats are spooked that Schlein could transform the PD from the broad progressive church it’s historically been into a much more radical sect.

There’s also concern about whether she’ll stand by the party’s support for sending lethal weapons to Ukraine given her self-described pacifist views.

Most skeptics are clinging on — for now — although a few have already jumped ship.

“The PD is over,” declared David Allegranti, a journalist for the Florence daily La Nazione. The expert on the Italian center-left argues that Schlein and many of her allies hail from leftist splinter groups and were not members of the PD until barely a few months ago — discrediting them in their critics’ eyes.

Ex-Cabinet minister Giuseppe Fioroni, among the founding members of the PD, told POLITICO: “Her project has nothing to do with my history and my political culture.” Having foreseen the outcome, Fioroni left the party one day before Schlein’s victory was announced. “My PD is no longer there, this is another party — it no longer belongs to the center left, but to the hard left,” he said.

As a youth leader in 2013, Schlein became the figurehead of Occupy PD, a protest movement set up by disaffected progressives angered over 101 center-left parliamentarians who voted against their own social democrat grandee Romano Prodi’s bid to become the president of Italy.

“With Elly Schlein, the PD has occupied itself,” quipped Allegranti.

Ex-Cabinet minister and PD founding member Giuseppe Fioroni left the party one day before Schlein’s victory, saying that the party “no longer belongs to the center left, but to the hard left” | Claudio Peri/EPA

The young radical

The daughter of a Swiss-based political scientist couple (one Italian and one American), Schlein was raised in Lugano, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, and spent her teens writing film reviews — her dream at the time was to become a film director — as well as playing the board game “Trivial Pursuit” and the cult 90s video game “The Secret of Monkey Island.”

Her first stint in politics came in 2008, when she cut her teeth working as a volunteer for Barack Obama’s two U.S. presidential election campaigns — heading to Chicago to do so.

“Here, I understood that you don’t need to ask for votes, but mobilize people with ideas,” she recalled to La Repubblica. A decade on, the lesson proved useful for her own leadership campaign.

In a first for the PD’s leadership contests, Schlein won the open ballot after losing by a wide margin in the caucus with party members the week before, demonstrating her capacity to win over voters.

The newly elected leader gained the upper hand over Bonaccini in big cities such as Milan, Turin and Naples, as well as performing well almost everywhere north of Rome — but lost in most southern regions, according to pollster YouTrend.

“There was a wave of support that brought along different kinds of voters, who were united by a strong desire for change,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, the founder of YouTrend.

However, Pregliasco played down reports of a “youthquake,” and described the leadership campaign as “boring, dull and largely ignored by public opinion.”

End of the party, or a new beginning?

While there are no exact figures on voter turnout available, Italian media reports that around 1.2 million people cast their ballots — which would mark the lowest figures since PD party primaries were first held in 2007.

After becoming a member of the European Parliament with the Socialists & Democrats group in 2014 at the age of 28, Schlein took the unexpected decision to abandon the PD a year later, accusing then-prime minister and PD party leader Matteo Renzi of lurching to the right.

The decision turned out to be prophetic, as Renzi suffered a number of electoral defeats that snowballed into his resignation as prime minister in 2016, and as party leader in 2018.

Pippo Civati, a former parliamentarian and longtime ally of Schlein who is now out of politics, recalled of Schlein in 2015: “We left at the same time because he [Renzi] was making one mess after another.”

Speaking to POLITICO, Civati warned that the newly elected leader could end up having her hands tied by party bigwigs who backed the popular politician without necessarily having any genuine commitment to her radical ideas.

Pundits point out that the conflict in Ukraine could be the trickiest issue for Schlein, whose distant ancestors hail from a village close to modern-day Lviv. There are question marks over whether she will carry forward her predecessor Enrico Letta’s all-out support for the delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine.

A U-turn by Schlein on support for Ukraine would leave Meloni as the only national party leader in favor of sending arms to the besieged country, fueling concerns among Western allies who see Italy as a weak link.

“A change of line over Ukraine could be the trigger for many centrists to leave the PD,” Allegranti said.

But Civati played down rumors of an about-face, arguing that Schlein is unlikely to oppose the sending of arms to Ukraine.

“We support Ukraine’s right to defend itself, through every form of assistance,” said Schlein in a recent interview with broadcaster La7. “But as a pacifist, I don’t think that weapons alone will end the war.”



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