Giorgia Meloni will be Italy’s next prime minister: what does that mean for Italy’s foreign policy?

Giorgia Meloni will be Italy’s next prime minister: what does that mean for Italy’s foreign policy?

Plus: good news for Americans in Britain – the GBP almost hit parity on Monday

Hi Intriguer. On Monday, NASA successfully crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid… for science. The test was a new method of planetary defence, i.e. crashing rockets into asteroids on a collision course with Earth. We’ll admit we didn’t have “NASA gets latest research idea from Bruce Willis” on our 2022 bingo cards.

Today’s briefing is a ~4.5 min read:

  • 🇮🇹 Italian elections: Giorgia Meloni’s win could prove to be a headache for the EU.
  • ➕ Plus: Diving into the British pound’s crash, cow-based protests in India, and the US hosts its first US-Pacific Island Country Summit.

Italian politics: Down the middle before going hard right

In brief:

  • The right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni has won Italy’s general elections by a decisive margin and she will almost certainly become Italy’s first female prime minister.
  • For all of Meloni’s fiery nationalist rhetoric, her government will likely be constrained by international markets and domestic bureaucracy, meaning Italy’s foreign policy shouldn’t change too much.

Italy’s new PM Giorgia Meloni and Hungary’s Viktor Orban in Rome in August 2021. Source: Hungary Today

First things first: the comeback

There are plenty of things that simply refuse to go away: Grey’s Anatomy, that last five pounds, and Silvio Berlusconi’s political career.

  • The indefatigable former prime minister and football team owner was reelected to the Italian Senate on Sunday, nine years after he was kicked out for tax evasion.*

But let’s not get sidetracked. The main news from last Sunday’s general election is the clear-cut win for Italy’s far-right coalition.

  • The coalition won more than 44% of the votes, which means that the leader of the ‘Brothers of Italy’ party, Giorgia Meloni, will likely become the next Italian prime minister.

Who is Giorgia Meloni?

Political commentators describe Meloni as a far-right politician (with an odd obsession with Lord of the Rings) who smoothed out her rough edges via an effective campaign that recast her as a fierce but loving protector of the nation.

Her political platform is built on conservative nationalism with dollops of far-right nostalgic symbolism.

  • For example, the Brothers of Italy logo prominently features the neo-fascist tricolour flame, which essayist Tobias Jones has called[a sign] that you are the true descendants of Mussolini’s MSI and, thus, of the Duce himself”.

So how will Italy’s key relationships change?

🇪🇺 Italy and the EU

Meloni has softened her tone considerably regarding Italy’s relationship with the EU, yet few in Brussels are happy about her win.

  • Their biggest concern isn’t a ‘Quitaly’ scenario per se – there are billions in recovery funds to be lost and little political clout to be gained by leaving the EU.
  • The Brussels establishment is more worried that Italy might join ranks with Poland and Hungary against the EU’s policy agenda.

“Hungary is a pain, but Italy joining forces with Hungary and Poland would be a serious challenge to the mainstream E.U. and would mobilize the far right in other countries.”

Former diplomat Stefano Stefanini in the New York Times

🇺🇦 Italy and Ukraine

The new government’s position on Ukraine probably won’t differ from Italy’s current policy line.

But what Meloni said to get elected might not be a good prediction for what she’ll do in office, particularly given that Italy’s right wing parties have recently been questioning Western sanctions on Russia.

“Meloni has tried to reassure transatlantic allies over her resolve in keeping the response to Ukraine steady. But coalition partners Salvini and Berlusconi are Putin’s closest allies in [Italy].” 

 Giuseppe Famà, Head of EU Affairs at Crisis Group

The bottom line

Political drama is to Italy as Berlusconi is to a Bunga Bunga party – never far away.

  • But while Meloni’s government will make Italy’s foreign policy more unpredictable in style, cautious financial markets and centrist bureaucratic institutions will likely constrain it in substance.

For a country whose politics have long grappled with its fascist history, the most significant consequence of Meloni’s election might be how other countries perceive it.

*Silvio Berlusconi has had so many scandals that Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to them

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Southeast Asia and the Pacific

🇮🇳 India

Last week, several charities that run animal shelters set thousands of cows free to roam government buildings in a protest against unfulfilled funding promises.

  • Stray cows in the Indian state of Gujarat are often taken care of by charitable trusts which had been promised $61M in state funds to help with the cows’ care.
  • However, when said promises failed to materialise, the cattle carers took matters into their own hands by making elected officials explain their decisions directly to the cows.

🇮🇩 Indonesia

A newly-formed ‘data protection task force’ is hunting down a hacker named Bjorka who is believed to have stolen data linked to 1.3 billion mobile phone numbers.

  • The story has attracted a lot of attention due partly to the hacker’s taunting of the Indonesian government, which the cybercriminal called “an idiot”.
  • There have been several massive data leaks in Indonesia since 2019, prompting the government to introduce a data protection bill to strengthen the country’s cybersecurity.

🇱🇦 Laos

The Laotian government has pledged to take all necessary measures to avoid “being dragged into default, according to Monday reports from state-run media.

  • Just last week, Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh ordered his cabinet to stop the depreciation of the Lao kip and halt rapidly-rising inflation.
  • While many economies have recently found themselves in Laos’ position, the country’s high external borrowing rates make it particularly susceptible to a sovereign debt default.

🌏 Regional

The first-ever US-Pacific Island Country Summit kicks off today in Washington, as the US attempts to strengthen its Pacific engagement amid an intensifying regional rivalry with China.

  • In late breaking news, the Solomon Islands has announced it won’t sign on to an 11-point declaration between the US and Pacific Island nations that would set a framework for increased US activity in the region.
  • The declaration is said to be similar in substance to a Chinese-proposed security agreement that was rejected by Pacific Island nations earlier this year.

🇹🇭 Thailand

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is leading early polls ahead of next year’s elections.

  • Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and has lived in self-imposed exile ever since.
  • While it is still too early for opinion polls to be of much use, the result suggests widespread displeasure with the current military-aligned government.

UK tax cuts risk serious economic instability, say analysts

Global financial markets are jittery: The British pound hit a record low against the US dollar on Monday after the government announced a significant tax cut.

  • The pound has since recovered from its $1.035 all-time low, but according to insiders, the country’s policymakers are “heading into crisis mode”.

The markets’ concern: Cutting tax revenue without reducing government spending will increase the UK’s debt burden. And while that isn’t inherently bad economic policy, markets don’t think it’s a good idea right now.

  • Britain’s medium-term borrowing costs even surpassed those of Italy and Greece on Monday.

What’s next? The Bank of England has declared it will “not hesitate” to intervene, which has set the expectation for further interest rate hikes. Talking to the Financial Times, an unnamed former government minister didn’t hold back:

“What’s the point of an income-tax cut putting £100 into someone’s pocket every month if their mortgage payments go up by £200 and they are paying 30p extra for their coffee every morning?”. 

Political fallout: Things are already looking bad for Prime Minister Liz Truss and her government.  

Surely not… We all knew Boris Johnson would be planning a comeback, but we can’t imagine anyone expected him to move this quickly!

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