Her heart steeped in far-right tenets, as a young teen Giorgia Meloni embarked on an ideological quest that has propelled her -- 30 years later -- to the height of government power. Image Credit: Reuters

ROME: In 2019, Giorgia Meloni made a speech that has come to define her: “I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian, and you can’t take that away from me,” she told cheering supporters in Rome.

Fast forward three years, and the nationalist leader can now also say she is Italy’s first female prime minister.

Meloni was named to the post on Friday after her Brothers of Italy party finished first in last month’s national election, up from fifth place in 2018, propelling a right-wing coalition to clear majorities in both houses of parliament.

The rapid rise in the 45-year-old’s fortunes is closely tied to the transformation of Brothers of Italy, which has moved into the mainstream without ever fully repudiating its post-fascist roots.

Friends and critics alike say its surge in support is largely down to the steely determination of a woman who won her first local election at 21 and became Italy’s youngest ever minister in 2008.

Meloni was given that youth portfolio by new coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi, a wily political veteran over whom she now faces the thorny challenge of imposing her authority.

They recently clashed over the war in Ukraine and after he was spotted describing her as overbearing, arrogant and offensive.


Meloni’s ascent is especially notable considering her humble background in a country where family ties often trump merit.

Raised by a single mother in a working class district of the Italian capital after her father abandoned them following her birth, she has made no attempt to lose her strong Roman accent.

In her 2021 autobiography, “I am Giorgia”, Meloni says she found a new family aged 15 when she joined the youth section of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), created in 1946 by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Hard-working and feisty, she soon caught the eye of party activist Fabio Rampelli, who organised courses to train what he hoped would be a new generation of conservative politicians.

“My idea was to imagine a right-wing government, which had nothing to do with the (fascism of the) 1930s,” Rampelli told Reuters.

“Meloni was blonde, blue-eyed, petite, easy-going and witty.

She was also very concrete and not ideological. All the characteristics we needed to take the Italian Right to the next level.”


The MSI was folded into a new body called National Alliance (AN) in the mid-1990s before merging with a mainstream conservative group created by former prime minister Berlusconi.

In her biggest political gamble to date, Meloni and a contingent of AN veterans left in 2012 to co-found Brothers of Italy, named after the opening lines of the national anthem.

The party maintained the old flame symbol of the original MSI group and Italian media occasionally publish photographs showing fascist memorabilia in the offices of some Brothers of Italy regional politicians.

No such relics adorn Meloni’s office. Instead there are angel figurines, snaps of her young daughter, chess sets, a photograph of Pope John Paul with Mother Teresa, and pots of coloured pens she uses for note-taking.

In an interview with Reuters in August, she dismissed any suggestion that her party was nostalgic for the fascist era and distanced herself from comments she had made as a teenager praising Mussolini, an ally of Adolf Hitler in World War Two, as a “good politician”.

“Obviously I have a different opinion now,” she said, without elaborating.

Meloni compares her party to the U.S. Republican Party and Britain’s Conservative Party. Patriotism and traditional family values are exulted, while political correctness and global elites are excoriated.

“Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death,” she told supporters of Spanish rightist party Vox in a fiery speech in June.

“No to the violence of Islam, yes to safer borders, no to mass immigration, yes to work for our people, no to major international finance.”


Pollsters say part of her success lies in her novelty value in the old-man world of Italian politics, coupled with the steadfastness of her uncompromising messaging.

Whereas her allies Matteo Salvini and the octogenarian Berlusconi last year joined a unity government under Mario Draghi, Meloni refused, saying appointing an unelected former central banker was undemocratic.

The decision left Brothers of Italy as the sole major party in opposition, giving it a pass on having to defend unpopular decisions taken during the COVID-19 emergency.

She sought to reassure international partners during the election campaign that she would support Western policies against Russia and reinforced the message this week after Berlusconi reiterated his sympathy for President Vladimir Putin.

Meloni is opposed to gender diversity quotas in parliament or the boardroom, saying women have to get to the top through merit. However, she says that being a woman has its advantages in macho Italy.

“When you are a woman you are often underestimated, but that can help you,” she told Reuters.

Women in power across Europe
PARIS: An overview of the women presidents and prime ministers in Europe after Italy's far-right leader Giorgia Meloni was named prime minister Friday after her party's historic election win.
She becomes Italy's first female prime minister and joins a group of more than a dozen European women who hold the top political jobs in their country.
The list does not include Ursula von der Leyen, who became the first woman president of the European Commission in December 2019:
Britain: In Britain, which is part of Europe but no longer part of the EU, Liz Truss became the new prime minister on September 6, but after just 44 days in power she announced her resignation on Thursday and will only remain in office until a successor is chosen in the coming days.
Truss had been Britain's third woman prime minister after "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, who was in charge from 1979 to 1990, and Theresa May, who governed from 2016 to 2019 - all Conservatives.
Denmark: Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen became her country's youngest-ever prime minister in June 2019 when she was elected premier at the age of 41.
Denmark's first woman prime minister was Helle Thorning-Schmidt, also from the Social Democrats, who served from 2011 to 2015.
Estonia: Kaja Kallas in January 2021 became Estonia's first woman prime minister. Her father Siim Kallas was prime minister from 2002-2004.
Finland: In December 2019, Sanna Marin, a Social Democrat, became the youngest sitting prime minister in the world at the age of 34.
France: Elisabeth Borne, a 61-year-old engineer, was named French prime minister in May, becoming only the second woman to hold the position after Edith Cresson, a Socialist, who held the job for less than a year in the early 1990s.
Greece: Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a trailblazing lawyer, was elected Greece's first female president in January 2020.
While the presidency is a mainly ceremonial role in Greece, Sakellaropoulou had already broken new ground in the judiciary by becoming president of the country's top court in 2018.
Hungary: Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and former minister for family policy, was elected Hungary's first ever woman president in March 2022. The presidency is a largely ceremonial role.
Lithuania: Lithuanian former finance minister Ingrida Simonyte, a 47-year-old rock and ice hockey fan, was appointed prime minister of a centre-right government in December 2020.
Lithuania has a strong tradition of female leadership, with "Baltic Iron Lady" Dalia Grybauskaite spending a decade in power from 2009 to 2019.
Slovakia: Liberal lawyer and anti-graft campaigner Zuzana Caputova, 49, took office in June 2019 as Slovakia's first woman president.
A political novice, she had comfortably beaten the ruling party's candidate in elections. In Slovakia, the president has less power than the prime minister but can veto laws and appointments of senior judges.
Rest of Europe: Elsewhere in Europe, outside the EU, other women currently in power are: Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Kosovo's president Vjosa Osmani, Moldova's president and prime minister Maia Sandu and Natalia Gavrilita, Serbia's openly-gay prime minister Ana Brnabic, and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
-- AFP