By Sigurd Neubauer
Giorgia Meloni is a woman on a mission. She’s not only Italy’s first female Prime Minister, but Meloni is also a conservative leader committed “to defending traditional values and patriotism while celebrating the country’s artistic and cultural heritage,” explains Alessandro Bertoldi, a Rome-based political analyst.
“Throughout her political career, Meloni has consistently referred to Europe’s Judeo-Christian roots, and the importance of preserving the traditional family structure in society.”
Bertoldi is also the founder of the Milton Friedman Institute, an organization promoting free-market and pro-growth policies in Italy, and serves as the president of the Alleanza per Israele, a pro-Israel group.
Bertoldi is a former member of the Forza Italia party, which was founded by the legendary Silvio Berlusconi who served as prime minister in four governments from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011. In 2013, Berlusconi also appointed Bertoldi as commissioner for South Tyrol.
Few observers understand Italy’s center-right politics better than Bertoldi.
Alessandro Bertoldi is the founder of the Milton Friedman Institute, a free-market research organization in Rome. Photo credit: Courtesy
In a wide-ranging interview, we discuss the Meloni government’s domestic and foreign policy priorities.
Ever since winning the election in October of last year, Meloni has come under intense media scrutiny, especially in the United States as numerous commentators and analysts have repeatedly sought to portray her government as extremist.
In Italy, liberal-conservatism – as represented by the center-right – is anchored in classical liberalism, the intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment. The Meloni-government is a center-right coalition – as opposed to a far-right one, Bertoldi argues.
Meloni, Bertoldi insists, “is trying to become a modern conservative leader, which is why she has unequivocally distanced herself from fascism.”
At the same time, Meloni’s social conservatism has also been scrutinized, including from within the country’s conservative inteligencia.
“We liberal-conservatives have asked for a greater commitment from the government to defend individual rights and freedoms, because supporting the traditional family does not rule out the possibility that the state may recognize other types of families, which it has already partially done in respect to civil unions,” he says.
Celebrating Italy’s glorious cultural heritage is also a top priority for the government, the political analyst reveals and points to his close friend and confidante Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano to drive home his point: “The government has extended the opening hours of museums and heritage sites across the country to attract more tourists. Our cultural heritage is our national identity, which is a unifying factor for all Italians.”
Meloni is trying to become a modern conservative leader, which is why she has unequivocally distanced herself from fascism
Responding to whether the Meloni government is stable, as the prior government of Mario Draghi only lasted slightly over a year and a half (from February 2021-October 2022), Bertoldi explains that the ruling party, Fratelli d’Italia, enjoys a solid Parliamentary majority together with its coalition partners.
The Fratelli d’Italia party can be branded as National Conservative; it enjoys 119 seats in Parliament.
Meloni’s coalition partners include the populist rightwing party Lega spearheaded by Matteo Salvini, which has 66 seats; Berlusconi’s centrist Forza Italia has 45; and the moderate Us Moderates has 7. Together, Meloni’s center-right coalition enjoys a 237 majority of the 400 seat Parliament.
At a time when traditional values are under siege across much of the Western world, understanding how the Roman Catholic Church sees the Meloni government is of course of paramount importance for the curious observer seeking to better understand the never ending culture wars.
“The relationship between the Vatican and any Italian government is always excellent,” Bertoldi says, but notes that past tensions between the center-right parties and the Church over immigration have subsided now that the Meloni government has established itself.
“Many on the center-right consider Pope Francis to be a man of the left, but the Church is a multifaceted institution, which explains why there are presently no tensions between Meloni and the Vatican,” he adds.
While the Italian Prime Minister often refers to her Christian values, as well as to the Pope and the Church in her political speeches, Bertoldi nonetheless captures the cultural dynamics within the ruling conservative coalition: “For us who are liberal-conservatives, we agree with this but at the same time we believe that the Church should not interfere in Italy’s political life.”
In March, Meloni hosted Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, a fellow conservative leader.
Responding to what the meeting represented, Bertoldi, who is the ultimate insider on everything related to the Italy-Israel relationship, argued that “Meloni not only sees Israel as a friendly country, but as a strategic partner and natural ally. Israel is a bulwark of our values in the Middle East.”
He continues: “Meloni considers Netanyahu to be a political ally and his visit to Rome was a real success.”
Meloni is also committed to fighting and combating antisemitism. She has appointed Giuseppe Pecoraro to spearhead it.
“The Meloni government never fails to participate in initiatives spearheaded by the Jewish community of Rome; nor does it fail to support Israel at the international arena, including at the United Nations where Italy has abandoned its traditional neutrality and now supports Israel.”
On what’s next for the Italy-Israel relationship, Bertoldi reveals that there will be an upcoming bilateral meeting between the two governments and that commercial ties have expanded.
The political analyst and pro-Israel activist doesn’t mince his words: “The relationship between the two countries is experiencing one of the best moments in their history. The Alleanza per Israele is doing its utmost to contribute to strengthening the Italian-Israel friendship.”
At first, left-wing leaders attempted to frame our Prime Minister as a fascist who was too close to the leaders of Hungary and Poland, but today no one believes that anymore
Meanwhile, some European leaders have attempted to isolate Meloni, especially France, he asserts but quips: “she’s managing very well.”
“At first, left-wing leaders attempted to frame our Prime Minister as a fascist who was too close to the leaders of Hungary and Poland, but today no one believes that anymore.”
Bertoldi is referring to Meloni’s support for Ukraine, for which she has been recognized by U.S. President Biden, the European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NAT0) of which Italy is a founding member. “She’s also been well received by British counterpart Rishi Sunak during a recent visit to London. If she manages to modernize her policies a little more, Meloni’s leadership will only grow stronger,” he says.
Responding to how Meloni fits into Berlusconi’s successful legacy, Bertoldi expresses optimism that the prime minister could find inspiration in her predecessors’ policies.
“Berlusconi’s greatest political legacy was to leave the country with a more modern and united center-right block, which seems to be working today. We hope that Meloni will be inspired by Berlusconi when it comes to promoting more liberal, libertarian, and liberal policies, and thus abandons some of her remaining ultra-conservative positions.”
At the Milton Friedman Institute, which Bertoldi founded, “We’re trying to make these suggestions but above all so that taxes are reduced, and liberal economic policies are pursued. Our political reference models are those of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1911 –2004) and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013); we hope they can become the reference model for the Meloni government as well.”
We hope Meloni will find inspiration in Berlusconi's legacy