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Far-right Meloni sworn in as Italy's first female prime minister

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  • Meloni takes office at a difficult time for Italy
  • Key coalition allies historically close to Russia
  • European far-right hails new Italian government

ROME, October 22 (Reuters) – Giorgia Meloni was sworn in as Italy’s first female prime minister with her cabinet crew on Saturday, giving the country its most right-wing government since WWII.

He took office at a particularly tense moment as Italy’s debt-ridden economy plunged into recession once again, firms were overwhelmed by the weight of rising energy bills, and his coalition was divided over the war in Ukraine.

Standing under the crystal chandeliers of a frescoed room in the presidential palace, Meloni took her oath in front of her 6-year-old daughter.

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Meloni, head of Italy’s nationalist Brotherhood, won an election last month as part of a coalition led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which included Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League.

His government in the 12th year of this century is replacing the national unity administration, piloted by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, who has been at the forefront of efforts to impose sanctions on Russia after the European Union invaded Ukraine in February.

While Meloni pledged support for Ukraine, Berlusconi earlier this week blamed Kiev for the war and repeatedly undermined him by revealing that he exchanged gifts and “sweet letters” with his old friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After days of tense negotiations, Meloni announced his team on Friday, giving five ministries each to the League and Forza Italia, and reserving nine cabinet posts for his own party.

Technocrats make up the rest of the 24-member team, which consists of only six women and an average age of 60.

Italy’s always weak economy and growing national debt have been entrusted to Giancarlo Giorgetti, seen as a moderate member of the Union. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was awarded to Forza Italia veteran Antonio Tajani, who is seen as a pro-European pigeon.

Tajani told a local television channel that his first action would be to call his Ukrainian counterpart and reassure him that Italy’s solidarity will continue.

‘Patriots Coming to Power’

Meloni’s party has neo-fascist roots, but during the election campaign it tried to project a moderate image by dropping previous anti-EU rhetoric and promising to keep Italy at the heart of European and Western institutions.

European Commission leaders in Brussels sent congratulatory messages on Saturday.

“I count on and look forward to constructive cooperation with the new government on the challenges we face together,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.

Meloni also received applause from Europe’s nationalist conservatives, who hoped that his government would prove a strong ally in their regular wars with Brussels.

“Congratulations on the formation of your government, Giorgia Meloni! Big day for the European Right!” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wrote on Twitter.

“Patriots are coming to power all over Europe,” French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on his Twitter account.

Meloni will hold his first cabinet meeting on Sunday after a formal devolution with Draghi.

It will then face mandatory votes of confidence in parliament throughout the week, which it will easily win given its comfortable majority.

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Reporting Angelo Amante and Giuseppe Fonte Writing Crispian Balmer Editing Kirsten Donovan and Helen Popper

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