Many leaders from different countries have taken nationalist stances in the past but have then found themselves up against a brick wall while trying to implement them. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s first speech in her new role this week is a case in point.
Former French president François Mitterrand won his election with a nationalist program. He nationalised many industries and the French economy before the Franc collapsed. He then called Jacques Delors into the government, made a pro-European turn, and is now revered as a great pro-European.
Another Frenchman, Jacques Chirac, was the nationalist and anti-Maastricht treaty presidential candidate. He began his presidency with the Mururoa nuclear tests, and many EU citizens boycotted French goods in response. Soon, he changed course and created a fiscal policy that allowed France to participate in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).
Meloni’s personal story, party, and European political family speak of nationalism, reflected in her first speeches as the country’s prime minister that contain plenty of words such as “nation”, “national interest”, and “homeland”.
Still, her appearances this week contained no direct attack on the EU, the euro, the primacy of EU law, EU fiscal rules, the role of the EU and its impact on national sovereignty, the Green Deal, Next Generation EU, or the EU’s attempt to defend the rule of law. This is despite a lack of support for such politics and policies from Meloni’s party in the European Parliament.
Instead, in her speeches, she stressed that Italy is a founding member of the EU and the Euro-area. She asked the EU to be more efficient and better equipped to deal with the significant challenges that no member state can face alone, such as trade, migration, geopolitics, and terrorism.
She mentioned a “common European destiny”. She guaranteed that “Italy will respect all existing rules”. She worried that national responses to the energy crisis risk undermining the single market. She considered the EU’s post-COVID recovery pot, the NGEU, as the engine to modernise Italy and restore growth.
She recalled that the first proposal of European common debt came from Tremonti, minister of a centre-right Italian government, omitting her party did not support it in the European Parliament.
She is no federalist and will not push for Treaty reforms, overcoming unanimity, strengthening the Commission or European democracy. But unlike Mitterrand or Chirac, she will not even try nationalist policies. Her speech already signalled a pro-European turn.