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Italy holds gov’t talks as Meloni coalition spars over Ukraine

By AFP - Oct 20,2022 - Last updated at Oct 20,2022

ROME — Italy's president began consultations Thursday to form a new government following the victory of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni in elections last month, even as friction over Ukraine threatened the unity of her coalition.

Meloni, 45, is expected to be named Italy's first woman prime minister following two days of cross-party talks, after her post-fascist Brothers of Italy Party won a historic victory in September 25 polls.

But the consultation process has been overshadowed by the leak of a recording of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi — whose Forza Italia Party is part of Meloni's coalition — talking about his warm ties with Moscow and appearing to blame the war in Ukraine on its President, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Meloni, whose anti-immigration, nationalistic party is Eurosceptic but who strongly backs Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, issued a statement late Wednesday to make her position clear.

"I intend to lead a government with a clear and unequivocal foreign policy line," she said, after more than 24 hours of silence over the leak.

"Italy is fully, and with its head held high, part of Europe and the Atlantic Alliance."

She issued a warning to her allies, who also include Matteo Salvini of the far-right League Party, a long-time fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin who has criticised sanctions.

"Anyone who does not agree with this cornerstone will not be able to be part of the government, even at the cost of not forming a government," Meloni said.

Berlusconi, 86, also said in a statement that his personal and political position "do not deviate from that of the Italian government [and] the European Union" on Ukraine.

But the tensions only add to concerns that Meloni's coalition, held together by the need for a parliamentary majority, will struggle to maintain unity in the months and years ahead.

 

Vodka present 

 

Berlusconi's allies insist his comments in the recording, from a meeting with lawmakers earlier this week, were taken out of context.

 

The billionaire media mogul described a rekindling of relations with long-time friend Putin, who he said sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a "very sweet letter" for his birthday.

Berlusconi's Forza Italia Party said the anecdote was an old one, although in the same recording he also expressed concerns about Italy arming Ukraine.

In Brussels for an EU summit on Thursday, outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi highlighted the importance of Italy supporting its traditional allies.

"Membership of the EU and NATO are cornerstones of our foreign policy... within these alliances, Italy must be the protagonist," he said.

Meloni's appointment is all but certain after the election result, a historic change for the eurozone's third largest economy and for Brothers of Italy, which has never been in government.

But tradition dictates that President Sergio Mattarella will only name her after holding formal talks with all parties in parliament.

The newly elected speaker of the Senate, Brothers of Italy veteran Ignazio La Russa, was first to arrive at the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome, once home to popes over centuries.

Then came the speaker of the lower house of parliament, followed by smaller parties and representatives from the main party in the opposition, the centre-left Democratic Party.

On Friday morning, Meloni will join representatives of her coalition to visit Mattarella, with speculation she could be asked to form a government as early as that afternoon.

If she confirms she is able to govern with her allies, she could be sworn in with her ministers over the weekend, with a vote of confidence in parliament next week.

However, the process of allocating the top jobs has been fraught, with Berlusconi and Salvini — whose parties won just 8 and 9 per cent, respectively, in the elections, well below Meloni's 26 per cent — angling for influence.

Berlusconi ally Antonio Tajani, a former president of the European Parliament, is widely tipped to become foreign minister.

Meanwhile, League veteran Giancarlo Giorgetti is expected to be named economy minister, tasked with formulating a response to soaring inflation and a looming energy crisis in debt-laden Italy.

 

 

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