Giorgia Meloni, poised to become Italy’s next prime minister, has vowed to put national interests first in tackling skyrocketing energy costs as she made her first public outing since her Brothers of Italy party won the most votes in the country’s national election.
Meloni spoke to farmers and producers on Saturday at an agricultural fair in Milan sponsored by Italy’s influential Coldiretti farm lobby.
She was coming off a week of closed-door meetings with allies and the outgoing government after the Sept. 25 vote that is poised to give Italy its first far-right-led government since World War II.
Her appearance came after Germany announced this week that it would spend up to €200 billion (£175bn), helping consumers and businesses cope with rising energy prices caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, while refusing to support a European gas price cap sought by Italy and other countries.
Meloni said that if her government takes similar action, it should not be seen as a populist, nationalist response, but rather a “clear-sighted” strategy to “defend national interests to reach common solutions”.
“Italy’s attitude must return to start by defending its national interests to find common solutions,” Meloni told farmers in Milan.
“This is something that will change in the coming months. It does not mean having a negative attitude towards others, it means having a positive attitude towards ourselves that starts with defending national interests because everyone else is doing it,” she said.
Her speech came as Italian energy giant Eni reported that Russia’s Gazprom said it could not confirm any gas deliveries on Saturday via Austria.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine in February, Russia has cut the supplies of natural gas sent to Europe to heat homes, produce electricity and run factories.
European leaders have accused Putin of using “energy blackmail” to split them in their strong support for Ukraine.
Meloni, who has strongly reaffirmed his support for Ukraine in the war, pledged to protect Italian industry and agriculture from the effects of rising energy prices, partly caused by the conflict, as well as the residual effects of the coronavirus pandemic and a record heat wave last summer that destroyed crops for billions of euros.
Meloni’s party, which has its roots in a neo-fascist movement, is expected to become the largest party in a centre-right coalition government, along with the right-wing League of Matteo Salvini and the centre-right Forza Italia of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Meloni, who would be the first woman to serve as Italy’s prime minister, told farmers that a priority was to protect the agricultural brand “Made in Italy” and its supply chain to reduce dependence on imports.
Before arriving at the Coldiretti forum, Meloni called on Berlusconi at his Arcore estate outside Milan for their first post-election meeting. A joint statement from the two parties said the meeting took place “in a climate of great cooperation and agreement of intent”, particularly to confront high energy prices.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia coordinator, Antonio Tajani, also took aim at the German decision and its impact on other EU countries, telling the Coldiretti forum that “If you want to be the locomotive of Europe, you can’t only think of yourself as a detriment . by others.”
Speaking at the Coldiretti forum on Friday, Salvini berated the German energy package and other EU nations for not working together.
Italy has spent €60 billion. since last year to ease the pain of higher energy prices for households and industry. But Coldiretti has said support for farmers has mostly been in the form of tax credits and not help with electricity bills, which have risen 500% since last year, or fertilizer costs by 170%.
The outgoing government of Mario Draghi refused to lend more money for a deeper aid package, citing Italy’s already high debt. Italy has instead pushed for a European price cap on Russian natural gas, but has so far been unable to persuade the rest of the EU to go along.