Giorgia Meloni rejects fascism and embraces EU in first speech

New prime minister says Mussolini’s racial laws were the worst moment in Italian history.

Italy’s new leader Giorgia Meloni used her maiden speech to parliament to denounce fascism, and to assure allies of Italy’s commitment to the European Union.

Meloni was sworn in as Italy’s prime minister on Saturday after a right-wing coalition led by her Brothers of Italy party took 44 percent of the vote in elections last month. Meloni came under pressure in the campaign to distance her party from its origins in a group which was formed by former fascists after the war.

On Tuesday, she issued her strongest condemnation of fascism so far, saying that Mussolini’s racial laws in 1938, which led to the deportation of thousands of Jewish people to concentration camps, were “the worst moment in Italian history.” She said she “had never sympathized with anti-democratic regimes, including fascism” and would fight “every kind of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination.”

Meloni used the speech to set out her vision of Italy’s relationship with Europe, promising allies that her government would remain within the European institutions, “because that is the place that Italy will make its voice heard loudly.”

She said that her right-wing coalition did not want “to slow down or sabotage European integration but to steer it to be more efficient in its response to crises … and to be closer to people and businesses.”

But she warned that Europe should not be “an elite club with first or second division members … or a company controlled by a board of directors who have to keep the books in order,” adding, “Those who raise questions are not enemies or heretics but pragmatists who are not afraid to say when something is not working,” she said.

Meloni said that she wanted to work with Europe to adapt Italy’s €200 billion post-pandemic economic recovery plan to reflect the changed circumstances of an energy crisis and increased costs of raw materials. She hinted that Italy could push for compensation or European shared debt to offset the cost of energy aid, as her allies in the League have proposed, saying: “The cost of the international crisis should be shared fairly.”

Helping families and businesses with the high cost of energy was a massive financial commitment and would delay other measures that the government wanted to introduce, she warned.

But she pledged that the heavy burden of higher energy costs would not alter Italy’s position as “a loyal partner of NATO and Ukraine.”

“Those who believe it is possible to barter Ukraine’s freedom for our peace of mind are wrong. Giving in to Putin’s blackmail on energy … would pave the way for further blackmail, and even higher energy prices,” she said.

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