(CN) — After a meteoric rise to the top of Italian politics, far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, the head of the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy party, was sworn in over the weekend as Italy's first female prime minister.
For many Italians, it was a bizarre and disturbing chain of events to watch the leader of a party with roots in Italy's post-war fascist movements take over at Palazzo Chigi, the seat of government in Rome.
Even though Meloni and her party are grounded in admiration for Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship, in recent years she's softened her image and most recently vowed support for the European Union project, NATO, Ukraine and the war against Russia. She downplays her party’s links to fascism and instead portrays herself as can-do conservative.
“Here is the government team that will serve Italy with pride and a sense of responsibility,” Meloni said, posting on social media a photograph of her cabinet after it was sworn in. “Now straight down to work.”
Her pledges to uphold the Euro-Atlantic liberal democratic order — positions seemingly at odds with her lifelong denouncements against this same establishment — have allowed Europe's political heavyweights, the White House and financial institutions welcome Meloni's ascent to Palazzo Chigi.
The rise of far-right Euro-skeptic parties across Europe has overshadowed EU politics for years and threatened to unravel the bloc. Anti-EU sentiment was a primary driver behind the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc following a majority of Britons voting to leave the EU in a historic 2016 referendum.
“Italy is a vital NATO ally and close partner as our nations together address shared global challenges,” Biden said in a statement. “I congratulate Giorgia Meloni on becoming the new prime minister of Italy.”
“I count on and look forward to constructive cooperation with the new government on the challenges we face together,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter. On Monday, von der Leyen said she’d had a “good first call” with Meloni.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were also quick to offer congratulations. Macron, who happened to be in Rome to meet Pope St. Francis and attend a Roman Catholic charity’s conference, was the first European leader to congratulate Meloni in person.
Far-right leaders, such as French politician Marine Le Pen and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, likewise offered support.
“Patriots are coming to power everywhere in Europe and with them this Europe of nations that we wish for,” Le Pen tweeted.
Still, there are deep reservations about this new Italian government both outside Italy and inside a country that is struggling to regain its economic footing after two decades of decline and stagnation.
In an interview with Der Spiegel, a German news magazine, Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister and leader of the 5-Star Movement, a left-wing anti-establishment party now in the opposition, warned that Meloni may seek to make Italy an “illiberal democracy” and follow the examples set by Poland and Hungary. Far-right nationalist governments are in power in both Budapest and Warsaw, and they are at loggerheads with Brussels over bitter disputes about whether EU laws or national laws have primacy.
“If Meloni implements conservative policies, we will respond with a normal, resolute opposition strategy,” Conte said. “But if she pursues reactionary positions and seeks an alliance with Viktor Orban, her friends in the Polish government, or the right-wing extremist Spanish party Vox, then we will have to mobilize all of our powers.
“There can be no illiberal course for my country,” Conte continued. “If necessary, we will position my party as a bulwark against Meloni. Italy is a strong democracy. We must prevent it from leaving Europe’s political center.”