Italy's Meloni reassures EU on her first foreign trip as premier

Italian PM Meloni and deputy PM Tajani attend a swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinale Palace, in Rome
Italy's newly elected Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni looks on during the swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinale Presidential Palace, in Rome, Italy October 22, 2022. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
  • Meloni says happy with visit to Brussels: 'We are no Martians'
  • EU offers warm welcome as nationalist new premier moderates tone
  • Meloni talks Ukraine, energy, spending plans with EU top brass

BRUSSELS/ROME, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Italy's new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made her first foreign trip in office on Thursday to the heart of the European Union, showcasing her commitment to the bloc mindful of her nationalistic views and spending plans.

Known for her firebrand nationalism, Meloni has toned down her anti-European rhetoric in recent weeks, winning a cordial welcome from the top EU officials in Brussels.

Meloni said she wanted "to give the signal of an Italy that obviously wants to participate, collaborate and defend its national interest, doing so within the European dimension, seeking the best solutions together with other countries".

She said she was happy with how the day had gone, adding she discussed Russia's war in Ukraine, energy prices, migration and how to best spend some 190 billion euros earmarked for Italy from the EU's stimulus to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Probably seeing and talking directly with people helps to dismantle a narrative that has built up around me and often (around) the Italian government. We are not Martians. We are real people," she told reporters.

Meloni met EU chairman Charles Michel, the head of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, and of the EU executive European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

"We are totally aligned on Ukraine. We will continue to stand firm on sanctions" against Russia, said Metsola. The EU has imposed a series of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of neighbour Ukraine in February.

Von der Leyen thanked Meloni for "the strong signal sent" by picking Brussels for her international debut as prime minister.


The EU is also uneasy about Meloni's campaign promises of tax cuts and more social spending, fearing financial instability in Italy as the continent faces a new recession.

The first test for Meloni is on Friday when she presents new public finance targets for Italy.

That will require walking a line between plans to shield consumers from soaring energy prices on the one hand, and the Italian Treasury's forecast of an economic contraction until the second quarter of 2023 on the other.

"There is a risk on the fiscal side," said Gregory Claeys of the Bruegel EU think-tank.

Francesco Galietti of Rome consultancy Policy Sonar said Meloni had to position herself vis-à-vis top EU powers Germany and France, each keen to have the bloc's third economy on their side amid rifts over addressing the energy crunch.

"She needs to leverage this status and extract some concessions in terms of fiscal leniency from the EU, as she prepares to hike the budget deficit for this year," said Galietti.

Meloni said the EU needed "concrete European solutions" as soon as possible to the energy price crisis.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Crispian Balmer, Angelo Amante, Jan Strupczewski and Clement Rossignol; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool

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