Italy PM rallies far-right for 'turning point' EU vote

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni smiles at the end of a campaign meeting of Italian far-right party "Fratelli d'Italia" (Brothers of Italy) for the upcoming European elections, on June 1, 2024 in Rome (Tiziana FABI)
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni smiles at the end of a campaign meeting of Italian far-right party "Fratelli d'Italia" (Brothers of Italy) for the upcoming European elections, on June 1, 2024 in Rome (Tiziana FABI)

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni held up next week's European elections as a "turning point" when far-right parties could triumph, at a final rally of her post-fascist party in Rome.

"We have a clear objective, we want to do in Brussels what we have done in Rome," said Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party has led the government since topping national elections in September 2022.

Meloni said she wanted to "build a right-wing government in Europe too and send definitively into opposition the left... who have done so much damage to our continent in all these years".

Speaking on a stage before thousands of flag-waving supporters, in front of a banner saying: "With Giorgia, Italy Changes Europe", she urged Italian voters to back her.

"If the Italians tell us that they are still at our side... then we will have the necessary strength to attempt an undertaking that until a few months ago was unthinkable," she said.

"And that is, after having made Italy change course, make Europe change course too."

Surveys predict Europe's far-right parties will gain ground in the EU vote, when around 370 million voters across 27 countries are called to cast ballots on June 6-9.

Mainstream players are still expected to end up ahead, but such a surge could change the balance of power.

- 'Opposing visions' -

Meloni railed against EU regulation, particularly on green issues -- accusing the bloc of becoming a "paradise for bureaucrats" and a "hell for those who do business".

"We are at a turning point and it is as if it were a sort of referendum between two opposing visions of Europe," she said.

"The EU must be a partner of nation states, not a superstructure that suffocates nation states."

Meloni is leader of one of two far-right groups in the parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR).

The other is the Identity and Democracy (ID) group that includes the National Rally of France's Marine Le Pen and Meloni's coalition partner, Matteo Salvini's League.

They expelled Germany's AfD party last month after a series of scandals involving its lawmaker Maximilian Krah, who is being investigated for suspicious links to Russia and China.

There are also tensions between the ECR and ID, especially over attitudes to Russia, with Meloni's ECR strongly supportive of Ukraine.

Meloni said many expected Rome to be the "weak link in Western unity", but stressed she had held firm, and had "brought back seriousness into our relationships".

Many of Meloni’s supporters like her strong stance on world affairs.

"She has put Italy back in the centre of the international discussions," said Marco Arnaboldi, 64, who attended the rally.

Meloni is contesting the EU election -- even if as a national lawmaker she cannot take up her seat -- making it a personal referendum on her time in office.

Her speech was periodically interrupted with chants of "Giorgia! Giorgia" from the crowd, many of them wearing party-issued hats saying "Italian pride".

The speech covered everything from economics to migration and abortion and what Meloni called "creeping Islamisation". Meloni also denied claims that she had politicised the RAI public broadcaster.

Meloni has said she wants to match her 2022 national vote share of 26 percent next weekend, well ahead of her coalition allies.

Salvini's League is aiming for around nine percent, and the right-wing Forza Italia of the late ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi is aiming for about 10 percent.

The centre-left Democratic Party is currently polling at around 21 percent, with the populist Five Star Movement polling around 15.5 percent.

ar/ach