By Vas Shenoy
Rome [Italy], September 29 : It has been a few days since the high-drama Italian elections resulted in the win of Giorgia Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) party and its right-wing coalition. Meloni, in all likelihood, will be Italy's first female Prime Minister breaking the glass barrier.
She is also a rare phenomenon, at 45 she is very young by the standards of the past 66 of her predecessors and comes from a single-parent childhood growing up in a working-class neighbourhood in Rome.
While Meloni has been accused of being neofascist, given the origins of her party, sincerely modern-day Fratelli di Italia is conservative and Meloni has made attempts at bringing it to the centre of Italian politics. She is also very proud of her identity.
A few years ago, her declaration that she was "Giorgia, a woman, a mother, a Christian, an Italian" was laughed at. Today this woman has made history at a turbulent time by getting a significant majority which in Italian politics is an anomaly.
While the party has two minor alliance partners in Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini's Lega Nord, it is Meloni that now calls the shots. Apart from moving the Brothers of Italy party to the center from its far-right origins, Meloni has also developed a strong base of experienced professionals to make up for the lack of experience in governance.
The head of international relations for the party, now Senator, is Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agatha, a retired career diplomat and former minister of Foreign Affairs. Senator Terzi di Sant'Agatha has unique credentials, having been Italy's ambassador to Israel, the United States and the United Nations. She also has former finance minister Giulio Tremonti as another parliamentarian from her party.
Meloni's tenure comes at a critical juncture in international relations for Italy.
The Ukraine war has divided Italy. And Mario Draghi had just succeeded in returning Italy to its position in international politics after years of myopic leaders who had no international strategy. Before Draghi, Prime Minister Conte and his 5Star Movement had moved Italy from its US-centric policies towards China by being the first G7 country to sign the belt and road initiative(BRI) MoU.
Indeed, in his almost two years, not only did Draghi veer Italy away from China but also developed a strong relationship with India, especially with Prime Minister Modi which was apparent during Modi's visit to Rome for the G20 in October 2021.
How with the change in government affect Italy's role globally?
The International Republican Institute(IRI), founded by President Ronald Reagan and partner of the Foundation Farefuturo of Adolfo Urso, another key Meloni parliamentarian, sheds a light on Beijing's influence in Italy and suggests four moves. Among these an ad hoc office of a Coordinator for Chinese Affairs which would "facilitate the exchange of information and Rome-Washington cooperation".
The China coordinator's office would ideally be vigil over Chinese activities in Italy, especially Foreign direct investment into Italian companies, a theme that Draghi has been quick to use his golden veto to block.
The IRI suggests that this coordinators office would be "tasked with the gathering information and coordinating the Chinese policies in and concerning Italy", and would be located within the office of the Prime Minister, "working closely with the diplomatic adviser and liaise with the Foreign Ministry and other competent bodies, including Copasir ".
Copasir is the Italian parliament's powerful commission on intelligence and vigils over Italy's secret services, as well as, public order entities. This office could serve to "launch an early warning on Beijing's propaganda activities", and "would also facilitate the exchange of information and promote cooperation between Italy and the United States".
The "China czar" is one of the four recommendations contained in a document published in these hours by the International Republic Institute, in which some experts analyze various case studies relating to the influence of the People's Republic of China in the world.
The other three are: to make the exercise of special powers more organized and less subject to political pressure; increase control over academic agreements and partnerships sponsored by Chinese entities such as state research institutes and technology companies such as Huawei and Zte (with an office at the Ministry of University and Research); set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry in charge of collecting information on illegal financing of political parties from authoritarian regimes, including China (in the wake of the proposal of the current Foreign minister Luigi Di Maio with reference to Russia).
This is in continuation to what Ambassador Terzi said in an interview to sky Tv before the elections that Italy was one of the few countries in the west which continue to allow Chinese Confusicous institutes to operate in their state-run institutions.
What next for India?
While Prime Minister Modi congratulated Meloni who warmly thanked him for his wishes, her anti-China, pro-Taiwan stance will find a strong partner in India. Despite divergent views on the Ukraine war, the new administration in Rome has been very accommodating on India's position, especially protecting its national interests, a philosophy Meloni espouses.
Draghi has built a strong relationship with Modi, and Meloni is on track to strengthen this relationship also given India's soon-approaching Presidency of the G20. With a Brothers of Italy-led government, India should expect more Italian cooperation in defence and more engagement and or support in from Italy in the Indo-Pacific.
Meloni and her advisors understand, appreciate, and support closer relations with India, as well as, a strong economic partnership, which has been the basis of the Draghi administration.
India needs a strong ally and champion in the EU, which has so far been French President Macron. But with Macron's strength in the French Parliament weakened, Meloni could easily step into the role of India's champion in the EU, especially given strong synergies in the political views of the BJP and Brothers of Italy.
Meloni has created history in Italy and there are great expectations from her. In Italy's and Europe's current fragile state often the best man to fix such a mess is a woman. Only time will tell if Giorgia lives upto these expectations.
By Vas Shenoy