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Lots of decrees but little change in Italian PM Meloni’s first year

From a flight price cap to LGBT rights and migration, Giorgia Meloni's government has decreed countless new laws in the past year - but many seem designed for show rather than lasting change.

Lots of decrees but little change in Italian PM Meloni's first year
Giorgia Meloni at a press conference in Calabria to announce anti-migration measures near the site of a deadly shipwreck in February. Such announcements have been criticised as propaganda. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The prime minister has sought to please her hard-right voter base with frequent announcements of new laws made by decree, only to see them ruled unconstitutional, criticised as impossible to enforce, challenged under EU regulations, watered down by parliament, or dropped by her own ministers.

“The government has not done much,” said Gianfranco Pasquino, professor of political science at Bologna University.

READ ALSO: Not so radical: Italy’s Meloni marks one year in power

It has “sometimes emphasised repressive elements which please the right”, without seeking to initiate structural reforms, he told AFP.

Claudio Cerasa, director of Il Foglio newspaper, put it more bluntly last month, accusing the government of “using laws not to govern but to make propaganda”.

It seems to be working, however, with opinion polls showing that 12 months after taking office, Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party is more popular than ever.

Top of the list was a surprise tax on profits made by Italian banks from rising interest rates, announced late one August evening only to be heavily watered down after bank shares plunged the next day.

That same night, ministers announced plans to cap ticket prices on flights to and from the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, prompting low-cost carrier Ryanair to complain to the EU.

Weeks later, the government quietly dropped the plan.

Other headline-grabbing announcements over the past year included a proposal to crack down on the use of the English language in government, business and educational settings, which since appears to have been forgotten about.

Elsewhere, a law currently being debated in parliament to extend Italy’s ban on surrogacy beyond its borders has been denounced as unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Meloni’s coalition, which places huge importance on traditional family values, has made the law a priority and wants to prosecute Italian couples – both straight and gay – who use a surrogate mother even in countries where surrogacy is legal.

On the hot button issue of mass migration, Meloni’s government has also announced a string of new rules including longer detention for irregular migrants.

But two separate Sicilian judges have refused to apply one of the government’s migration decrees, ruling it unconstitutional – and subsequently facing the ire of Meloni and her ministers.

Despite the government’s pledges and decrees, the number of people arriving on Italy’s shores on boats from North Africa has almost doubled in the past year, according to interior ministry figures.

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“It’s one thing to make political propaganda to gain votes and win elections, it’s another thing to govern,” noted Francesco Clementi, from Rome’s Sapienza University.

“The promises Meloni made as a politician, she cannot keep as prime minister.”

The format is often the same: a story dominates Italy’s news channels and newspapers, Meloni calls a cabinet meeting, and they announce a new decree law to tackle the issue in question, from juvenile delinquency to the vandalism of public buildings.

Decree laws take effect immediately but must be approved by parliament within 60 days.

Often they are amended or dropped, but by that time, the news cycle has moved on and what remains in the public eye is the original announcement.

READ ALSO: Italy plans €60k fines for ‘vandalism’ in crackdown on climate protests

Meloni is not the only prime minister to use decree laws, although analysts note she has relied on them more heavily than previous governments – despite having a healthy majority in parliament, meaning she should be able to pass laws relatively easily.

Antonio Nicita, vice president of senators of the opposition centre-left Democratic Party, noted that Meloni herself used to rail against the use of decree laws while in opposition.

He accused the government of trying to distract public attention from slowing economic growth and the lack of progress in reducing Italy’s colossal debt.

“The government is compensating for a poor socio-economic performance with ideological and populist interventions on crime and migrants,” he told AFP.

On Sunday, marking her one-year anniversary in office, Meloni said on Facebook that the road ahead was “still long and winding”.

“We’ll continue, with our heads held high, making those courageous choices that for too long were not made.”

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EU

Socialists target far right in EU vote campaign launch

Europe's Socialists launched their campaign for June's European Parliament elections in Rome on Saturday with a focus on warding off "ghosts from the past" from an ascendant far right.

Socialists target far right in EU vote campaign launch

Left-wing MEPs, national lawmakers, party chiefs, EU commissioners and heads of government gathered at their congress before a European vote seen as the most important in decades.

Ukraine is struggling to fend off Russian troops two years after Vladimir Putin launched his invasion and surging support for “illiberal” right-wing groups is predicted.

“The very soul of Europe is at risk,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told the delegates.

“The ghosts of the past are again at the gates of our institutions: hate, greed, falsehood, climate denialism, authoritarianism,” he added, warning of their “digital weapons” and “powerful allies” inside and outside Europe.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hit out at “right-wing populists running election campaigns against our united Europe and its core values” who are on the rise in democracies worldwide.

Raphael Glucksmann, the head of the French Socialist list, called the vote “the most important European elections in history” as Putin’s war “hammers” the continent.

The prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House after the US presidential election in November may mean “we will have to stay alone, alone in front of war”, he warned.

Sanchez met Scholz before the congress to discuss the war in Ukraine, which he said was “entering a delicate phase”.

“We must show our commitment and determination. The security and freedom of Europeans are at stake,” the Spanish premier wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Farmer anger 

The Party of European Socialists is the second-largest force in the European Parliament behind the conservative European People’s Party.

Three months from the elections, the two groups are gearing up for campaigning against a surging far right that could surf on a wave of discontent, notably from the agricultural sector, and make major gains.

French Socialist Party chief Olivier Faure said he feared the far right would harvest votes from angry farmers by claiming environmental and agricultural interests were at odds.

“We must constantly remember that the enemy of agriculture is not ecology, it’s liberalism,” he said, calling on European Socialists to offer hope to counter the far right’s message.

Veteran Dutch politician Frans Timmermans charged that the centre right “believes there is a future for them in aligning themselves with the extreme right”.

The Socialists also designated Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmit as their candidate for European Commission president against incumbent Ursula von der Leyen, who is expected to run again for the job.

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