Q: There are many terms to choose from when describing your party: Nationalist right, far right, conservative. That’s the grab bag. What term do you think best fits your party and what’s your argument for it?
A: Conservative. I’m the president of European Conservatives, and for a long time now I have called Fratelli d’Italia a conservative party. I think there’s no doubt that our values are conservative ones. The issue of individual freedom, private enterprise in economy, educational freedom, the centrality of family and its role in our society, the protection of borders from unchecked immigration, the defense of the Italian national identity — these are the matters that we preoccupy ourselves with, so there’s no doubt about that.
Q: The rise of your party has been well known. If we’d been talking in 2019 after the European elections, you had 6 percent of the vote. Now by some accounts you’re at 25 percent. Recognizing that the credit is due to the entire party, what do you think that you as leader have personally done well to help your party’s rise?
A: We’re a party born in 2013, but up until 2019 we’d always lingered at around a 3 to 4 percent threshold of approval. What happens is that many voters who feel represented by you will ultimately rather not vote for you, as they’re afraid that such a vote wouldn’t matter. I would always tell my party that it would be much harder to get to 5 percent than moving from 5 to 15 to 20. Because once you become a real political actor, people feel safer in giving you their vote.
So we took the longer route, taking no shortcuts. I always said that, first, I would’ve made it to the government only with the approval of Italians, and second, once I was sure that I could do the things I wanted to do. This clearly required much work, but Italians today understand that we’re a very reliable party, that its ruling class is serious.
Q: In your speeches on the campaign trail, you lay out the reasons Italy is in a difficult spot. And surely we’ve seen many prime ministers get the job and struggle. So very bluntly: Do you want to be prime minister?
A: No [she laughs]. And what I mean by that is: I’ve never looked at politics as a personal matter. When I engaged in politics I never thought I would become a politician. I actually wanted to be an interpreter and a translator. And I’m a journalist.
This said, since I believe in an obligation to citizens, should Italian citizens decide to give Fratelli d’Italia the kind of result that says this — i.e., “We want Giorgia Meloni to be the premier” — I will be the premier, taking into account how, here, the choice ultimately belongs to the president of the republic. I cannot say that faced with such a responsibility my hands aren’t shaking. Because we’d find ourselves governing Italy during what’s perhaps one of the most complex situations ever. In the European context we’re at the bottom of the ranking on all macroeconomic factors; our public debt is totally out of control. We’re dealing with growing poverty.
But I also believe that this nation [can reverse its course] with some common sense and a political class that knows how to explain unpopular choices to citizens.
Q: You acknowledge in your autobiography that you have always sought acceptance. Now you have it from voters on the right in Italy, but you may not have it from the “establishment” in Europe, and that could make your life difficult. Do you want that acceptance, and, if so, how do you think you can get it?
A: I care that Italy should have the role it deserves in the European context, and I don’t understand why the president of the council, who’s nominated based on a clear popular consensus, should represent a problem for anyone. I don’t find it normal that anyone should think that Italians aren’t as free to elect their representatives as anyone else in Europe.
Should we win the elections, once we present our first budget law, maybe people abroad will notice how more serious parties exist than those who increased our debt in order to purchase school desks with wheels. So I don’t need to feel accepted. And by that I mean: I don’t consider myself a threat, a monstrous person, or a dangerous one. I consider myself a very serious person, and I think that it’s with seriousness that we need to respond to the interested attacks they’re waging against us. I’m not denying I have criticized the E.U., and often its priorities, but perhaps in some instances we weren’t wrong. What’s happening in recent years, with the pandemic and the war, goes to show how many European priorities were misplaced.
Q: You’ve said in speeches that “everything we stand for is under attack” — a reference to Christian values, the norms of gender, even the ability to speak freely without being attacked. The question is: Who are the enemies in this case? Who is doing the attacking?
A: Among the enemies I count, firstly, the left. There’s a leftist ideology, so-called globalist, that aims to consider as an enemy everything that defines you — everything that has shaped your identity and your civilization. I think the West is paying for such weakness, as we’ve also seen in recent times. Instead, I think that what identifies you, i.e., the Christian values that founded our civilization, regardless of whether one believes in God or not. I’m all in favor of the crucifix hanging on the walls of our public schools, not because I want to impose the religion I believe in on anyone.
But like it or not, Christian values have shaped our civilization. I believe in the value of respect because of Christianity. I believe in the value of state secularism because Christianity taught me that. I believe in the value of solidarity because Christianity taught me that. It’s just about saying who you are. The way I see it, saying who you are doesn’t mean disrespecting the other; it’s exactly the opposite. It’s only weak identities who are afraid of discussion. Strong, aware identities do not fear it.
I believe in defending identity, gender identity as well. On this topic, if you move past a shallow take, the actual goal of some gender theories isn’t that of fighting discriminations, which is clearly something we all fully agree with. Those who pay most dearly for these theories are women. So I don’t understand the short circuit which leads those who stood for women’s rights now wanting that a person who’s biologically born a man would compete with women in the same sport, knowing full well that this will penalize women. Am I allowed to say that? Am I not? Does it get monstrous? I don’t think it is. It’s an assessment that needs to be made.
Q: When we’ve talked to your voters, they have been gravitating more to the messages you have about fixing the country economically, dealing with the crazy bureaucracy, helping with the price of gas. But we very rarely hear them bring up issues that I would put under the culture war category. Obviously you feel very personally about this regarding gender, about adoption for gay couples. But do you think they attract voters to you, or do you think they actually might cost you voters?
A: No, I don’t think they attract votes. But I also believe that people should know how I feel about it. I’m a person who’s never been afraid of taking stances that weren’t advantageous. I think Italians trust us, that they trust me, because they know that if I think something, I will say it. That said, I know these are all very divisive issues. But they only are divisive because we don’t get to talk about them seriously, right?
I’m not in favor of adoption [by same-sex couples]. I’m not, because I think that a child who’s unlucky needs to be given what’s best, right? And what’s best is having a father and a mother. I was raised without a father. Was I raised well? For the love of God, yes. Would I have wanted a father? Yes.
Q: It’s clear you feel a fraternity with the U.S. Republican Party. But the Republican Party has changed dramatically during the last 10 years, during the time that Fratelli d’Italia has been a party, and the Republicans basically have two very different poles — the conservative anti-Trumpers, and then the people who have followed the Trump ideology. To what part of the Republican Party do you see similarities with Fratelli d’Italia, and to which pole are you more aligned?
A: I won’t get into the quarrels of another party. I was at [the Conservative Political Action Coalition], I was at the National Prayer Breakfast, I always come to the U.S. very gladly. The U.S. is of course a point of reference for our alliances, and I have a good relationship with the Republican Party. Republicans are also among the parties that are registered to the European Conservatives. We have networks connecting us, our think tanks work with the International Republican Institute, with the Heritage Foundation, we do cultural exchanges, and many of their fights are about things we have talked about. That said, I’m not interested in getting into the debate inside of the Republican Party, because it would be too complex of a matter for me. I’m carefully following their evolution and looking at what will happen with midterm elections.
Q: You talked in your book, citing the boys who bullied you about your weight, about the usefulness of having enemies. And now, as a politician, you regularly mention enemies: the left that is obsessed with trashing you, for instance. But if you become leader of the country, do you risk having the left-leaning part of the country feel like they’re at odds with you? Do you want to reach out to the other side, and, if so, how do you do it?
A: I have never hated anyone and will talk to everybody, because I neither have superiority pretenses nor inferiority complexes. Basically, I have a mature attitude towards my political adversaries. I don’t think the same could be said of them towards me. Meanwhile, touring Italy from north to south along the campaign trail, I keep meeting former left-wing voters who’re telling me: “I was a leftie, but this time I’ll be voting for you.” And you know why? Because the Italian left has forgotten the world of labor in order to follow an ideological agenda that is oblivious to the common man’s daily life. It’s them that we seek to offer real answers to.