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Debate: What does the Italian election result mean for the European Union?

Following the Italian election, Euronews hosted a debate to discuss what the result means for the European Union.

We were joined by four members of the European Parliament for the discussion: Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, from the Socialists & Democrats; Roberts Zīle from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), Lukas Mandl, from the European People’s Party; and Alexandra Geese from the Greens.

Here are the highlights from the debate hosted by Euronews correspondent Méabh Mc Mahon.

What do the politicians think about the Italian election result?

The election last Sunday resulted in Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party finishing first. She is now widely expected to form a new government with her coalition partners — Matteo Salvini’s populist Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Go Italy (Forza Italia).

“It’s well known that Italy has been a political lab for years. For some of us, it is also an anticipation of what could happen in other member states of Europe. But certainly, it’s been a shake,” said Spanish MEP Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, from the Socialists & Democrats.

Lopez Aguilar pointed out that there were a lot of lessons to be learnt from the election, including from the low turnout.

Austrian MEP Lukas Mandl from the European People’s Party said he would “feel comfortable when Italy and the new Italian government and the colleagues in the new Italian parliament will act under the umbrella of our common European approach.”

“I would say we have to measure them by their deeds,” he added, citing the several crises Europe currently faces.

German MEP Alexandra Geese from the Greens said the result of the election was worrying.

“We are quite worried about what is going to happen in Italy and campaigning on anti-European propaganda, saying that the party is over in Europe when Italy has been very involved in actually in European politics in the past years and has played a very important role, is basically denying reality,” Geese said.

Latvian MEP Roberts Zīle, from the European Conservatives and Reformists, which is the same political group as Giorgia Meloni, who is tipped to be the next Italian prime minister, had a more positive view of the situation.

Zīle said the other MEPs had painted “too dark” a picture of the election result, adding that she would continue with the plan in place to receive EU funding.

He said the political group was happy with the result of the election.

What will the new government mean for EU relations?

Mandl said that once a new government is formed in Italy, they will likely coordinate with outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

“(Draghi) was really a very good person at the right time for Italy and for Europe in its entirety during the pandemic and then during the other crises that appeared,” he added.

Geese said she was concerned that Meloni has “two coalition partners that are close friends or admirers of Putin.”

“I don’t know how Giorgia Meloni will be able to control that in a coalition. You always have to make concessions,” she added.

But in Zīle’s view, there won’t be “any trade-off on this issue to continue with the strong sanctions against Russia.”

“We have to calm down. We are in a very serious security situation because of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and this is the most important issue currently,” he added.

What does the result mean for Italy’s economy?

Italian political scientist Nathalie Tocci, director of Istituto Affari Internazionali, told Euronews earlier that all eyes are on the country due to the debt situation.

“It is amongst the countries that are going to be most acutely affected by this energy and therefore economic crisis,” she said.

“(Meloni) knows that this is a time in which there’s not a lot of messing around to do. This is a time in which Italy needs Europe. Europe actually gives money to Italy. It doesn’t take it away.”

Lopez Aguilar said that “when it comes to numbers, Italy’s big, the third-largest economy. When it comes to social balance, Italy is in trouble.”

“There is much social unrest in Italy. There are inequalities, both regional and territorial, but also social between the rich and the poor, with an impoverished middle and working class, with high inflation, social tensions in every way,” he added.

“When Italy leans hard right, it cannot simply align with Hungary and Poland, which are not part of the euro…Italy needs alliances within the euro group.”

Geese said that if the new government stays with the reforms planned by Draghi to access more than €200 billion in EU funding, “there won’t be a clash. There’s no need for a clash.”

“She was the only leader of the only party in Italy, Fratelli d’Italia, who was not part of the greater Draghi government,” said Zīle, who added that she inherited a large amount of public debt.

“That’s why I think people trusted (her) for changes.”

What could happen to the EU’s plans for a new pact on migration and asylum?

“Italy is at a crossroads of migrants trafficking,” said ECR MEP Zīle, adding that he thinks supporting refugees from Ukraine is more important “because it’s mainly women and children, not young men…I would say, from African or Middle Eastern coast.”

But Lopez Aguilar, who is Chair of the European Parliament’s home affairs committee, said that he remembers when Matteo Salvini was Italy’s interior minister and was “extremely dysfunctional, not only with aggressive rhetoric but also with actions that were bluntly against EU law.”

“EU law means that we have to address a holistic approach…we have to respect international humanitarian law and EU law when it comes to search and rescue,” he added.

Former interior minister Salvini is set to join Meloni’s new right-wing coalition.

MEP Lopez Aguilar said he was worried about Meloni’s opposition to member states sharing responsibilities in the new migration pact.

Mandl added that Europe is facing new forms of migration and a possible migration crisis due to the Ukraine war but also famine and hunger, so that it’s important to deal with the Commission’s proposal.

“I am optimistic that the Italian government will also constructively discuss (the migration pact),” he said.

Is Italy’s possible first female prime minister likely to be strong on women’s rights?

Geese pointed out that most of Meloni’s party called “Brothers of Italy” is made up of men.

“It’s certainly her merit that she managed to lead this party very, very successfully, I have to admit. But I haven’t heard her advocating for women as a whole,” said Geese.

Lopez Aguilar added that “it is about time that there’s a woman prime minister, but that’s not enough to say that we are having something which is real advancement on rights and equal rights, in particular sensitive issues of the right to abortion.”

Is Europe moving to the right?

“Two years ago, everybody spoke about EPP would take over everything. Then we had a huge wave of social democratic parties. That’s democracy,” said Mandl.

“That’s what I like about democracy, that things change because people’s voting behaviour changes and policies change.”

Geese agreed.

“Nobody can say what is going to happen…The important thing is that we make sure that there will still be democracies, that the rules are the same, that we all play by the same rules, have the same rights.”

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