By Edie Heipel and Jonah McKeown
Italy’s national elections on Sept. 25 ended with Giorgia Meloni, a Catholic mother, poised to become the country’s first female prime minister.
In the snap elections — called after former prime minister Mario Draghi’s unity government collapsed due to economic and military tensions — Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party captured the most votes at around 26%, skyrocketing from a roughly 4% share four years ago.
Before and amid her party’s electoral victory, Meloni’s views have been described in the media as “far-right” and even as “fascist.” Here’s what you need to know about her:
She’s not the prime minister yet.
It’s worth noting that although Meloni’s party garnered the most votes in the recent election, it’s not yet certain that she will be Italy’s prime minister.
It is up to Italian President Sergio Mattarella to nominate someone from the winning coalition as prime minister, a process that could take several weeks. The nominee is likely to be Meloni, who will then be tasked with assembling a majority in Parliament. Brothers of Italy was the leading party in a center-right coalition that now must form an alliance to govern.
Meloni comes from a working-class Roman background. She worked various jobs, including as a waitress and as a nanny, before becoming a full-time politician. In 2008, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appointed her the country’s minister for youth, the youngest person to be appointed to that position.
She made her faith a major part of her campaign.
Meloni has described herself in speeches as a Christian and has publicly expressed her admiration for St. John Paul II. She keeps a photo of John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta on her desk and has expressed a desire to meet Pope Francis in person — a virtual certainty when and if she becomes prime minister.
“I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian, and you can’t take that away from me,” Meloni said in a speech in 2019.
Meloni — who was raised by a single mother in Rome — now has a daughter with her partner Andrea Giambruno, though the two have never married.
She supports several pro-life and pro-family policies.
In a speech to the Vox party in Spain earlier this year, Meloni summarized her pro-life and pro-family platform: “Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death.”
In Italy, abortion is legal through the first 90 days of pregnancy, with exceptions after that point for fetal anomalies and risks to the mother’s life. Access to legal abortions is limited, however, due to widespread opposition from Italian doctors — 68.4% as of 2017, according to the Italian Ministry of Health — who oppose performing abortions due to conscience objections.
Meloni has not said she will attempt to change Italy’s abortion laws. She has, however, proposed pro-life and family policies to encourage motherhood, including free child-care services. She has cited Italy’s extremely low birth rate as a problem.
“I want our families to have children,” she said in a speech to supporters in Milan earlier this month.
She has committed to opposing LGBTQ policies and gender ideology.
Meloni has made her views against same-sex unions widely known, referring to LGBTQ content as “woke ideology” and promising to continue opposing policies allowing homosexual couples to adopt or have children through surrogacy.
Italy has legalized same-sex civil unions but it does not afford them the same legal protections as it does marriages. Surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are banned for same-sex couples, for example, who must travel outside the country for such procedures. Meloni proposed an amendment in 2018 to extend the surrogacy ban to same-sex couples who seek it abroad, which was not approved.
The amendment called surrogacy an “example of the commercialization of the female body and of the very children who are born through such practices, who are treated like commodities.”
Meloni said earlier this year that her opposition to such policies is not because she is “homophobic” but that she believes every child has the right to have a mother and a father for “stability.”
She cited her personal experience growing up in a single-parent home, saying, “I lived [in] a family condition that [made] me see this.”
Meloni is strongly against illegal immigration.
Meloni has made it clear that she opposes the practice of migrants sailing from places such as North Africa to the Italian shore. In August, Meloni posted a video on social media saying she would introduce a naval blockade to patrol the Mediterranean and return migrants to their countries of origin, NPR reported.
Meloni’s anti-immigration stance puts her somewhat at odds with Pope Francis, who has frequently spoken about the need to welcome migrants and refugees.
Meloni is a Eurosceptic, and supports Ukraine in its war with Russia.
Meloni has been critical of the European Union (EU), saying her first priority is to defend Italy’s national interests.
“We want a different Italian attitude on the international stage, for example in dealing with the European Commission,” Meloni said in an interview with Reuters this month on her party’s Eurosceptic views.
Still, Meloni has taken pains to assure world leaders that Italy would not leave the EU.
“This does not mean that we want to destroy Europe, that we want to leave Europe, that we want to do crazy things,” she said. “It simply means explaining that the defense of the national interest is important to us as it is for the French and for the Germans.”
Since Russia’s invasion in February, Meloni has come out as a strong defender of Ukraine, promising to continue supplying arms to the country.
Meloni has also taken a hardline stance against China and called on Italian athletes to boycott Beijing in the 2008 Olympics.
She has rejected the “fascist” and “far-right” labels often attributed to her.
Meloni has been branded as “far-right” and “fascist” by media outlets, pro-abortion and LGBTQ activists, and world leaders — a label she has rejected.
“Everything that defines us is now an enemy for those who would no longer like us to have an identity,” Meloni said in a widely shared speech on Sept. 26. “Like it or not … we will defend God, country, and family.”
In an interview with Reuters last month, she dismissed any suggestion that her party was nostalgic for the fascist era and distanced herself from comments she made in 1996, as a teenager, which some critics took as a praising Benito Mussolini.
Meloni has received a warm welcome from other conservative European leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who shares her traditional family views and immigration policy.