The far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who seems likely to become the prime minister of Italy after the general elections to be held on September 25, gives different signals from the country’s traditional foreign policy line with his approach to Turkey and his European allies.
Maloni repeated the message he had often given before, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Italy in 2018:
“NO to Turkey entering Europe.
“NO to the Islamization of Europe.”
Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, held a meeting titled “Erdogan’s Turkey” in April 2021, during the days of the “dictator” crisis between Turkey and Italy, and Meloni explained this message in more detail in his speech here.
Calling the European Union to “wake up” on Turkey, Meloni said, “The Brothers of Italy believe that Turkey is not a part of Europe as we understand it in terms of history, geography and culture.” Meloni, who criticized the Erdogan administration on many topics, continued as follows:
“These attitudes have further distanced Turkey from Europe. It is time to finally cancel Turkey’s membership status in the EU and to say ‘no’ to Turkey’s entry into Europe once and for all.”
Among the criticisms Meloni brought to Turkey was the claim that “Erdogan carried political Islam to Europe”.
Meloni complained that Erdogan encouraged Turks and Muslims in Europe to “colonialize” the continent by having children and build mosques and cultural centers. In the same speech he said:
“Erdogan has intensified the Islamist evolution in recent years by narrowing the areas of freedom and transforming places valuable to Christianity such as Hagia Sophia; It blackmailed Europe by taking billions of euros from the EU to stem the flow of refugees from Syria and economic migrants from the rest of Asia; He initiated an expansionist policy in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, from Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh, from the waters around Greece and Cyprus to Libya; He pursued an aggressive foreign policy inspired by the neo-Ottoman vision.”
We asked Andrea Dessi, a foreign policy expert who closely monitors Turkey, if a right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni comes to power in Italy, which is considered to be among the countries closest to Turkey in the European Union.
Dessi, head of the Italian foreign policy program of the Institute of International Relations (IAI), said that the principle of continuity, which is generally followed in important files in the country’s foreign policy, will continue, even if the powers change.
Emphasizing that anti-Turkey rhetoric is used to create a wave of fear by right-wing, conservative and nationalist segments in Europe, Dessi reminded that a similar tactic was also used by British politicians who were in favor of leaving the EU before the Brexit referendum.
Dessi said, “Turkey is an extremely important country for the Mediterranean, for Italy, for the energy and economic interests of Italy,” and continued as follows:
“Italy’s tradition of foreign policy is based on the principle of continuity, whether governments change, there are political crises, whether right or left comes to power.
“Because it is Italy’s economic and energy interests that traditionally command the region known in Italy as the ‘broad Mediterranean’.
“To protect these interests, a foreign policy that is not ideological and open to dialogue and cooperation with all countries is needed.”
Does Eni determine foreign policy?
On these words, we recalled an interview published a few weeks ago by Stefano Silvestri, the former head of the Institute of International Relations. The interview was published on the Il Riformista website with the title “Only Eni determines foreign policy”.
When asked if he agreed with these remarks about the Italian energy giant, Dessi laughed and replied:
“Something that is said behind closed doors is not usually said in an interview. But like all simplifications, there is some truth in this one.
“But this applies not only to Eni, but also to Snam, to all major Italian companies working in the field of energy, infrastructure…
“I can’t say that Eni is directing Italy’s foreign policy, but Eni has a huge role in Italy’s foreign policy. Its impact is so great that it can soften some of the governments’ expectations.”
Dessi emphasized that this situation and the fact that the bureaucracy of the foreign ministry in Italy did not change after the elections helped to ensure continuity in foreign policy.
Stating that Turkey’s importance for Italy is not limited to the Eastern Mediterranean, Dessi said that it is also important in terms of gas coming from Azerbaijan with the TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) project. Dessi said that the realization of the EastMed (Eastern Mediterranean) energy project between Israel and Cyprus-Greece is unlikely.
“Meloni has talked about the need to revitalize the EastMed gas pipeline, that is, the line coming from Israel, Greece, Cyprus to Italy with infrastructures passing under water, but this plan is unlikely to be realized.
“It is necessary to gradually reduce investments in such new infrastructure projects, both in terms of economic reasons, in terms of time and due to the climate crisis.
“More suitable for Italy and other European countries would be to support the resumption of the dialogue between Turkey and Israel and the negotiations between Israel and Lebanon.
“This helps to get back to the original project of transporting gas, energy from the eastern Mediterranean via Turkey from the north.
“With the infrastructure already in place in Turkey, this option would be less costly and more effective. That’s the direction the (Italy) Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to go.”
Immigration policy could tighten
If a government led by the far-right Giorgia Meloni comes to power, it seems more likely that there will be a concrete change in some topics such as immigration.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, one of the parties in which Meloni entered the elections in alliance, pursued a policy of closing the ports of Italy to immigrant ships during the 2018-2019 period when he was in power, and limited the function of immigration reception centers.
Andrea Dessi also said that a major break in foreign policy should not be expected with a possible far-right government, but stated that there may be some changes in immigration policy:
“Concerns are not unfounded about the further straining of migrant reception capacities, which are already reduced, and making the process more challenging for migrants.”
Italy’s weight in the EU may decrease
There are also concerns that Meloni, who is close to the Viktor Orban administration in Hungary and the far-right Vox movement in Spain, will change the balance in the EU by bringing Italy closer to the category of “non-liberal democracies”.
Confirming that there is a concern in this direction in Brussels, Dessi also argued that a possible Meloni government would avoid entering into direct and immediate conflict with the EU.
Among the reasons for this, he also counted the support of approximately 200 billion euros that Italy received from the EU Recovery Fund after the pandemic, and said, “They will not want to rock the boat.”
However, Dessi also stated that a rhetorical change under the Italian administration could damage the country’s weight in the EU.
“Towards the winter, when the economic crisis, inflation, energy crisis becomes more serious, these right-wing, populist, conservative parties may return to their tendency to put all the blame on Brussels or an external enemy to cover their own responsibility.
“This is an old tactic of both right-wing and left-wing populists, demagogues…
“With this rhetoric, a political conflict can be created, but it will not bring about a change in foreign policy, it will only reduce Italy’s weight in Europe.”