Meloni on critics: Italians don’t need lessons from abroad

ROME (AP) — Italy’s new premier, Giorgia Meloni, on Tuesday laid out her government’s policy plans, firing back at critics at home and abroad alarmed that her far-right politics might undermine European unity or citizens’ civil rights.

In a speech to Parliament’s lower Chamber of Deputies ahead of a confidence vote required of all new governments, Meloni criticized the European Union for not always being ready for challenges, notably the dramatic energy crisis now threatening households and businesses.

But she pledged that her 4-day old government, with its right-wing and center-right coalition allies, will stay loyal to EU accords while working for changes to some of them, including on monetary stability.

“To pose these questions doesn’t mean being an enemy or a heretic but a practical” person, Meloni said in a 70-minute speech.

Early in her speech, she bristled at critics, including those from foreign governments, who have said they would keep a “vigilant” eye on Italy’s first far-right-led government since the end of World War II.

Such attitudes are tantamount to “a lack of respect for the Italian people, who don’t need lessons,” Meloni said.

The premier’s 10-year-old Brothers of Italy party was the top vote-getter in last month’s election for Parliament, winning 26% of the ballots cast.

Together with her main allies, anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini, and conservative former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Meloni’s coalition can command enough support in both chambers of Parliament to win the confidence votes and get down to the business of governing.

In her election campaign, Meloni, 45, didn’t make much fuss about the prospect of becoming the first woman to be Italy’s premier. But one of her first remarks to the lower Chamber of Deputies manifested her awe for that achievement.

“I’m the first woman to lead this nation,” Meloni said, acknowledging the weight of that on her when she thinks of that. She dedicated her next words to “all the women who have trouble affirming themselves” in workplaces and who make daily sacrifices to balance labor and family roles.

Meloni then expressed determination to “break the heavy glass ceiling that’s on her heads.” She went on to read out a litany of first names of women in Italy who have achieved firsts, including a Communist politician who was the first woman to be elected president of the Chamber of Deputies, an astronaut and a Nobel-prize-winning scientist among others.

The premier also upheld her campaign pledge to back Ukraine in in its defense against the Russian invasion.

She sought to allay detractors’ fears that her government, with its stress on God and traditional families, would undo Italy’s abortion rights law, saying her center-right government “will never limit citizens’ freedom.”

Instead, she said, to boost Italy’s birthrate, one of the world’s lowest, her government aims to establish free daycare centers and nursery schools that will stay open during business and store hours, and to “reward companies that make it easier for women to reconcile roles” at work and at home.

Meloni has been dogged for years by critics who say she hasn’t unambiguously condemned fascism. Brothers of Italy, which she co-founded in 2012, has roots in a far-right party founded by nostalgists for dictator Benito Mussolini.

In her speech she said she “never felt sympathy toward anti-democratic regimes” and decried Mussolini’s 1938 racist laws, which persecuted Italy’s small Jewish community as a “low point of Italian history.”

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