Should we expect a Meloni alliance with the EPP?

Italian Government - Presidency of the Council of Ministers
Prime Minister Meloni meets EPP President Manfred Weber, Rome, 5 January 2023.

Less than three months before the European elections, there is much discussion about whether or not the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni‘s party, will join forces with the EPP Group at the European Parliament. In such a perspective, the ECR Group would be weakened, and Meloni would replace her post as President of an EU Parliament Group with a seat among many other EPP leaders.

However, although Meloni’s star is rising in Europe, there are some visible limits to close cooperation with the EPP family. It is hard to forget that her party has neo-fascist origins and her government has a far-right agenda. Moreover, although Italy is a G7 member, its economy is in second gear, restricting Meloni’s ambitions for significant influence over the EU.

EPP leaders want Meloni and Fiala at their side

Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP Group and an MEP for the German CSU, is known for his ultraconservative views. Recently, he told Welt am Sonntag that cooperation with some ECR parties is conceivable. He meant the Brothers of Italy and Prime Minister Petr Fiala‘s Czech Civic Democratic Party (ODS).

Issues such as migration and green politics unite several parties or tendencies of the EPP with the ECR. Also, Ursula von der Leyen has excellent cooperation with Meloni and is significantly considering her support for her re-election as president of the European Commission.

However, it is not certain that every party in the EPP shares the same optimism with the Meloni fans. Many consider the political risk of such a membership. The EPP member parties are generally conservative but, in their majority, have a lengthy democratic and pro-EU background. Meloni has never declared herself an anti-fascist. Her party has a clear neo-fascist lineage and is the successor of the post-war Italian Social Movement (MSI). In addition, if the EPP heavily relies on Meloni’s support for von der Leyen’s re-election, then the Italian prime minister will probably ask for a significant portfolio for the Italian EU commissioner.

Meloni still has a domestic far-right agenda

While pro-NATO and a valuable ally in the EU efforts to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion, Meloni has a strict agenda concerning national policy. Her government restricted the rights of same-sex families, attacking same-sex parenthood. 

While her views and decisions on the migration agenda please conservative politicians like Weber, what Meloni’s government does is openly against the EU values.

Her agreement with Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania, to create “hot spots” for refugees in Albanian territory directly denies the EU values. She also capitulated to the blackmail of the Tunisian government, paying to stop refugee flows without any additional demand compatible with the EU values.   

However, unlike Viktor Orbán and Robert Fico, Meloni scrupulously avoids crossing the EU’s red lines regarding the rule of law.  

Why is leaving the ECR better for Meloni?

The ECR has 68 seats in the European Parliament, representing parties from 17 countries. However, although it is expected to increase its seats to 76, not all party members will succeed in the European elections. According to the polls, the Group will enter the next parliament with representatives from 11 countries—6 less than in 2024. Moreover, the Polish partner, PiS, is expected to lose 11 seats, landing with 16 MEPs. 

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy will be the absolute winner, and it is expected to double its seats from 10 to 24.

In addition, the Group may attract four new parties from 4 countries. The controversial AUR from Romania, which has yet to clarify its positions towards Russia, will enter the parliament for the first time. Polls give AUR a 20,7% with eight seats.

The Portuguese Chega party is an ally of the Identity and Democracy (ID) Group. However, if a “split” occurs in the ID, it could move towards the ECR. In addition, the party doesn’t share the Russophilia of the ID’s parties. It is in close relations with the Spanish Vox (an ECR member), which greatly supported Chega during the electoral campaign for the Portuguese general elections in March. According to the polls, it will elect 3 MEPs.

The Danish Democrats, who will also be entering the European Parliament for the first time (according to the polls with one sea), may opt for an ECR membership.    

Finally, while the ECR will lose its member in Bulgaria, a new emerging party has declared its desire to join the Group. The VMRO has two seats and is rapidly declining, and it will lose its seats at the EP. In December 2023, There Is Such a People (ITN), a party founded in 2021, declared its intention to align with the ECR if it wins seats in the EU elections. According to the polls, it attracts 6% and is expected to elect one MEP.

Meloni is the absolute leader of the ECR. Thus, moving to another group would restrict her freedom of movement, and it is unclear how many benefits it would eventually offer Meloni.     

A lot of cooperation perspectives exist   

During the period 2019-2024, the ECR found ways to cooperate with the EPP, and in some cases with the Social Democrats.

Also, at the national level, Meloni’s government coalition relies on members of the EPP, ECR and the ID Groups. 

The re-election of Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission is a critical point in the EPP-ECR cooperation.

Von der Leyen needs to meet the 15-country threshold for a qualified majority. The EPP votes from the EPP-led governments are 12-13. Thus, she needs the two votes from the governments of Italy and the Czech Republic. 

However, Meloni is not alone as her government relies on a coalition between her party, Forza Italia, an EPP member and party of the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and the far-right League party.

In January, Matteo Salvini, the League’s leader, said he would not favour a positive vote to von der Leyen. Salvini is anxious to reverse the decline in the EU vote, as, according to polls, his party is expected to lose 16 seats (from 23 to 7). Despite Salvini’s reputation for changing positions with cosmic speed, nobody can exclude that he will maintain a negative stance until the end. Such a fact could cause severe problems for Meloni’s efforts to approach the EPP family.

It is worth considering that the nature of several other ECR members hampers a broader cooperation between the EPP and ECR. The Spanish Vox is a typical far-right party, while the Sweden Democrats is a “white supremacist” one. Many of the ECR members are not simply “Eurosceptics” but encourage anti-EU rhetoric. 

The paradigms of Italy and the Czech Republic, where government cooperation between EPP and ECR members exists (in the case of Italy, the coalition also includes an ID member), are not the only ones. There is also the example of the big coalition government between an EPP member and the Socialists in Romania.  

Moreover, the European Parliament needs a wide consensus among the big European families—the EPP, Social Democrats, Liberals, and Greens—rather than a restricted EPP-ECR coalition.

Explore more