ROME (AP) – Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who is poised to become Italy’s next prime minister, vowed on Saturday to put national interests first in tackling rising energy costs when she made her first public appearance since her Party “Brothers of Italy” had won the most votes in the country’s national elections.
Meloni’s address to farmers and producers at an agricultural fair in Milan came as Russian energy supplier Gazprom informed gas giant ENI that no natural gas would be shipped to Italy on Saturday, further tightening supplies as Moscow seeks to support Europe in its war against the to put pressure on Ukraine.
Meloni has been very supportive of Ukraine, and one of her first tweets after the win was in response to a congratulatory letter from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “You know that you can count on our faithful support for the cause of the freedom of the Ukrainian people!” she wrote on September 27.
Her outing on Saturday to Coldiretti’s farm lobby fair marked her departure after a week of meetings behind closed doors with allies and the outgoing government following the September 25 vote poised to give Italy its first far-right government since World War II .
Many of those talks have centered on high energy costs and the EU’s response after Germany announced it would spend up to 200 billion euros ($195 billion) to help consumers and businesses cope, while refusing to provide a to support European price caps for gas, as Italy and other countries have been trying to do.
Meloni said if her government takes a similar measure, it should not be seen as a populist, nationalist response, but as a “clear” strategy to “defend national interests to find common solutions.”
“Italy must restore its position and start defending its national interests to find common solutions,” Meloni told farmers in Milan.
Since invading Ukraine in February, Russia has cut back supplies of natural gas, which is sent to Europe to heat homes, generate electricity and power factories. On Saturday, Gazprom informed ENI that it could not confirm gas deliveries via the pipeline through Austria for Saturday, ENI reported. Italian news reports said the shutdown would not have a major impact as Italy has greatly reduced its reliance on Russian gas since the start of the war.
Meloni pledged to protect Italy’s industry and agriculture from the impact of rising energy prices, as well as the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and a record heatwave this summer that destroyed billions of crops.
Meloni’s party, which has its roots in a neo-fascist movement, is expected to be the largest party in an Italian centre-right coalition government, along with Matteo Salvini’s right-wing Lega party and ex-prime minister’s centre-right Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi.
Meloni, who would become Italy’s first woman prime minister, told farmers that protecting the ‘Made in Italy’ agricultural brand and its supply chain was a top priority to reduce dependency on imports while minimizing government intervention .
“We said our compass was a very simple concept: don’t bother those who want to produce, don’t bother those who want to create wealth, don’t bother those who produce jobs, don’t bother those who want to hire,” she said their pro-industrial stance.
Before arriving at the Coldiretti Forum, Meloni visited Berlusconi at his Arcore estate outside Milan for their first post-election meeting. A joint statement said the meeting took place “in a climate of great cooperation and unity of intentions,” particularly to counteract high energy prices.
Italy has spent €60 billion since last year to alleviate the pain of higher energy prices for homes and industry. But Coldiretti says the help for farmers consisted mostly of tax credits and not direct help with electricity bills, which have risen 500% since last year, or fertilizer costs, which have risen 170%.
The outgoing government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi has refused to raise more money for a more comprehensive aid package, citing Italy’s high level of debt. Italy has been pushing for a European price cap for Russian natural gas, but has so far failed to persuade the other 27 EU countries to go along with it.
Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this.
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