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Giorgia Meloni’s hollow support for Ukraine

Italy's financial woes could soon clash with its defence needs.

By Jack Smith

A recurring trend for Giorgia Meloni is that she may have to worry more about her friends than her enemies. Before she became Italian prime minister in 2022, she was a darling of the American conservative movement. But if Donald Trump wins the White House and those same conservatives push Europe into spending more on defence from next year onwards, it could cause extra fiscal problems for Meloni.

Rhetorically, Meloni has managed to bolster Italy’s image abroad with steadfast support for Ukraine. What’s helping her is that, at the moment, nobody else is expecting Italy to offer much more than rhetoric.

According to the Kiel institute’s Ukraine support tracker, Italy has allocated just 0.09 per cent of its GDP to bilateral Ukraine aid. In absolute terms, it has allocated less towards bilateral aid than the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, or Denmark. Italy’s GDP is about twice that of the Netherlands. It is about five times that of Denmark.

On overall defence spending too, Italy is falling back. Its spending as a share of GDP dropped back from 2020 to 2023, and sat at 1.43 per cent. This is far from the Nato 2 per cent target. Guido Crosetto, Italy’s defence minister, said earlier this year that it is likely to decline further compared to GDP this year. Italian defence spending has, by this point, not reached 2 per cent since 1989.

To solve Europe’s need for more defence capability, the government has pushed for joint EU spending on defence. However, this is about as likely to happen as Italy winning the next basketball world cup. The northern European countries are dead set against it. There is no reason to believe this would change.

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A Trump presidency, and more pressure on Europeans to boost their defence spending, could force Meloni to fund her rhetoric. Finding, at minimum, an extra 0.6 per cent worth of GDP for defence spending when Italy also has to bring its budget deficit down to 3 per cent is easier said than done.

This is especially the case since Meloni would face a lot of political opposition. One source would be from within her own coalition. Matteo Salvini has now drawn himself closer to more anti-Ukraine groups elsewhere in the EU. On the opposition, there will also be objections to spending more on defence.

This piece originally ran on Eurointelligence.

[See also: Vladimir Putin’s enablers are complicit in this war]

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