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  1. The Staggers
18 June 2024

Meloni’s support for Ukraine is good political strategy

Her hawkishness isn't popular in Italy - but it's impressive on the world stage

By Wolfgang Münchau

While hosting the G7 summit last week, Giorgia Meloni confirmed one key tenet of her foreign policy platform: her strong support for Ukraine. It is not exactly a position that she tries to hide or downplay, either to a foreign or domestic audience. This is despite the fact that support for Ukraine is lukewarm in Italy, compared to other European countries. Whether you are looking at support for military assistance, sanctions, attribution of responsibility, or the desired outcome of any peace negotiations, it is similar. Italians tend to be less pro-Ukraine than other large European countries.

In Italian politics, there are also no shortage of options for those who are unhappy with this. Matteo Salvini and Giuseppe Conte in particular have taken a much less pro-Ukraine stance than Meloni. But it hasn’t helped either of them. Five Star, Conte’s party, has gone backwards. At the last European elections, it dropped below 10% of the vote. Salvini has also not been able to stop Lega’s slide into irrelevance. Meloni is still the most popular Italian party leader by quite a distance, ahead of Conte and very far ahead of Salvini.

It’s possible that this may have to do with their positions on other issues. But it also may be that, despite being unpopular in isolation, supporting Ukraine helps Meloni politically in the context of the persona that she is trying to craft. Part of the key to her appeal is both showing a certain level of conviction, and looking serious on the world stage. Deliberately falling behind a less popular policy can be helpful if it convinces supporters that you are not cravenly chasing their votes. Meloni is also very good at playing the statesperson, and carries a gravitas that Salvini and Conte lack.

There is a lesson and a warning in this. The lesson is that effective politics is not just about looking at a big list of policies and deciding which is popular. They have to be consistent with a narrative that you are trying to set. In Italian politics, nobody else comes close to Meloni in understanding this and employing it effectively.

The warning is that if you look at Italian attitudes to the war in Ukraine, the country’s stance is more fragile than Meloni makes it seem. The war may drag on in the long term, or Russia could try again after a ceasefire. By then, someone could replace Meloni. If they have their own narrative and persona, Ukraine may not be a part of it.

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A version of this piece originally ran on Eurointelligence.

[See also: Germans against the mainstream]

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