Italy's PM Meloni comes out on top in EU vote, strengthens her position

Italy's PM Meloni comes out on top in EU vote, strengthens her position

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's arch-conservative Brothers of Italy group won the most votes in this weekend's European parliamentary election, initial results showed, boosting her standing both at home and abroad.

Projected forecasts based on the early count said Brothers of Italy had won 28.3 per cent, more than four times what it took in the last EU election in 2019 and beating the 26 per cent it secured in the 2022 national ballot, when it rose to power.

"THANK YOU!" Meloni said on her X social media account, above a photograph of her flashing the victory symbol.

The opposition centre-left Democratic Party came in second on 23.7 per cent with another opposition group, the 5-Star Movement, coming third on 10.5 per cent -- its worst showing at a countrywide level since its creation in 2009.

The EU ballot indicated that Meloni's ruling coalition, made up of parties that stretch from the centre-right to the far-right of the political spectrum, had seen its support edge up to more than 46 per cent from just under 43 per cent in 2022.

"I think this vote is certainly going to strengthen the government," said Licia Ronzulli, a senator with the ruling coalition Forza Italia party.

Forza Italia, founded by the late Silvio Berlusconi, was in fourth place on 10 per cent, leap-frogging the anti-immigrant League, which was on 8.5 per cent, piling pressure on its leader Matteo Salvini who has pushed his party hard right, antagonising its old guard.

Underscoring tensions in the League, party founder Umberto Bossi voted Forza Italia this time around, his allies told Italian media at the weekend, sending a jolt through the group.

Meloni strength

Meloni's party traces its roots back to a neo-fascist group and her 2022 victory set the tone for far-right gains across Europe, including in this latest EU ballot, which has seen the continent swing right.

However, Meloni has moderated her image on the international stage, dropping her previous anti-EU rhetoric and presenting herself as a bridge between the mainstream centre-right and her own national conservative camp, which was previously shunned.

Her strong showing on Sunday came in stark contrast to setbacks suffered by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose parties were both routed.

Meloni's group of lawmakers might also prove decisive if she decides to back the centre-right European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for a second term in office, potentially giving Rome leverage over the new EU executive.

Although Sunday represented a big success for Meloni, it also delivered a strong result for her main opponent -- Elly Schlein, who took charge of the centre-left PD party in 2023 and has struggled to impose her will on the old guard. The PD won 19 per cent in 2022 and Schlein was anxious to improve on that.

The hard left Green and Left Alliance also did well, winning around 6.8 per cent, meaning that its candidate, Ilaria Salis, an Italian activist detained in Hungary for more than a year for allegedly assaulting far-right militants, is now an EU lawmaker.

The one disappointment for all parties this weekend was the turnout, which came in at just below 50 per cent, initial data suggested, a record low in a country that has had historically strong voter participation.