PM Giorgia Meloni meets with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office July 27, 2023.


Italy PM Meloni angles for EU role as ‘Trump whisperer’ and moderate leader of the new Right


With what seem a shrewd series of telephone calls to US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and visits alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni appears to be positioning herself as Trump’s interlocutor of choice in Europe and von der Leyen’s in Europe’s centre-right – as both aim for second terms.

Meloni has had regular private phone chats with Trump, Italian daily Il Foglio reported on March 16, bypassing both her diplomatic team in the Palazzo Chigi (the Italian PM’s official residence) and Italy’s Ambassador in Washington, Alessandro Cattaneo.

It is a difficult balancing act for Meloni, who must also maintain close ties with current US President Joseph Biden.

That comes as Meloni, who now heads the G7 made up of the world’s largest developed economies, dialled remotely into her February 24 first meeting as chair of the group from Kyiv.

While she works well with Biden, doubtless Meloni would get a Trump bump in her standing among European Union Member States.

In July 2018, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte first acquired the nickname of “the Trump whisperer” when he rescued a tense meeting of NATO’s North Atlantic Council in Brussels by soothing a US president – Trump –  who had threatened “go our own way”.

The post is now vacant. Rutte is a caretaker PM, for as long as it takes to form a Dutch government after November 2023 elections.

While France’s President Emmanuel Macron also views himself as a disruptor and held his own daily tête-à-têtes via phone with Trump in April 2018 when the two countries launched air strikes in Syria, he steps down as French leader in 2027.

Otherwise, only a few EU leaders remain from Trump’s 2016-2020 term: Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orbán, Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

Although Meloni’s political skills are admirable, balancing Trump and Biden will test them, as will inevitable photo opportunities beside von der Leyen with her own Eurosceptic party membership.

Still, former European Central Bank vice-president Vitor Constâncio praised Meloni’s “political skills”, which “increased her power in Europe to shift policies and foster her leadership of the European groups to the right of centre-right”, he said.

Il Foglio journalist Simone Canettieri added she was “building a direct rapport with the Republican candidate”.

Meloni increased her overall standing by visiting Biden in Washington on March 1, outlining common causes on Ukraine, migration and preventing further escalations of problems in the Middle East.

“As you said when we first met here in the Oval, Giorgia, we have each others’ backs,” said Biden at the time.

“And you’ve demonstrated that from the moment you took office.”

These were considerable achievements for Meloni. In September 2023, Biden had included her on a list of global threats to democracy, telling a Democratic Governors Association fundraiser: “You just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election”.

It is also, perhaps, wise for Meloni to spread her bets in a US presidential race where in March, Trump held a small electoral college lead (236 to Biden’s 226) but with much hanging on variables such as registration and turnout in Pennsylvania. There, in 2020, the 20 electoral college votes were won by Biden with 50.01 per cent.

For von der Leyen to gain a second term as EC President, she will need good relations with an expanded centre-right bloc of MEPs after June’s European Parliament elections. Meloni has been her regular travel companion over issues such as migration, with trips to Tunisia and Egypt among others.

Meloni has had a good war so far. On February 24, marking the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine with a visit to Kyiv, she signed a 10-year security deal between Italy and the embattled country.

Ukraine allowed her to break with other European leaders on the Right – and segments of her own party – to show Washington and Brussels she can take a hard line against newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Her “decision to head the first G7 meeting of the Italian presidency from Kyiv was not only symbolic, but substantive”, said Dario Cristiani of the German Marshall Fund, a non-partisan US public policy think-tank that seeks to promote co-operation between North America and the EU.

How her support for Ukraine would play in a second Trump presidency may prove her most difficult balancing act yet.

According to former Canadian diplomat Steven Kaufmann, as a “strong Ukraine supporter”, Meloni shows: “Europe will support Ukraine as the US dithers and studies its navel.”