Viktor Orbán or Ursula von der Leyen? That is the choice facing Giorgia Meloni. Which way she goes could shape the future direction of Europe for a generation

(Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)


Before she came to power, many thought that Giorgia Meloni would be an Italian Viktor Orban. Two years later, it is obvious that she is not. Her hardline rhetoric did not translate into deeds. Instead, she has revealed herself to be a top-tier diplomat, and a much sought-after political transfer.

With European Elections coming up, Meloni is turning into a wildcard figure. Nobody really knows where she stands, or what she is up to. In fact, the Italian PM is proving to be a master at playing both sides on a domestic, European and world level. 

At home, her conservative policies focus on symbolism rather than substance. She may have banned surrogate motherhood and safeguarded Christian traditions in education, but illegal immigration still plagues Italy, and the Italian G7 economy has not taken off.

In Europe, Meloni has played a crucial role in pushing EU policies on agriculture and the Green Deal in a saner direction. She was also the one to convince the Hungarian PM not to block aid to Ukraine, where she made a surprise visit to commemorate the second anniversary of the beginning of the war.

Although she has only good things to say about Joe Biden, Meloni has been strengthening ties with MAGA Republicans, who openly oppose involvement in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Her party openly supports Trump and Meloni is reported to be eyeing a “special relationship” between Italy and USA, should the former POTUS be re-elected.

As leader of the ECR, her role in shaping the new balance of power in the EU could prove key.

Ursula von der Leyen may be a de facto liberal, but she needs conservative Meloni, if she wants to be re-elected President of the Commission. She has thus been traveling a lot to Italy lately, and has welcomed Manfred Weber’s plan to shift the EPP agenda rightward.

The EPP leader has been courting the Italian PM for more than a year now. “Why shouldn’t we work together with Right-wing conservatives such as Italy’s head of government Giorgia Meloni and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala?” Weber recently said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag

Some in the Italian ruling coalition want Meloni in the EPP. Forza Italia MEP Salvatore De Meo told Euractiv that “the Italian centre-right, everything, even the League, could find a way into the EPP”. As politics worldwide become increasingly polarised, this may be the only way forward for the European centre-Right. 

Meloni, however, could go either way. While flirting with the EPP, the ECR president has also been holding talks with Viktor Orban. If Orban joins, the conservative block will become even more influential in the next Parliament. If Meloni walks out, the group’s leverage will plummet.

As things stand, it looks like anything could happen. As Weber put it, summing up the fluidity of the current state of affairs, “in the newly elected European Parliament, selective cooperation with pro-European conservatives is just as conceivable for me as cooperation with the Greens”.

Giorgia Meloni may develop into Europe’s new conservative leader. But she may also turn out to be a systemic dark horse, one that will offer the ruling elites much needed life-support from the ascending Right. Much depends on whether her true driving force is ideology, or personal ambition.