Professor: Berlusconi brings Meloni closer to EU centre-right
The escalating aggressiveness of Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi against Ukraine is bringing current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni closer to the EU centre-right political family; Professor Lorenzo Castellani told EURACTIV Italy.
Berlusconi’s recent attack against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy triggered strong reactions in Italy and Europe, including the European People’s Party (EPP), which his Forza Italia party is affiliated with.
“The EPP group firmly rejects Silvio Berlusconi’s statements on Ukraine. They do not reflect our political line. Russia is the aggressor; Ukraine is the victim. We will not give in to Putin’s narrative, and Ukraine can count on our full support”, the EPP said in a statement.
According to Lorenzo Castellani, professor of history and political institutions at the LUISS Guido Carli University, Berlusconi’s rhetoric shows that Meloni – whose Brothers of Italy party belongs to the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) – is, in reality, closer to the EPP.
“The EPP has never had great relations with Berlusconi in the last ten years, but at this stage, the EPP leadership has every interest in hitting Berlusconi and disassociating itself from him to include Meloni in its sphere”, Castellani said.
“It is a mere political calculation. Meloni has a foreign policy line much closer to that of the EPP than Berlusconi, and [Meloni] is worth much more because she is head of government”, he added.
EPP leader Manfred Weber recently attempted to forge an alliance between the EPP and ECR in a meeting in Rome with Meloni. However, he faced strong opposition within his centre-right party, especially from Berlin.
Castellani explained that despite the strong reaction, the EPP would not kick Berlusconi out as it did with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the past.
“Berlusconi will probably only be belittled while a closer alliance will be worked out with the Conservatives (ECR), headed by Meloni, and the ID group, to which Lega belongs”, he said.
“Weber has every interest in changing the balance in the European Parliament and moving closer to the right rather than staying at the side of the socialists”, he added.
However, if Weber’s leadership is weakened, the already difficult political operation with the conservatives could be blown off.
On the other hand, it would be very difficult for Meloni to disengage from the Poles of Law and Justice (PiS), who are not well-liked by some EPP members.
“The underlying reason that pushes Weber is to put together several right-wing parties, not too sovereignist, to form the largest European group in 2024 and choose the president of the European Commission”, Castellani noted.
On Berlusconi’s mind
Explaining the reasons why Berlusconi suddenly escalated his rhetoric against Ukraine, the Italian professor said the leader of Forza Italia has a long and well-known friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called him one of his closest friends.
Castellani said Berlusconi has always believed in a foreign policy that would include Russia in the Western bloc.
“Therefore, to fully support Ukraine in some way means for him to disavow, in the final parabola of his career, the foreign policy he has always pursued as prime minister,” he said.
A second reason, according to the professor, is that Berlusconi understands that a part of the centre-right electorate remains sceptical of the aid toward Ukraine.
“The controversy with Zelenskyy could help him distance himself from Meloni and set the tone for Forza Italia,” the professor said.