Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni sworn in as Italian premier

ROME (AP) — Giorgia Meloni, whose political party with neo-fascist roots secured the most votes in Italy’s national election last month, was sworn in Saturday as the country’s first far-right premier since the end of World War II. She is also the first woman to serve as premier.

Meloni, 45, recited the oath of office before President Sergio Mattarella, who on Friday formally asked her to form a government.

Her Brothers of Italy party, which she co-founded in 2012, will rule in coalition with the right-wing League of Matteo Salvini and the conservative Forza Italia headed by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose parties had lost popularity with voters in recent years.

Meloni signed a pledge to be faithful to Italy’s post-war republic, and Mattarella counter-signed it. As head of state, the president serves as guarantor of the Italian Constitution, drafted in the years immediately after the end of World War II and the demise of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The 24 ministers in Meloni’s government also were sworn into office in a sumptuous room of the Quirinal Palace.

Meloni made no public comments in her first hours in office. She is expected to lay out her priorities when she pitches for support in Parliament ahead of confidence votes required of new governments next week.

The votes could indicate any cracks in the three-party coalition if any of Berlusconi or Salvini’s lawmakers, perhaps disgruntled by not getting ministries they wanted for their parties, don’t rally behind her.

Meloni’s government replaces one led by Mario Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief who was appointed by Mattarella in 2021 to lead a pandemic national unity coalition. Meloni refused to join that coalition, insisting voters must decide the makeup of their governments.

During her campaign for the Sept. 25 election, Meloni insisted that national interests would prevail over European Union policies should there be conflict.

Salvini’s right-wing League party has at times leaned euroskeptic. An admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Salvini has questioned the wisdom of EU sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, arguing that they risk hurting Italian business interests more than Russian ones.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sounded an upbeat note in a congratulatory tweet noting that Meloni was the first woman to hold the premiership.

“I count on and look forward to constructive cooperation with the new government on the challenges we face together,” the EU chief said.

One immediate challenge for Meloni will be ensuring that Italy stays solidly aligned with other major nations in the West in helping Ukraine fight off the invading Russians.

In the days before she became premier, Meloni resorted to an ultimatum to her other main coalition partner, Berlusconi, over his professed sympathy for Putin and dismissive comments about Ukraine’s president.

Berlusconi, in remarks to Forza Italia lawmakers, appeared to justify the Russian invasion in February to install what he called a “decent” government in the Ukrainian capital.

After making clear she demands unwavering support for Ukraine, as well as NATO and EU positions on Russia’s war – “Italy with us in government will never be the weak link of the West,” she said – Meloni tapped as foreign minister a longtime Berlusconi stalwart with solid pro-EU credentials. Antonio Tajani formerly was president of the European Parliament.

In his congratulatory tweet for Meloni, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made no reference to Berlusconi slamming him. “I look forward to continued fruitful cooperation to ensure peace and prosperity in Ukraine, Italy and the world!” Zelenskyy wrote.

U.S. President Joe Biden, in congratulating Meloni, praised Italy as a “vital NATO ally and close partner as our nations together address shared global challenges.”

“As leaders in the G-7, I look forward to continuing to advance our support for Ukraine, hold Russia accountable for its aggression, ensure respect for human rights and democratic values, and build sustainable economic growth,” Biden said.

With potential wavering in Parliament by her Russian-sympathizing allies, as well as from former Premier Giuseppe Conte, a populist opposition leader, over continued arms supplies to Ukraine, Meloni appointed one of her party co-founders, Guido Crosetto, as defense minister.

While Meloni has pitched herself as crucial to combating leftist ideology, Crosetto sounded a more conciliatory note.

“Whoever governs represents the entire nation, sheds partisan attire and takes on that of collective responsibility,” the new defense minister told reporters.

Europe’s political right, eager to dominate on the continent, exulted in Meloni coming to power.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, referring to Meloni and Salvini, wrote on Twitter: “Throughout Europe, patriots are coming to power and with them, this Europe of nations.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also hailed the birth of the new Italian government as a “big day for the European Right.”

In any unusual touch for a country used to male-dominated politics and power, Meloni’s companion, a journalist in Berlusconi’s media empire, attended Saturday’s swearing-in ceremony along with the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Ginevra.

While Meloni didn’t campaign openly to be Italy’s first female premier, she has said her victory would clearly break through the “glass ceiling” that discourages the progress of women.

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Giada Zampano in Rome contributed.

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