‘Call me Giorgia’: Meloni’s EU election candidacy highlights Italy’s personality-driven politics

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni plans to run as a candidate in all five of the country’s European Parliament constituencies, at the top of the list of her conservative Brothers of Italy party.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during the Brothers of Italy party Programmatic conference in Pescara on Sunday, April 28, 2024.

By Gabriele Rosana

Gabriele Rosana is a Brussels-based journalist and policy analyst writing about EU affairs

03 May 2024

Giorgia Meloni’s decision to stand in next month’s European Parliament elections marks a return to form in Italian politics, both for its relatively permissive rules on who can run, and for its cult of personality. 

After weeks of speculation, the Italian prime minister confirmed at an electoral rally on 28 April that she would stand as a candidate in all five of the country’s European Parliament constituencies, at the top of the list of her conservative Brothers of Italy party, which sits in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group. 

She has no intention of taking up any of the seats, which would require her to step down from her much more powerful role at the head of Italy’s government. Rather, she wanted to “ask Italians whether they are happy about the work we are doing in Italy and in Europe,” she told supporters in the eastern coastal town of Pescara. 

But the fact that she can even stand as a candidate comes “from a peculiar characteristic of the Italian electoral law, which foresees three different situations: incompatibility, ineligibility to run, and inability to assume office,” says Alberto Alemanno, a professor of EU Law at the HEC Paris Business School and at the College of Europe in Bruges. 

“In other systems, if you are incompatible, you cannot simply run as an MEP unless you resign from your previous role,” he told The Parliament

Putting a household name on the ballot to mobilise voters isn’t a new tactic in Italy. The late Silvio Berlusconi, the businessman-turned-politician who dominated Italian politics in the 1990s and 2000s, led his Forza Italia party in two consecutive EU elections, then on both occasions gave up the seat to another candidate on the party list. 

Only one in five Italian voters views this tactic favourably, according to a recent survey by Quorum and YouTrend for the SkyTg24 channel, with three in five taking a negative view. It also sends a negative message to EU partners, “as we are making the European election even more national that it already is,” Alemanno says. 

But it’s likely to be effective nonetheless, he says, since a party leader’s name is much more recognisable than the “80 if not 90 per cent of [Italian] MEPs who are barely known.” 

Perhaps as a result, several other party leaders have done the same as Meloni. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Meloni’s coalition partner and head of Forza Italia, will lead his party in four out of the five constituencies. A former president of the European Parliament, he has shown no interest in returning there. Forza Italia is part of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group. 

Meloni’s other coalition partner, Matteo Salvini, has decided not to run, though this may reflect fear of a poor result: his League party is polling at just 8 per cent, compared to the record 34 per cent it took in the 2019 European Parliament election. 

The thing I am the most proud of today is when people stop me on the street and simply call me Giorgia.

From the opposition benches, Elly Schlein will lead the Democratic Party list in two of Italy’s constituencies. She is not contesting the other three, possibly so as not to undermine other female candidates on her list: under Italian electoral law, voters in EU elections must vote for candidates of both genders, so if their first pick is a woman, their second preference must be a man. 

Like Meloni, Schlein said her candidacy was intended to “contribute to the collective team effort” and she doesn’t plan to return to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2014 to 2019. The Democratic Party sits with the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group. 

Carlo Calenda from the Action party and Matteo Renzi from Italia Viva, both of which sit with the centrist Renew Europe group, are also standing as candidates. Of all these party leaders, only Renzi has committed to take up his European Parliament seat if elected. A former prime minister from 2014 to 2016, he currently holds a seat in the Italian Senate, which he would have to give up. 

Personal politics 

At her rally in Pescara, Meloni also told her supporters that their votes would reassert the “strategic and fundamental” importance of the ECR group, of which she is the president, in European politics. 

Bolstering the ECR, which sits to the right of the EPP in the European Parliament and currently holds 68 of its 705 seats, would help to “reproduce at the EU level a governing majority of the centre-right like the one we have in Italy,” she said. 

At the same time, Meloni leaned into the Italian trend of personalised politics. She invited the crowd to simply write “my Christian name, Giorgia” on the ballot papers – reflecting a provision in Italian electoral law for candidates to use aliases alongside their registered names. 

“The thing I am the most proud of today is when people stop me on the street and simply call me Giorgia,” she said. 

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