ROME (Dispatches) -- The new Italian government faces some of the toughest challenges since World War Two and the economy will sink into recession in 2023, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday in her maiden speech to parliament.
Meloni said her government would have to spend heavily on curbing the impact of the energy price crisis, which meant it would have to delay some expected measures from the 2023 budget, which must be presented next month.
She added that her right-wing, nationalist coalition would ensure public ownership of major infrastructure, such as motorways and airports. She also promised to introduce gradual tax cuts and to reduce red tape.
Meloni also fired back at critics at home and abroad alarmed that her far-right politics might undermine European unity or citizens’ civil rights.
She criticized the European Union for not always being ready for challenges, notably the dramatic energy crisis now threatening households and businesses.
Early in her speech, she bristled at critics, including those from foreign governments, who have said they would keep a “vigilant” eye on Italy’s first far-right-led government since the end of World War II.
Such attitudes are tantamount to “a lack of respect for the Italian people, who don’t need lessons,’’ Meloni said.
The premier’s 10-year-old Brothers of Italy party was the top vote-getter in last month’s election for Parliament, winning 26% of the ballots cast.
Together with her main allies, anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini, and conservative former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Meloni’s coalition can command enough support in both chambers of Parliament to win the confidence votes and get down to the business of governing.
She said, to boost Italy’s birthrate, one of the world’s lowest, her government aims to establish free daycare centers and nursery schools that will stay open during business and store hours, and to “reward companies that make it easier for women to reconcile roles” at work and at home.
Meloni has been dogged for years by critics who say she hasn’t unambiguously condemned fascism. Brothers of Italy, which she co-founded in 2012, has roots in a far-right party founded by nostalgists for dictator Benito Mussolini.
In her speech she said she “never felt sympathy toward anti-democratic regimes” and decried Mussolini’s 1938 racist laws, which persecuted Italy’s small Jewish community as a “low point of Italian history.”