Italy’s pragmatic prime minister leads charge for EU far right

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With her Atlanticism and pragmatic relations with Brussels, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is for many the "moderate" face of Europe's radical right — and is leading the charge for the upcoming European elections. (AFP)
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With her Atlanticism and pragmatic relations with Brussels, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is for many the "moderate" face of Europe's radical right — and is leading the charge for the upcoming European elections. (AFP)
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With her Atlanticism and pragmatic relations with Brussels, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is for many the "moderate" face of Europe's radical right — and is leading the charge for the upcoming European elections. (AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2024
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Italy’s pragmatic prime minister leads charge for EU far right

  • Her strong support for Ukraine has won her friends in Washington and Brussels, particularly after she helped persuade Hungary’s Viktor Orban to drop his veto of EU aid to Kyiv
  • Meloni has also worked closely with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, particularly on migration, a priority for the far-right premier

ROME: Having fostered pragmatic relations with Brussels, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni is for many the “moderate” face of Europe’s radical right — and is leading the charge for June elections.
The ascent to power of Meloni’s post-fascist, euroskeptic Brothers of Italy in 2022 sent shockwaves through the European Union, sparking fears of a lurch to the right within a founding member of both the bloc and NATO.
But her strong support for Ukraine has won Meloni friends in Washington and Brussels, particularly after she helped persuade Hungary’s Viktor Orban — a long-time ally sympathetic to Moscow — to drop his veto of EU aid to Kyiv.
Meloni has also worked closely with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, particularly on migration, a priority for the far-right premier.
“At a European level, she’s trying to present herself as a sort of moderate conservative and mediator” with the rest of the radical right, noted Lorenzo Castellani, a political analyst at Rome’s LUISS University.
At home, Meloni has pursued a nationalist populist agenda focused on traditional family values, law and order, and migration, including a clampdown on rescue ships operating in the central Mediterranean.
It has raised hackles among the Italian left — particularly moves to exert influence over the RAI public state broadcaster — but nothing yet to spark alarm in Brussels, as with judicial reforms in Hungary and Poland.
Fiscal policy meanwhile has been relatively prudent, reflecting the constraints of being part of the EU’s single currency.
“She wants to be in many aspects the acceptable extreme for the rest of the European political establishment,” Castellani told AFP.
“She’s like the last island before the border.”




With her Atlanticism and pragmatic relations with Brussels, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is for many the "moderate" face of Europe's radical right — and is leading the charge for the upcoming European elections. (AFP)

More credible

Meloni heads the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament, which includes Spain’s Vox, Poland’s populist Law and Justice (PiS), and France’s Reconquete!.
Marked by a pro-Ukraine, pro-NATO stance, it is viewed as more credible by the Brussels establishment than the other far-right grouping, the euroskeptic Identity and Democracy group (ID).
ID includes Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) in France, Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD and Meloni’s own coalition ally, Matteo Salvini’s far-right League.
Rosa Balfour, director of the Carnegie Europe think tank, says both Rome and Brussels have benefited from a pragmatic working relationship.
“What the Commission has been doing is embrace Meloni and isolate Orban,” who is not part of either grouping, she told AFP.
“And that’s worked very well for Italy because Meloni has managed to extract concessions.”
This has mainly entailed EU support for the premier’s efforts to stop the tens of thousands of migrants who land on Italy’s shores each year on boats from North Africa.
Von der Leyen joined Meloni on the island of Lampedusa last year after a surge in arrivals, and the two women joined EU delegations to Egypt and Tunisia in recent months to agree new deals on energy and migration.

Building bridges

Analysts say the shift to a tougher EU approach on migration was well underway before Meloni arrived — but that has not stopped her claiming credit.
“We want Italy to be central to changing what doesn’t work in Europe,” she said during her election campaign launch last month.
She is standing in the vote — despite an EU rule barring government ministers from taking up their seats — and urged the European right to follow her example.
“We want to do in Europe exactly what we did in Italy on September 25, 2022,” she said.
But Castellani calls this a “bluff.”




With her Atlanticism and pragmatic relations with Brussels, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is for many the "moderate" face of Europe's radical right — and is leading the charge for the upcoming European elections. (AFP)


“The real game she’s playing is trying to enter within the European game of alliances,” he said, notably building bridges between the ECR and Von der Leyen’s conservative European People’s Party (EPP).
The divisions in the European right are echoed within Meloni’s coalition, notably between her and Salvini — they share similar domestic priorities but differ on foreign affairs.
Salvini’s League has a history of warm ties with Moscow, while he never misses an opportunity to criticize Brussels.
But he has been eclipsed. The League came top in 2019 European elections in Italy with 34 percent, but is now polling closer to eight percent, compared to more than 27 percent for Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

Fresh face, skilled communicator
Surveys show voters are supportive of Meloni’s foreign policy — and less so of her migration efforts — but Lorenzo Pregliasco, founder of polling company YouTrend, says personality plays a big role.
Meloni is also seen as “more credible” than other Italian leaders, a skilled communicator and a “genuine figure, someone who says what she thinks,” he told AFP.
He notes her 2022 victory was driven by her image as a fresh face, the only party leader who did not join Mario Draghi’s technocratic government.
With the opposition still divided, as they were back then, he predicts she could stay in power for the full five-year term.
But by then the political landscape may be very different, not least if Donald Trump wins the November US presidential election.
Balfour suggests Meloni may have to reposition herself.
If Trump wins, “then you’ve got all the political leaders elbowing each other to lead the right. And Orban has already positioned himself there.”
 


Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, two police killed, interior ministry says

Updated 8 sec ago
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Gunmen fire on targets in Russia’s North Caucasus region, two police killed, interior ministry says

DAGESTAN: Gunmen opened fire at a synagogue, an Orthodox church and a police post in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan, and two police officers were killed, news agencies quoted the Russian Interior Ministry as saying.
Six people were wounded in the attacks.
The reports said one officer was killed when shots were fired at a synagogue in Derbent, home to an ancient Jewish community in the North Caucasus. An exchange of fire also took place in an Orthodox Church in the town, a UNESCO heritage site.
Another exchange of shots took place at a police post in Makhachkala, about 125 kilometers (75 miles) to the north along the Caspian Sea coast and the main city in Dagestan, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia.

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

Updated 23 June 2024
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UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

  • The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds

LONDON: The chief data officer of Britain’s Conservative Party has taken a leave of absence, British media reported Sunday, following growing allegations that the governing party’s members used inside information to bet on the date of Britain’s July 4 national election before it was announced.
The Sunday Times and others reported that Nick Mason is the fourth Conservative official to be investigated by the UK’s Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election.
The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.
The reports came after revelations in recent days that two Conservative election candidates, Laura Saunders and Craig Williams, are under investigation by the gambling watchdog. Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative director of campaigning, has also taken a leave of absence following allegations he was also investigated over alleged betting.
Police said one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s police bodyguards was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office. The arrest came after the gambling regulator confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
The growing scandal, just two weeks ahead of the national election, has dealt a fresh blow to Sunak’s Conservative Party, which is widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Sunak said this week that he was “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations and said that anyone found to have broken the law should be expelled from his party.
Sunak announced on May 22 that parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and many were taken by surprise because a vote had been expected in the fall.
Saunders, a candidate standing in Bristol, southwest England, has said she will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Williams was Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary as well as a member of Parliament running for reelection on July 4. He has acknowledged that he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100-pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Senior Conservative minister Michael Gove condemned the alleged betting and likened it to ” Partygate,” the ethics scandal that contributed to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ouster in 2022.
That controversy saw public trust in the Conservatives plummet after revelations that politicians and officials held lockdown-flouting parties and gatherings in government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” Gove told the Sunday Times. “That’s the most potentially damaging thing.”
Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “people are sick and tired of this sleaze” and that Sunak must intervene and order an official inquiry.
The Conservative Party said it cannot comment because investigations are ongoing.


Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Updated 23 June 2024
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Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

  • Chetan Singh Solanki wants to inspire energy independence across the world
  • He takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement

NEW DELHI: Four years ago, at the height of his restlessness over the growing threat of climate change on the planet, Chetan Singh Solanki decided to embark on a journey to spark a change for the environment.

Solanki launched the energy swaraj journey in 2020 to inspire energy independence across the world, campaigning with the motto “Energy by Locals for Locals.”

He told Arab News: “I want to restore the environmental balance that we are already losing, and I want to do it at a global level because it is not a problem of one state or one country — it is a problem of the entire world.”

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay’s department of energy science and engineering, Solanki takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement who used nonviolent resistance as a tool for mass action.

Solanki believes in replicating a similar strategy to boost energy literacy among the people and inspire them to use cleaner energy as an alternative power source.

“It is the wrong energy that has created the problem (and) it is the right energy that will solve the problem. Clean energy and solar energy and to bring everybody on board is why I started this journey,” Solanki said. “My vision is aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of gram swaraj (village self-rule). I emphasize responsible energy consumption and localized production.”

The campaign was designed to be impactful and adopted by the masses.

“This is designed to trigger the mind that we all can be part of the climate solution. It is not rocket science — rich and poor, young and old, everybody can be part of it,” he added.

Chetan Singh Solanki talks to students as part of his nationwide journey to spur climate movement in this photo shared on June 8, 2024. (Energy Swaraj)

Through his journey, Solanki has earned the nickname “Solar Gandhi,” having covered 56,000 km on his solar-powered bus, which is equipped with essential amenities including an air-conditioned bedroom, office space, refrigerator and a working kitchen.

The vehicle is an “innovative mobile abode” that symbolizes his aspiration “for a forthcoming world driven by sustainable energy sources,” he said, adding that he plans to continue the nationwide journey until December 2030.

To him, it was clear that world governments “have not done enough,” despite annual climate conferences that are purported to address critical environmental issues.

“The business-as-usual approaches are not working nationally and internationally, and therefore the solution lies in becoming sensitive to planet Earth and its capacity to generate or regenerate,” he said.

Since his journey started in late 2020, Solanki said the campaign has been well received.

“I think there are good things happening and response has been good,” he said. “Energy literacy is the first step towards climate correction.”


Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

Updated 23 June 2024
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Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

LONDON: The UK interior minister has defended a parliamentary aide who called the government plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda “crap,” in a leaked audio revealed by the BBC Sunday.
A controversial law by the Conservative government allowing irregular migrants arriving in the UK to be deported to Rwanda was finally passed in April, after months of parliamentary wrangling.
But in the recording James Sunderland, a parliamentary aide and Conservative party candidate, was heard saying: “the policy is crap, ok? It’s crap.”
“But it’s not about the policy. It’s about the effect of the policy,” he went on to say, speaking at a Youth Conservatives conference in April.
“There is no doubt at all that when those first flights take off it will send such a shockwave across the Channel,” Sunderland clarified.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he was “surprised,” when asked about the audio, before saying Sunderland was making a “counterintuitive statement to grab the attention.”
Cleverly told Sky News on Sunday that his aide Sunderland “is completely supportive of the deterrent effect.”
Sunderland told the BBC he was “disappointed” to have been recorded at a private event, and said although the policy is “not the be all and end all,” it is “part of a wider response.”
No flights deporting asylum seekers have actually taken off yet for the African country, due to lengthy legal challenges and with parliament dissolved ahead of a looming general election on July 4.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the policy would only come into effect after the election, if he was re-elected.
The opposition Labour party — which looks poised to replace the Conservatives — has promised to scrap the Rwanda plan.
The government cleared a law allowing some asylum seekers to be deported in April, circumventing a Supreme Court ruling that said sending migrants to Rwanda in this way would be illegal because it “would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment.”
Supporters of the Rwanda policy say it will deter tens of thousands of annual cross-Channel arrivals by small boats, and insist the policy is already having an impact.
More than 12,000 irregular migrants have crossed the Channel to Britain on small boats this year, according to government data.


Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

Updated 23 June 2024
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Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

  • Sevastopol regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian missile attack Sunday on Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula killed two people including a two-year-old child and wounded 22, the city’s Moscow-appointed governor said.
Sevastopol, a Black Sea port city and naval base on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high.
“According to provisional information, today’s attack by Ukraine’s armed forces on Sevastopol killed 2 peaceful residents, one of them a 2-year-old child,” Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.
The governor said Ukraine had launched five missiles which Russian air defenses intercepted over the sea but fragments fell onto the shore area and pieces of shrapnel wounded people.
Razvozhayev said the missile fragments hit shore areas in the north of the city and set fire to a house and woodland.
Earlier Sunday, a drone launched by Ukraine on Russia’s southern Belgorod region killed a man, the governor said.
Three Ukrainian attack drones struck the town of Graivoron a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, said Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, with one hitting a car park near a multi-story block of flats.
“A peaceful civilian was killed. The man died from his wounds at the spot,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram, while three were wounded.