Long simmering tensions between Giorgia Meloni, tipped to become Italy’s next prime minister after this month’s election, and her ally Matteo Salvini, head of the rightist League, have bubbled to the surface 10 days before the vote.
Meloni’s nationalist Brothers of Italy group is widely forecast to leapfrog Salvini’s League at the Sept. 25 ballot and emerge as the country’s largest party, ensuring victory for their conservative alliance that also includes Forza Italia.
However, friction between the two has become increasingly apparent, especially over how to respond to the energy crisis, with Meloni rejecting Salvini’s calls for massive government spending to help people pay their utility bills.
“I’m surprised that he sometimes seems more polemical with me than with his opponents,” Meloni told La7 TV late Wednesday.
However, Salvini kept up the pressure on Thursday, repeating that it was vital for the government to take on 30 billion euros ($30 billion) of more debt to help households and businesses hit by the recent record rise in gas and electricity prices.
“It amazes me that some party leaders … say ‘No, let’s be careful, let’s wait’,” he told Canale 5 TV. “This isn’t me being capricious… We risk a wipeout like we had with COVID.”
Meloni says Italy, which has the second-highest public debt mountain in the euro zone, has to be cautious about borrowing more and has suggested that the energy crisis has been triggered by market speculation and might pass quickly.
“This is debt we would be putting on our children’s shoulders, gifting it to big speculators,” she said.
Salvini rejected the suggestion he was being irresponsible. “The problem for children is if their mother and fathers lose their jobs and they don’t bring any salaries home… In that case, the children don’t eat in the evening.”
Meloni is soaring in the polls, with her party expected to win at least 25% of the vote this month against just 4.3% in the last national election in 2018. By contrast, Salvini is fighting for his political survival.
The League won 17.4% in 2018, a figure which jumped to 34.3% in European parliament elections in 2019. But a series of blunders has seen Salvini’s popularity plummet and before a poll blackout came into force last week the League was seen at 12%.
One political source said internal party polls suggested the score could fall to under 10%, with voters increasingly attracted to Meloni, who won credibility as a straight-talking politician when, unlike Salvini, she refused to join Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s unity government.
Giulio Tremonti, a former economy minister and Brothers of Italy election candidate, predicted that the tensions would ease if, as expected, the right wins power this month.
“Defeat divides, victory units,” he told RAI radio.