Italy's far-right PM hails 'frank' talks in Brussels

Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed "very fank and very positive" talks with EU chiefs in Brussels on her first international trip since taking power.

The nationalist leader of a post-fascist party, whose ascension last month sparked fears of turbulence with the bloc, struck a largely conciliatory tone after a string of meetings.

But she fielded no questions from journalists and mostly focused on common ground: jointly tackling high energy prices and European unity supporting Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia.

"I wanted to give the signal... of an Italy that obviously wants to participate, collaborate, defend its national interest and do so within the European dimension," she said in a brief statement.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted after her meeting with Meloni that she sent a "strong signal" by visiting EU institutions as her first international act.

"It was a good opportunity to exchange on critical issues ranging from support to Ukraine, energy to the NextGenEU (economic recovery package) and migration," von der Leyen said.

The head of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, the first to welcome Meloni, said via a spokesman that "we are totally aligned on Ukraine".

On the energy price issue, Metsola said there were "different realities" among EU member states -- in a nod to Italy's heavy reliance on imported gas -- "but we must find the courage and political will to act as we did during the pandemic: by joining forces".

Meloni also met European Council President Charles Michel.

In each of her encounters, she and the respective EU officials smiled and shook hands in front of EU and Italian flags but made no comments to media.

The wariness of the European chiefs towards Meloni spoke of unease in seeing another populist government take charge in another of the EU's 27 member states, alongside Poland and Hungary which have challenged rule of law principles and practices.

- 'Pragmatic' leader -

Although Meloni has in the past called for her country to scrap the euro, and in a new book rails against an "invasive" EU, she has been careful to emphasise Western solidarity and support for NATO.

Political analyst Lorenzo Codogno told AFP that the first woman prime minister of Italy, heading its most far-right government since World War II, was "pragmatic and wants to be perceived as a moderate and mainstream leader".

There were hints, however, of friction over irregular immigration into Italy, which Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party are deeply hostile towards and consider a priority.

Meloni said that was "a very delicate, very important matter".

She said Italy was pressing the EU to change its "point of view" on how Italy wanted to approach its "defence of external borders" of the bloc.

In her talks, she said "I have found ears that are, let's say, willing to listen".

The leader of the eurozone's third-largest economy also stressed the urgency of European measures to reduce sky-high energy prices, a battle begun by her predecessor Mario Draghi.

"Concrete solutions must now be given, obviously in the shortest possible time," she said.

Overall, she said she was "happy with the climate I have found here in Brussels" during her visit, seeing it as an opportunity to set aside caricatures drawn up about Italy's far-right.

"We are not Martians -- we are flesh and blood people explaining their positions and it seems to me... on the other side there were people who wanted to listen."

A senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity just before Meloni arrived, said "the noises we've been hearing from Rome are, by and large, very positive".

He added it appeared at this stage that Italy was showing a "clear willingness to play within the rules of the game".

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