Meloni government struggling with tractor protests

The tractor siege in Europe, combined with the prospect of the upcoming European elections in June, has had its consequences. On Tuesday, in fact, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Parliament announced the withdrawal of the legislative proposal, at the center of farmers’ protests, that mandated halving the use of pesticides by 2030 and set stricter limits on their use. It was a step backward of enormous political and symbolic significance that was immediately welcomed by associations representing farmers and several political forces that make up parts of Parliament, from the EPP to the Conservatives. However, she also highlighted the need to provide incentives to farmers to push them to take measures aimed at improving the quality of farmland that is now in poor condition. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also welcomed this result, saying how it is “also our victory: since taking office, the government has been working to combine agricultural production, respect for labor and environmental sustainability.”  And it is no coincidence that the tractors and protests also affecting our country, even threatening of a “march on Rome”, have become the government’s new stress test. The tractors have in fact been threatening to enter the capital for days, despite the fact that at the moment the demonstration planned for Friday, February 9, in Piazza San Giovanni has been canceled and their presence at the Sanremo Festival has been excluded. The whole thing has sparked several fibrillations in the majority, particularly within Fratelli d’Italia, at rehearsal with the first real popular discontent with the government. While the premier is reasoning about the possibility of welcoming a delegation of farmers to Palazzo Chigi, her ally Matteo Salvini cut corners and met with a delegation in L’Aquila on Thursday night. Both know that, at least in Italy, in most cases protests are organized by activist groups or small associations, which act independently but have some common positions: they criticize European agricultural policies, which are considered excessively environmentalist and uncaring of workers’ needs; they oppose so-called “synthetic foods”; and they ask the Italian government to maintain some tax breaks for farmers, who are struggling because of rising production costs.

Despite the obstacles, Meloni’s international agenda does not stop. In fact, on Monday the premier visited Japan, in Tokyo, for the official handover of the rotating presidency of the G7, with the new year in Italy’s hands. An important appointment that also marks the two countries’ willingness to strengthen all-round cooperation, particularly in the defense sector in the Indo-Pacific area, which is becoming “more and more strategic” by the day. Welcoming her to the Japanese capital was Premier Kishida, to whom Meloni acknowledged Japan’s great work in chairing the Group of 7, despite the fact that 2023 was a rather “complex” year. The reference is obviously to the various theaters of war that have opened up around the world, from Ukraine to the Middle East. Meloni made explicit reference to the tense situation in the Black Sea and the European Mission Aspides on the ground, entrusted to Italy’s command with the objective of securing the passage of the Suez Canal now severely hampered by assaults by Yemeni Houthi rebels. All of these issues will therefore be at the center of the Italian presidency for a 2024 that promises to be no less complicated.

Still on the foreign front, one of the focuses that engaged the week’s political debate also concerned relations with Hungary in light of the case of Ilaria Salis, the Italian who has been detained in Budapest for more than a year on charges of taking part in the attack of three neo-Nazi militants. Foreign Minister Tajani spoke on the issue Thursday in the Chamber. “It is necessary to avoid turning a judicial matter into a political case, which gives headlines but is not good for Mrs. Salis” the deputy Prime Minister warned, also recalling that “European rules say that in order to obtain house arrest in Italy one must first ask for it in the country of detention”.  However, the Farnesina titular finally reassured on Ilaria’s detention conditions, which would be “clearly improving,” also thanks to the repeated interventions of the Italian Embassy.