Silvio Berlusconi has described Giorgia Meloni, who is poised to become Italy’s prime minister, as “patronising” and “bossy” as the fragile dynamic between the pair unravels as they scramble to form a government.
Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, won the biggest share of the vote in general elections on 25 September, helping to secure the largest majority of any coalition government in Italy since 1994.
The country’s president, Sergio Mattarella, is expected to give Meloni a mandate this week to create a government with her allies, including Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s far-right League.
But her powerful position is not sitting well with three-time former prime minister Berlusconi, 86, especially after she outsmarted him over the election of Ignazio La Russa, a Brothers of Italy co-founder who collects fascist memorabilia, as speaker of the upper house of parliament last week.
Sitting in the senate, the billionaire media magnate scribbled on a piece of paper, which was photographed by the press and published by La Repubblica, that Meloni was “patronising, bossy, arrogant and offensive”.
Tensions between the pair escalated after Meloni vetoed Berlusconi’s demands over the cabinet, which included giving the justice ministry to a Forza Italia politician, in other words somebody loyal to Berlusconi who could protect his interests as his legal woes continue.
He then sought revenge by snubbing the vote on La Russa, but that backfired because Meloni had already enlisted votes from opposition members, paving the way for his election without Forza Italia’s support.
Berlusconi’s scribbled note ended: “No willingness to change, she is one with whom you cannot get along.” Meloni fired back: “An adjective is missing: I am not blackmailable”.
Roberto D’Alimonte, a politics professor at Rome’s Luiss University, said: “The point is Berlusconi was humiliated, not only because she didn’t give him what he wanted, but also because she negotiated behind his back to have support for La Russa from members of the opposition. This is something he won’t easily forget.”
Corriere della Sera reported on Sunday that a meeting between the pair aimed at reconciliation is expected to take place on Monday.
Salvini, who has also clashed with Meloni on issues including sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, appeared to call for his partners to reunite so as not to threaten the government’s formation and stability.
“I am sure even between Giorgia and Silvio that harmony, which will be fundamental to governing well and and together for the next five years, will return,” he wrote on social media.
Just how harmonious the coalition is will be revealed over the coming days. Meloni has demanded “no diktats” as it finalises its cabinet list. “We know Berlusconi won’t get the positions he wants, to Meloni’s credit, but will he accept what she has to offer?” said D’Alimonte.
“I don’t think he will push the conflict to the point of not supporting the Meloni government, but I do believe that the relationship will be rocky.”
Berlusconi, who in the past has called Meloni la piccolina or “the little one”, facilitated her rise in politics by appointing her as youth minister in his final administration. The pair clashed in 2016, however, when he told Meloni, who was pregnant and running as a candidate in Rome’s mayoral elections, that the role was not compatible with motherhood.
Salvini, whose party plummeted in the elections to less than 10% of the vote, also has issues with the changed balance of power within the alliance. In a secret recording last year he was revealed to have called Meloni a “pain in the ass”.
“Meloni is a true political animal, and in a male world like Italy, she is holding her ground,” said D’Alimonte.