Italy’s new Prime Minister Meloni is making her first trip abroad to the EU hub Brussels

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  • Economic commitments, focus on stance on Ukraine
  • Meeting with EU leaders from 1500 GMT
  • The choice of Brussels for the first trip was welcomed by EU officials

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Georgia Meloni makes her first foreign visit as Italy’s prime minister to the heart of the European Union on Thursday, a trip welcomed by officials from a bloc who fear her campaign promises could destabilize the economy.

Known for her hot-headed nationalism, Meloni has toned down her anti-European rhetoric, drawing a cautious sigh of relief from the EU-27.

With Russia’s war on Ukraine and its associated energy, inflation and economic crises high on the European agenda, Meloni will meet EU leaders in Brussels from 15:00 GMT.

“It bodes well that she has chosen Brussels for her first foreign visit and shows the new government’s commitment to keeping Italy at the heart of European decision-making,” said an EU official.

Meloni will meet EU President Charles Michel, as well as European Parliament Chairs Roberta Metsola and EU Executive Commission Chairs Ursula von der Leyen.

“Your coming here sends an important message in terms of supporting Ukraine,” said another EU official, noting how Meloni has defended Ukraine since Russia began invading it last February and supported sanctions against Moscow .

FISCAL GAP

But the bloc remains concerned about Meloni’s campaign pledges to cut taxes and increase social benefits, fearing it could destabilize Italy’s finances as the continent faces a new recession.

“We will look for signals that it will not ruin Italy’s finances,” said a third EU official. All three spoke on condition of anonymity.

The first test for Meloni comes as she unveils new public finance targets for Italy on Friday.

That requires a balancing act between plans to protect consumers from rising energy prices and the Italian Treasury Ministry’s forecast of an economic contraction by the second quarter of 2023 on the other hand.

Meloni is expected to discuss Italy’s budget and upcoming EU financial rulebook reform in Brussels, as well as spend around €190 billion benefiting Italy from the bloc’s stimulus to help economies heal from the COVID pandemic.

Analysts said Meloni will seek a balance between building its international credentials and gaining fiscal space.

“There is a risk on the fiscal side. But she’s also been sending more dovish messages lately. Meloni will try to align and moderate finances on Ukraine and Russia,” said Gregory Claeys of EU think tank Bruegel.

Francesco Galietti of Rome consultancy Policy Sonar said Meloni needed to position itself vis-à-vis EU leaders Germany and France, all of whom were keen to have the bloc’s third economy on their side amid disagreements over how to deal with the energy crisis.

“It needs to use that status and extort some concessions on fiscal leniency from the EU as it prepares to widen the budget deficit for this year,” Galietti said.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Angelo Amante, Jan Strupczewski, Clement Rossignol; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams

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