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The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, was isolated, the sole holdout to a landmark European Union fund for Ukraine worth billions. As pressure mounted on him on the eve of an emergency E.U. summit last week, he needed someone to talk to.
Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s prime minister, who had long shared his antagonism to the E.U, was that sympathetic ear.
Over drinks for an hour, Mr. Orban complained about being treated unfairly by the E.U. for his hard-right politics. A hard-right leader herself, Ms. Meloni told him that she too had felt the prejudice. But, she said, instead of attacking the E.U., she had tried to work with it in good faith, according to a European official with knowledge of the discussion. That approach, she argued, obliged the E.U. to engage her, too, and in the end, it came through for her by agreeing that Italy had complied with requirements for the release of billions of euros in Covid relief funds.
Mr. Orban ultimately agreed to the Ukraine deal. It was a big moment for Europe. But it was also a big moment for Ms. Meloni — who sealed her credibility as someone who could play an influential role in the top tier of European leaders.
When Ms. Meloni became Italy’s leader in October 2022, many in Brussels worried she would be a disruptive force. Instead, as the Orban episode showed, she has positioned herself as a hard-right leader who can speak to those on the farther right. As Europe tilts more and more right, it is a remedy E.U. leaders may need more of in coming years.
“She likes to act like a bridge,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political scientist at Luiss-Guido Carli University in Rome.