Italy’s new far-right-led government of Giorgia Meloni has won the first of two required confidence votes in parliament by a comfortable margin.
The vote in the lower Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday night was 235 in favour of her coalition government and 154 against.
The coalition needed at least 195 votes for a majority.
On Wednesday, the new government will face a vote in the upper chamber, the Senate, where it also holds a solid majority.
Earlier on Tuesday Ms Meloni laid out her government’s policy, firing back at domestic and foreign critics who worry her far-right politics might undermine European unity or the civil rights of Italian citizens.
In a speech to Parliament’s lower Chamber of Deputies, Ms Meloni criticised the European Union for not always being ready for challenges, notably the energy crisis now threatening households and businesses.
But she pledged that her four-day-old coalition government, which includes right-wing and centre-right allies, would stay loyal to EU accords while working for changes to some of them, including on monetary stability.
“To pose these questions doesn’t mean being an enemy or a heretic but a practical person,” Ms Meloni said in a 70-minute speech ahead of the confidence vote required of all new governments.
Early in her speech, she bristled at critics, including those from foreign governments, who have said they would keep a “vigilant” eye on Italy’s first far-right-led government since the end of World War II.
Such attitudes are tantamount to “a lack of respect for the Italian people, who don’t need lessons,” Ms Meloni said.
The premier’s 10-year-old Brothers of Italy party won 26% of the ballots cast in Italy’s parliamentary election last month.
Together with her main allies, anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini and conservative former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Ms Meloni’s coalition can command enough support in both chambers of the Italian Parliament to win the confidence votes and get down to the business of governing.
Ms Meloni, 45, spoke about becoming the first woman to govern Italy and acknowledged the weight of that responsibility “toward all those women who face heavy and unjust” burdens in balancing family and work.
She expressed determination to “break the heavy glass ceiling that’s on our heads”.
Ms Meloni recited the first names of women in Italy with great achievements, including a Communist politician who was the first woman to be elected president of the Chamber of Deputies, an astronaut and a Nobel-prize-winning scientist among others.
I have never felt sympathy or closeness for any anti-democratic regime, including fascismGiorgia Meloni
Saying she achieved Italy’s highest government office without help from “friends”, Ms Meloni said: “I’m what the English would call an underdog.”
She referred to difficult family circumstances during her upbringing. Ms Meloni’s father left the household when she was a young child.
In the debate that followed the premier’s speech, an opposition leader, Democratic Party chamber whip Debora Serracchiani, challenged Ms Meloni to fight “inequality and poverty, which needs immediate interventions and not ideological propaganda with which your government was born and is taking its first steps.”
The premier confirmed her campaign pledge to back Ukraine in its defence against Russia’s invasion. Berlusconi and Salvini have long admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of stiff Western sanctions against Moscow.
Ms Meloni also sought to allay detractors’ fears that her government would undo Italy’s abortion rights law, saying her centre-right government “will never limit citizens’ freedom”.
To boost Italy’s birthrate, one of the world’s lowest, cities and towns should operate free daycare centres and nursery schools that stay open during business and store hours, she said.
“We need a massive plan, economic but also cultural, to rediscover the beauty of parenthood and put the family back at the centre of society,” Ms Meloni said. She has denounced what she calls “LGBT ideology.”
Meloni has been dogged by critics who say she has not unambiguously condemned fascism. Brothers of Italy, which she co-founded in 2012, has roots in a far-right party founded by nostalgists for 20th century dictator Benito Mussolini.
“I have never felt sympathy or closeness for any anti-democratic regime, including fascism,” Ms Meloni told the Chamber of Deputies. She decried Mussolini’s 1938 racist laws, which persecuted Italy’s small Jewish community as “the lowest point of Italian history”.
Ms Meloni advocated more government control of infrastructure companies, including highways, airports and telecommunications. She further promised to make it easier for renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, to win authorities’ approval.
“The motto of this government will be, ‘Don’t disturb those who want to do something’,” Meloni said. She said Italy needs “less bureaucracy, fewer rules”, a recipe she said would help fight corruption.
EU rules say Italy’s overall debt, which now stands at 150% of gross domestic product, must move toward 60%. But Ms Meloni insisted that “the path to reducing debt isn’t the austerity of the past” but structured, economic growth.