When Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took power in 2022, far-right parties across Europe hailed her victory, expecting the fiery new leader in Rome to pursue a nationalist agenda and battle the Brussels bureaucracy.

But rather than clash with the European Union elites, Meloni surprised friend and foe alike by working closely with them, presenting herself as a bridge between the mainstream center-right and her own arch-conservative camp, which was previously shunned.

Her influence might grow in the wake of next month's EU elections, if, as she has hinted, she backs center-right Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for a second term.