Italy’s own version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is shaking up politics in Rome

MILAN, ITALY – MARCH 05: Elly Schlein attends “Che Tempo Che Fa” Tv Show on March 05, 2023 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images)

Stefania D’alessandro | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Italy has a new face in its national politics that’s being compared to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the popular Democrat lawmaker stateside.

Elly Schlein was elected as the center-left party Partito Democratico (PD) leader earlier this month — the first female to get the job. Born in Switzerland to an Italian mother and an American father, she became a lawmaker in the European Parliament for PD in 2014.

Earlier in her political career, she volunteered in the 2008 Obama campaign, when Barack Obama faced off against John McCain. She returned to the Obama campaign four years later to train new volunteers.

Italian politics, just like in many other nations, is often associated with older men. But the picture might be changing, with Rome electing the first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, in October.

“I remember wondering at the time whether I really wanted my daughter to grow up in that environment,” Erik Jones, professor at the European University Institute in Florence, told CNBC about the time when Silvio Berlusconi served as Italy’s prime minister.

“We are very far from that sort of objectification of women today. That is something we should all celebrate, even if there is still more to be done. Giorgia Meloni and Elly Schlein are emblematic of that change,” he added.

President of the Italian party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) Giorgia Meloni next to former Prime Minister and leader of Forza Italia (FI) party Silvio Berlusconi (L), addresses the media after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella for the first round of formal political consultations for new government at the Quirinale Palace in Rome on October 21, 2022.

Ettore Ferrari | AFP | Getty Images

Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that female political representation accounts for only 33.8% of its member nations. In Italy, the number is slightly lower at 32.3%.

Meloni and Schlein hold the top two jobs in Italian politics but they have entirely different political views.

“I’m Giorgia, I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m a Christian!” This was one of Meloni’s main lines during the campaign in 2022.

Schlein, in an interview with the New York Times, said she didn’t understand how being a woman, a mother and a Christian helps Italians.

“I am a woman. I love another woman. I am not a mother, but I am not less of a woman for this,” Schlein said in the same interview.

In previous remarks, Schlein said she wants to tax the rich, work closely with trade unions, push for environmental and feminist policies, and support gay and immigrant rights.

Conservative media in Italy have dubbed her “CommunistElly” and criticized her “rich” upbringing in Switzerland.

Schlein’s team was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC Wednesday.

“Meloni has frequently boasted about her being the first female Prime Minister while the left has not been able to produce the same result in a decade-long control of the parliament. Now things may change with Elly Schlein,” Matteo Winkler, professor of law at H.E.C. Paris, said via email.

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