In March, the Italian election saw a populist anti-EU victory, but all was not settled. Due to a large and complicated assortment of political parties in the country, no one party received a clear majority vote and the result was a hung parliament. Several parties received a significant portion of the vote, though not enough to form a government on their own. After 88 dramatic days of soap operaesque negotiations, the two parties to receive the largest vote share have joined in a Euroskeptic coalition to form a new Italian government.
The coalition is to be a partnership between the Five Star Movement and The League (Lega), whose leaders Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini respectively, will act as joint Premiers under an appointed Prime Minister, named Giuseppe Conte in a self-styled “Government of Change.”Luigi di Maio
The Leading Parties
The largest vote share by an individual party was won by the anti-establishment, populist Five Star Movement, originally founded in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo. Five Star, which achieved around 36% of the vote, found its base of youth voters by operating primarily online and disseminating its message directly to internet users, foregoing the middleman of the traditional media. Nowadays, the party is run by 31-year-old, Luigi di Maio who has just become one of the youngest ever high ranking officials in the Italian government.
The party has been labeled right-wing due to its Euroskeptic and anti-mass immigration platform; however, it does have a number of socialist-style policies. Di Maio is also the new Minister of Economic Development, Labour, and Social Policies and has promised to implement a universal basic income as one of the new government’s economic priorities. Perhaps an attractive notion to many in a country with an unemployment rate hovering around 11% and a youth unemployment rate of 33%, according to Trading Economics.
As Five Star member Giulia Sarti told The Atlantic:
“In Italy right now, left and right are blurred, so there’s a huge confusion… the way we see it, Italy’s problem is that we’ve lost credibility because our politicians don’t really represent us.”
Claudio Bergamin, an official for Forza Italia, the establishment party previously headed by the infamous Silvio Berlusconi, admitted that they are struggling to attract young people. He added about Italy’s youth:
“They have seen that there were failures in the left, there were failures in the right, so [they say], ‘I don’t care about them, I want to vote Five-Star because they are completely new.’”
Five Star’s partner is Lega, also a Euroskeptic party, but with a platform more focused on opposing mass immigration. Speaking only days after becoming the Minister of the Interior — in charge of immigration — Matteo Salvini called for illegal immigrants to be deported and an immigration policy that would prevent further boat arrivals from across the Mediterranean, a phenomenon that has made Italy the primary landing point of immigrants arriving in Europe from Africa. He accused Tunisia of sending its “convicts” to Italy across the Med, questioning why immigrants were arriving from “a free and democratic country where there is no war, famine or pestilence.” Tunisia expressed “profound amazement” at the remarks, only a day after an overcrowded Tunisian boat sank in the Mediterranean, killing at least 48 migrants. “The good times for illegals are over,” Salvini said, “Enough of Sicily being the refugee camp of Europe. I will not stand by and do nothing while there are landings after landings.”
A Technocrat Prime Minister
Although the 88 days of negotiations were likened to a Monty Python sketch by Italian newspaper La Stampa, the biggest controversy didn’t come until the end. After Lega and Five Star eventually managed to agree on a joint government agreement in May, the President refused to approve the deal, making a second election likely.
While the head of government is the Prime Minister, the head of state – whose role is to guarantee the Constitution is followed and represent national unity – is the President. President Sergio Mattarella rejected the Five Star-Lega agreement on the basis that their selection for Economy minister, Paolo Savona, was too Euroskeptic and had previously expressed the wish to take Italy out of the Euro.
Mattarella instead invited pro-E.U. former International Monetary Fund (IMF) director Carlo Cottarelli to form a new government, much to the fury of the elected parties, who called for the President’s impeachment. “This isn’t democracy, this isn’t respect for the popular vote,” said Salvini, while a Member of Parliament from Five Star, Manlio Di Stefano, complained:
“You can be a problem if you have a trial, you can be a problem if you’ve been found guilty for something, but not because you have some good ideas, or, any idea in a political sense. There is a constitution defending political ideas and opinions.”
After a few days, the coalition agreed to move Savona to a less prominent position, and their government was approved on May 31. Cotarelli resigned, although it wouldn’t be the first time that an unelected technocrat was appointed to lead Italy’s government. Mario Monti, a former E.U. Commissioner, was appointed to the position of Prime Minister in 2011, along with a cabinet made up entirely of unelected technocrats. Monti’s tenure ended in 2013 when he failed miserably to win public support in a general election.Carlo Cottarelli
Speaking of technocrats, one could certainly accuse Five Star and Lega of relying on their own unelected leader, having plucked their Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte out of obscurity to become their head of government. Conte is an Independent with no political or government background, whose career has been that of a law professor at various Italian universities.
While many would criticize the all too common career politician who has had no real work or life experience outside of the party machine, Conte was no more elected into office than Cottarelli. He became associated with the Five Star Movement during the election campaign and his name was mentioned as a possible candidate for Prime Minister, but where did his apparently meteoric rise come from? Conte was appointed Prime Minister by elected officials but is not himself elected. Will Conte be a true legal “expert” capable of operating a government truly representative of the people, or is he to be a figurehead whose only function is to act as a liaison between Lega and the Five Star Movement? Why have these two supposedly populist parties installed a virtually anonymous leader?
A Rocky Road Ahead
Lovers of political drama should stay tuned, as the next few months promise to be highly entertaining for such observers. Billionaire pro-E.U. campaigner George Soros has already stopped by Italia to make the obligatory accusation of Russian collusion, although he admitted that the E.U. would “dig its own grave” if it “tries to teach Italy a lesson.”
The new government is at loggerheads with the E.U. and Salvini announced that he would cooperate with Hungary’s Euroskeptic leader Viktor Orbán to “change the rules of this European Union.” Meanwhile, Slovenia — birthplace of First Lady Melania Trump — is the most recent European nation to elect an anti-mass immigration government. As Brexit dawdles lethargically on, Central and Eastern Europe is the region to watch for the action.
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