Italian populists betrayed their voters

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In February, a “national unity” government was formed in Italy – led by former European Central Bank president Mario Draghi – to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure economic recovery. Prime Minister Draghi called on all political parties to support the government: “Unity is a duty, not an option,” he said. Draghi also made it clear that his government would fully support the European Union and insisted that Italy’s place in the euro is “irreversible”. Obviously, he doesn’t think Italians should have the right to make democratic choices in political or economic matters.

Traditionally pro-EU parties – Forza Italy, the Democratic Party and the smaller parties Italy Alive and Free and Equal – still had to support the new government. But Draghi was unsure of gaining support from the Populist League and the Five Star Movement. After all, the two parties ran a government between 2018 and 2019 that often came into conflict with the EU.

The Five Star Movement has undergone a dramatic transformation as it won more votes than any other party in the last two legislative elections, in 2013 and 2018. It was founded in 2009 as a protest movement against the system and the existing party ideologies. Indeed, the Five Star Movement pledged never to form a government coalition with any other party – a promise it kept after the 2013 election, but was broken in 2018. It also claimed to be ” techno-populist ”, soliciting the opinion of citizens through his Rousseau. application.

But Five Star’s participation in two coalition governments – first with the Right-wing League in 2018, then with the pro-EU Democratic Party in 2019 – has weakened its claim to be populist or anti-establishment. Many five-star MPs left the party and its approval ratings plummeted until the middle of their teens.

The Five Star Movement joined the Draghi government in a weak position, fearing the obscurity in the opposition. Its transformation into a pro-EU political force was confirmed in March, by its decision to make the previously unaligned Giuseppe Conte its de facto leader. Although Conte was never elected, he served as premier of both five-star governments.

The League also joined the Draghi government, despite its previous pledge to leave the euro and its opposition to EU sanctions against Russia. After abandoning the policy of leaving the Euro, League leader Matteo Salvini pledged to “make Europe great, by returning to its original values”. Rather than withdrawing from Europe, Salvini formed a pan-European Christian alliance with the prime ministers of Poland and Hungary.

After a year and a half in opposition, having some power in government seems to be more important to Salvini than keeping his promises. Serving in a decidedly pro-EU government, under the leadership of a former ECB chief, is a clear betrayal of principle – and it may well pay a heavy price.

The only major political party that has refused to join Draghi’s government is the far-right Brotherhood of Italy, which has since enjoyed a rise in its approval ratings. The surrender of almost all major Italian parties to Draghi’s pro-EU agenda represents a serious shrinkage of Italian politics. However, these realignments also provide space for other parties and movements to develop.

One of these movements is the Italian Front for Sovereignty (Fronte Sovranista Italiano, Where ISP). It started as an association in 2011, and by 2016 had become a political party. ISP calls for the return to national sovereignty on the basis of the Italian republican constitution of 1948 and the restoration of a national currency. He opposes both the EU and the euro, and is for a Europe that is nothing more than an alliance of fully sovereign states. ISP Actively organizes protests across Italy and plans to field candidates in the upcoming general elections, which are currently scheduled for 2023.

Another initiative is the Italexit party. In January 2020, Gianluigi Paragone, senator and former television journalist, was expelled from the Five Star Movement for opposing his coalition government with the Democratic Party. In July 2020, Paragone formed the Italexit party (its full name is No Europe for Italy – Italexit with Paragone). Italexit is against the EU and the Euro and proposes a Europe that respects the sovereign and democratic characteristics of each country. Paragone described Italexit as combining socialism, Catholicism and liberalism.

These two anti-EU parties are welcome initiatives. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to take advantage of the brewing political and economic storm.

In March, the Draghi government launched a € 32 billion program to support businesses and extend employee leave during new lockdown measures. Following protests against the continued lockdown, another € 40 billion loan was approved on April 15. This package is expected to bring this year’s budget deficit to 11.8 percent of GDP, and Italy’s public debt is now expected to break a new record at nearly 160 percent of GDP.

All of this additional spending is based on Draghi’s hope that the Next Generation EU Covid-19 Stimulus Fund will allow Italy to spend an additional € 200 billion. But these funds will consist more of loans than grants – and will come with strict EU conditions. As economists have pointed out, when Italy’s contributions to the EU budget are factored in, Italy is likely to get very little out of these grants, which can represent a net transfer of just $ 7 billion. ‘euros – maybe even less than 4 billion euros. on a more pessimistic reading – every year for the next six years. Compared to the 160 billion euros of GDP lost by Italy in 2020, you can see how insignificant the EU stimulus fund is likely to be.

While Draghi may have united the parties in parliament behind his EU-backed pandemic measures, it will surely crumble soon. There is no doubt that many Italians will seek to punish the parties which joined his government in the next elections.


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