​Italy's populist politics and the EU

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 6, 2018
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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte attends the swearing-in ceremony of the new cabinet at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy, June 1, 2018. Italy's new government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was officially sworn in here on Friday, putting an end to a deadlock lasting since early March inconclusive vote. [Xinhua/Alberto Lingria]

Following recent political instability, Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and far-right League parties jointly formed a new government to avoid the threat of another election in quick succession. 

The two parties had won more than 50 percent of seats in the elections held on March 4. Their first bid to form a government was killed by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, on the ground that the proposed finance minister Paolo Savona was a euroskeptic.

However, 81-year-old Savona's views on the EU are not new; for Mattarella to reject Savona's candidacy was peculiar, as politicians of different backgrounds and contradictory philosophies often sit together in governments. What's more, it is not a crime in Italy to oppose or criticize the EU or its monetary union.  

The rejection of Savona's nomination tells of the malaise of intolerance, both in the East and the West, towards someone whose ideas are not in sync with the mainstream establishment. 

Mattarella attempted to divert attention from this action by inviting a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) official, Carlo Cottarelli, to form an interim government of technocrats, and this also meant holding a new election in the coming months. 

But the 5-Star Movement and the League launched a new bid to form the government by slashing Savona's name from the new cabinet. The move was successful; the uncertainty ended with the signing in of the new government, led by former law professor Giuseppe Conte, on June 1. 

The president's initial rejection only added to the confusion and instability to which, unfortunately, Italians are no strangers. Since the end of World War II, they have seen more than 60 governments pass through in a routine game of musical chairs that has often been characterized by ruthless realpolitik. 

The drama and sentiments surrounding the formation of the latest government are, however, not only different from previous episodes but also have far deeper consequences. 

In Italy, like other European nations, the pro-EU elite are well entrenched. They do not like the idea of another major European nation walking out of the union after Brexit and rendering it even more vulnerable. 

The coalition government of the 5-Star Movement and the League may have spared the people of new elections but it has not banished their political problems, as squabbling over the nature of ties with EU is sure to continue.

Both coalition partners are expected to follow policies which will ultimately pit the country against the EU. For example, the two parties have announced to increase welfare spending and cut taxes – two actions which are likely to anger the EU. 

Another issue is the concern of both coalition parties about immigration. Since the League leader Matteo Salvini is the interior minister of the new government, he is expected to be tough in this issue and possibly expel thousands of illegal migrants. Again, this will create friction with Brussels.  

But the new finance minister, Giovanni Tria, is considered pro-EU and hence any concerns over Italy's continued membership in the single currency seem to have been addressed, at least for the time being.

Nevertheless, the eurozone is clearly becoming an electoral issue for the European people. Historically, there have been voices against the idea of having a union of European states, but they were seldom strong enough to swing the majority opinion. 

The climate has changed in the wake of the economic crisis in Greece and Britain's pulling out of the EU. Groups that favor more control over domestic policies have been strengthened and are now finding more acceptance across Europe -- from Germany to France and Italy. 

One of the reasons for the political tussles in Europe is that a new generation of voters has arrived. They have different preferences from their fathers and forefathers who suffered the devastation of the great wars. They want their fate to be decided closer to home instead of far away in Brussels by politicians from other countries.  

This has led to political polarization, and countries already vulnerable to quick political changes are likely to become even more unstable. Such internal rifts are especially not good for Italy, which needs a strong government with a clear direction to address economic issues.  

The Italian leaders have shown pragmatism by expediting the process to form a new government, but their ambivalence towards EU will continue to strain ties with fellow Europeans who want a stronger political and economic union.

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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