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Why Italy’s new populist government collapsed before it even began

Two parties from opposite sides of the political spectrum were set to unite over a mutual disdain for the euro.

28 May 2018

5:51 PM

28 May 2018

5:51 PM

Italy’s new populist government – the first in western Europe – collapsed last night before it even had the chance to govern for a single day. Italy, the Eurozone’s third largest economy and the beating pulse of European civilisation, now finds itself in a constitutional crisis as grave as any of the many it has had to confront since the fall of fascism in 1945. The way this thing pans out in the next days and weeks will affect the future not just of Italy but of Europe. And indirectly also of Britain with Brexit.

The two Italian populist parties which were on the verge of forming a government that may never now happen won a majority of votes at the 4th March elections. But who has more power? The people who voted for populism – or the elites who have now shot down populism? We shall see.

Pressure from the Germans, the French, the markets, Brussels, etc spoke with what Italians call the tongue of the astuta serpente (the astute snake) against this nascent Italian populist government as – in the words of the FT’s editorial headline on the matter: ‘Rome opens its Gates to the Modern Barbarians’.

The populist coalition’s plans to hike public expenditure and slash taxes and sod austerity and if necessary – in the name of the popolo – to break EU rules on fiscal continence and maybe even abandon the single currency itself prompted the German press in particular to become hysterical and accuse the Italians of being ‘scroungers’ and ‘clowns’ and worse even than beggars because ‘at least a beggar says thank you’ – and of wanting to cause a ‘horror show’ for the EU.


In the face of all this, Giuseppe Conte the 53-year-old law professor and Latin version of Jacob Rees-Mogg charged with forming the new Italian populist government (comprising of the alt-left Five Star Movement and of the hard-right Lega) resigned – having only been appointed Prime Minister last Wednesday.

Five Star and Lega – who got 32 per cent and 17 per cent at the elections – and are from opposing poles of the old left-right political way of looking at things – are trying to form a government united by one factor: populism. Under Italy’s current electoral system which requires a 40 per cent majority of votes to secure a majority, together they have enough seats in Parliament. Their mortal sin is that both oppose the euro.

During the election campaign both kept pretty quiet about this though previously each had been clear: they wanted a referendum on the euro because the euro – they believe – has transformed Italy into the slave of Germany. And so, on the verge of taking power, they proposed the anti-euro Professor Paolo Savona as the equivalent of Italy’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. Savona, an 81-year-old economics professor, thinks that the euro is ‘a German Cage’ (he wrote this in his autobiography published only last week as providence would have it) which is doing to Europe via the single currency what Hitler tried to do to Europe via the jackboot.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Sunday evening refused to accept Conte’s list of ministers because it included Professor Savona. And Conte resigned. Italy is a parliamentary not a presidential republic like America or France and an Italian President has few concrete powers except the power to appoint new governments. In his brief television explanation, President Mattarella told Italians that he could not ‘support the proposal of a minister who supports exit from the euro’. Why ever not? I wondered. After all, that is what the voters of Five Star and Lega – i.e nearly half of Italians – voted for isn’t it? But what the majority wants is not the point is it? The point is… the money.

As President Mattarella explained – the ‘uncertainty’ regarding Italy’s position regarding the single currency ‘has alarmed Italian and foreign investors and savers… who have invested in our bonds and in our companies’. ‘It is my duty to guarantee the savings of the Italians, and in this way one affirms in a concrete sense the sovereignty of Italy.’ President Mattarella is right in the strictly economic number-crunching way of doing things which is how global bankers and entrepreneurs see the world – people as things rather than as beings,

But that is not what populism is about, is it? Populism is about stopping all that. Populism is about enabling people to be human beings once again. And that is what the Italians voted for. They voted ‘Vaffa!’ That means ‘Fuck off!’ (roughly speaking) which is is the slogan of Five Star. Or else, they voted ‘Roma Ladra’ (Thieving Rome) which is the slogan of the Lega.

The very idea of this Italian populist government caused their litmus test of normality – the spread between German and Italian government bonds – to shoot up towards to danger zone. On Friday, the spread between the German 10-year government bond and the Italian equivalent breached the 200 point mark. President Mattarella – in an act of cowardice – bottled out.

Populism in Italy, as everywhere, is about taking back control above all of our humanity. Is it not? But the markets and the global élite have said – yet again – Vaffa! to all that.


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