Italians stick with the status quo

27th May 2018


Conte – not likely to rock the boat

The history of post war Italy has been suffused with corruption, coalition and anti-communism, even to the extent that the Communist Party itself fell victim to a particular anti-communist virus, in the form of so called Eurocommunism, in the 1970’s.

The recent elections have resulted in a compromise, bizarre even in the world of Italian politics, which has seen a politically inexperienced defence lawyer, Giuseppe Conte, being elected as Prime Minister.  Conte finds himself in this unlikely position as the leaders of the two main parties involved in the governing alliance could not reach agreement on the position.

Matteo Salvini, leader of La Liga and Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, founded by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, have chosen Conte because they could not agree on anyone else.

The coalition has emerged following a hung parliament being the outcome of elections of 4th March.  The cobbled together compromise is based upon raising spending, slashing taxes for the rich, opposing migration into Italy and a shared antipathy towards the European Union.

La Liga has form, having originally been constituted as the xenophobic, nationalist Northern League and having previously been in coalition with Silvio Berlusconi from 1994.   Five Star has no previous government experience but has built a following based upon its apparent anti-establishment positions and lambasting of Italian political institutions.

The election outcome was certainly a hammer blow for the usual suspects in Italian politics.  The Democratic Party (PD), the heir to the Eurocommunist poisoners of the Communist Party, lost 180 of its 292 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.  Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia was reduced to a mere 14% of the vote.  By contrast Five Star gained 32.7% of the vote and La Liga 17.4%, four times its previous best showing.

Italians have clearly voted to reject the austerity policies of the past decade but quite what they have voted for is less clear.  Change, certainly, but whether the compromise on offer, in the best Italian tradition, represents the change they want remains to be seen.

A push against being part of the Eurozone and a promise to make the European Central Bank cancel Italy’s €250 bn foreign debt, seem to have been seen off by EU technocrats.

Post election negotiations even involved Silvio Berlusconi, until Five Star insisted that they would not work with him.  Ironically, if there is a force in Italian politics more unpalatable than Berlusconi it is La Liga, whom Five Star are now settling down with as bedfellows.

Like Emmanuelle Macron in France, Conte shares the dubious honour of being a relative political novice.  Macron though did have some previous political credentials and did have a political agenda.  Conte appears to have no such thing and the government he looks set to lead lacks coherence.

The situation in Italy does parallel that in France however in that, far from the Italian election having resulted in anything radical, in spite of the defeat of the establishment parties, there is every sense that the current coalition will be business as usual.  How this will play with the Italian people remains to be seen.  It is unlikely to address their basic needs or tackle the EU imposed austerity agenda.  There is a far greater sense that the Italian establishment, like that in France, has simply been able to repackage itself once again.

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