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Faraway Places-Italy: Exotic Landscapes in a Populist Setting

Time has eroded the appeal of the centre-left in Italian politics. Italy is now at the mercy of changing populist fashions. This new volatility is being steered by political elites in centre-right coalition formed by Lega Nord and Silvio Berlusconi own Forza Italia. The populist Five Star Movement (Cinque Stelle) has yet to reveal its ideological hand.

Cinque Stelle could swing in either ideological direction. This might include a working arrangement with the Democratic Party (PD) as a minority partner pending fresh elections on terms more favourable to Cinque Stelle. While the counting of votes is continuing, this bloc appears to have the numbers to form a workable coalition.  

Despite this possible consolation prize, support for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) has been reduced by the populist tide to less than 20 percent in a highly fractured electorate.  

Conventional opinion still favours the formation of a temporary of government by centre-right parties linked to the Northern League and Forza Italia. These numbers might be built up to over 270 deputies with the combined support of small far-right parties. This is well short of the 316 deputies required to pass legislation.

The trends in voting do not point to a dramatic return to old levels Berlusconi’s influence during two full terms of Italian national government (2001-2013). It is most unlikely that Matteo Salvini, (born in 1973), will use his superior numbers in an emergent centre-right bloc to allow Silvio Berlusconi to become the octogenarian kingmaker.

In all these antics, the structural problems facing Italy as the world’s twelfth largest economy in Purchasing Power Parity Terms (PPP) are usually over-looked.

Recent economic growth levels in Italy’s market economy were not consistent enough to contain both unemployment and the income divide in a market-driven economy.  

The challenge of maintaining consistent levels of economic growth is an endemic problem. More recently, Italy has not fully recovered from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).  

If an Italian government can be formed from a hung congress, its leaders inherit a national unemployment rate of 11.1 percent as of January 2018. National levels of youth unemployment are appalling and only moderated from 32.8 percent to 31.5 percent in the month to January 2018.

In Regional Italy, youth unemployment is peaked at 43.4 percent in March 2014, a year after Berlusconi’s centre-right government was ousted from office on 23-25 February 2013.

Italy’s centre-left government since 2013 has survived three changes of prime ministers. In rapid succession came Enrico Letta (2013-14), Matteo Renzi (2014-16) and finally Paolo Gentiloni. Renzi’s resignation was prompted by the failure of his constitutional reform package to be carried at the national referendum on 4 December 2016. The final Yes votes on the proposals dipped to less than 41 percent, despite initial widespread support.

The centre-right of Italian politics had a field day in opposing the constitutional changes but there were some reservations from jurists and within the Democratic Party (PD) and its left-leaning support base in Congress. Last weekend’s exit polls were worse for the PD Party than expected (Politico Online 4 March 2018):

The swing towards the centre-right of Italian politics will inevitably raise the profile of Italy within the US Global Alliance. NATO requires commitment from Italy to assist with the maintenance of nuclear weapons systems. Financial commitment by Italian governments to the hosting of nuclear field weapons, submarine-launched missiles, bomber fleets, and ICBMs. The US has the final say in relation to nuclear battle plans for the final use of these weapons of mass destruction.  

Nuclear weapons installations are provocatively located at the Aviano Air Base (Near Venice) and the Ghedi Air Base (Near Brescia) in Northern Italy. Field weapons, bomber squadrons, and under-sea weapons have a more foot-loose distribution and are always on the move.

Ironically, it is the Holy See (Vatican) under the leadership of Pope Francis which signed up to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and immediately ratified the Treaty. No NATO country dared to sign the Treaty, following a blunt directive from the Obama Administration.

In that tarnished wisdom of hindsight, the PD coalition should have been more proactive in its commitments to peace, infrastructure and community development since 2013. The electorate also failed to understand the underlying causes of the refugee challenge from North African countries. This was not assisted by NATO’s commitment to regime change in Libya, a former Italian Colony after 1905.

Expect a rough time ahead for Italy if Cinque Stelle tolerates the return of a far-right government. This is a possible scenario that is not justified by the mathematics of the current voting trends.

Italian millionaires will be in the ascendency again if there is a return to the old Italian currency. A million lire fetched 526.5 euros in 2002. Perhaps, this is one way to Make Italy Great Again in the New Republican traditions of President Trump and his zeal for protectionism.

Contemporary Italian politics is always a guessing game. Stay interested and enjoy the speculation in the sound traditions of Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli has indeed empowered the representative electorate to shape the policies of all aspiring Italian princes with a commitment to a Risorgimento that populist rhetoric alone will never deliver.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy, and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to advance pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.


14 comments

  1. Andreas Bimba

    Italy is locked into an overvalued currency — the Euro which has two serious implications, both of which have resulted in extremely high levels of unemployment and underemployment and a stagnant economy. Firstly Italy can no longer devalue its currency to restore the competitiveness of its export industries and imports remain cheap which results in an ongoing trade deficit. Secondly the Italian government can no longer use its central bank to ensure optimal fiscal policy (deficits sufficiently large) that would allow the Italian economy to operate at its potential.

    For the sake of all of Europe, the Eurozone should be dissolved and all nations should re-adopt their national currencies and central bank independence.

  2. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Latest Projections from RAI Italy on the Composition of the Chamber of Deputies: Far Left 14: Centre Left 112: M5S Five Star Movement 221: Centre-Right Bloc 260: Far Right Approx.13

  3. Paul

    Thanks for the article Denis.

    It looks like Italy has some real challenges with unemployment and economic growth. I hope things improve there.

    Another minority government in another country. Is there another way we could look at governments. Perhaps the old way no longer fits the modern world?

  4. Mia

    Unlike Lega Nord and Forza Italia the 5 Star Movement has some politically radical elements.
    With the support of the Italian Left some progressive elements of leaving the Free Euro zone and even NATO could be on the negotiating table.
    No Italian political bloc has the numbers to govern alone.

  5. Alpo

    So, the centre left PD is still the second strongest force behind the now very strong, populist but somewhat leftish-flavoured Movimento 5 Stelle. A government of coalition between PD and M5S is a possibility…. Anything in order to keep the lunatic Neoliberals of Berlusconi and the hard League out of Government in Italy…. If the German Christian Democrats have been able to find an agreement with the Social Democrats, so M5S and PD could do the same in Italy.

    The M5S are already toning down some of their more radical ideas in order to present themselves as a serious party of Government, there may be some hope for change in that country, but in the broader Progressive direction. The only problem of the M5S (unlike the PD) is that they are not a mature political party yet, and they are too prone to plunging into chaos and disorganisation. The PD is a more solid and established force of Government (they derived from the former PCI = the Italian Communist Party…. but there is nothing Communist left in there). So, with the M5S spirit of change and the PD experience of government they may, together, put forward a viable Progressive program of government, but they have to agree on the basics of accepting the EU long-term project and reach a consensus on economic policies….

    …. Let’s see how it goes….

  6. Alpo

    Andreas, leaving the Euro and returning to the Lira is not a solution. It would most likely start a runaway process of devaluation followed by a resurgence of inflation. The Euro (and the EU project overall) are the only salvation for Europe in this increasingly competitive international world (just look at the Brexit disaster!). The Euro project must be reformed, so that Germany is not overwhelmingly in control and attracting all the benefits. Note that not even Greece is intending to return to the Drachma whereas Spain’s economy is peaking up in spite of the Euro.

  7. Patricia

    Denis, thanks for your article on the Italian election. Italy faces some tough challenges with youth unemployment in regional areas in the forty percent range.

  8. Lalnama

    Interesting article, and we think we have problems! Hopefully the unemployment situation can be improved as this has such implications throughout society and for future generations.

  9. Andreas Bimba

    Alpo, Europe cannot possibly operate effectively as a federal union like the United States or Australia. The citizens of the northern European nations will never accept a larger share of their ‘tax dollars’ going to the poorer southern or eastern European nations to assist with development and social welfare support. This will forever leave the poorer South and East fiscally constrained and with a currency that is static and overvalued which will INCREASE economic disparity in Europe.

    The controllers and owners of the German financial markets insist on fiscal surpluses for Germany and tight fiscal policy for the Eurozone and EU. They were also the drivers of the Greek financial crisis scam from which they greatly profited and were later bailed out by the Greek taxpayer and the ECB and IMF. The treatment of Greece by the European Commission, ECB and IMF has been economically destructive, counter productive and fraudulent with Greek state owned assets now being sold off at bargain prices to foreign private interests – effectively a return to colonialism.

    Such high unemployment levels especially for the young that represent Europe’s future is a clear manifestation of the failure of the European monetary union.

    Poland largely escaped the consequences of the GFC as they were able to substantially devalue their Zloty which maintained export competitiveness. Free floating currencies allow national economies to operate closer to trade balance. Currently Germany has a huge trade surplus with the rest of Europe and with the world, something that would not be possible if they retained the Deutschmark.

    The EU as a preferential trade zone is advantageous to European nations but a United States of Europe with a unified currency the Euro is the wrong path.

    Russia and the CIS nations, as well as Ukraine, could eventually join a Europe wide preferential trade zone while maintaining political and military independence but could never join a European political and economic union.

    My conclusions regarding the Eurozone are backed by sound economic analysis by credible sources like Professor William Mitchell.

    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=37106

    I urge anyone interested in the future of Europe to read Bill Mitchell’s books ‘Eurozone Dystopia’ and ‘Reclaiming the State’.

  10. Pat

    Being in NATO is costly for Italy. What a waste of resources!

  11. James Robo

    Smaller economies like Italy and Australia need more support from government outside of commitment to the military through NATO.

  12. Tessa

    Australians are very close to Italy. I appreciate coverage of Italian issues.

  13. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Good of you to comment twice, Andreas. You write with passion and great clarity. Currency reform could be an option. Perhaps Cinque Stelle (M5S) can form a government with support from the PD as these blocs have a majority in the Chamber of Deputies with 333/630. M5S has a currency reform agenda and PD can retrive something from its loss of around 200 Deputies since 2013.

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