By Gianluca Scattu (The University of Sydney)
Many words have been spoken, and probably much more will be said about the three months of political chaos that followed March 2018 general elections, and the populist traits of the Five Star Movement (FSM) and the League, the two parties that support the new government.
Little, however, has been said about another relevant aspect that will probably characterise the new government more than the populist tones of its leaders: Italy is about to be ruled by the most rightist government since the Mussolini era.
After 88 days of tough negotiations, Italy has a new government. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the right wing Eurosceptic League reached an agreement on both a governing contract and a government team.
The Premier is the nonpartisan Giuseppe Conte, Professor of public administration law at Florence University. Deputy Prime Ministers are the leaders of the two governing parties: Luigi Di Maio (FSM) and Matteo Salvini (League). Mr Salvini will serve also as the Minister of the Interior in Mr Conte’s cabinet, while Mr Di Maio will take over the Economic Development, Labour and Social Policies ministry.
Immediately after the elections in March, the Five Star Movement opened negotiations with both the League and centre-left Democratic Party, the main political force of the outgoing government. The latter immediately refused to take part in the negotiation, mainly because of Renzi’s refusal to come to terms with the archenemy FSM.
FSM / League negotiations caught-on and led to last week’s institutional impasse: the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella rejected a first FSM / League agreement on the government team after refusing to accept the nomination of the 81-year-old Eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona as Minister of Economy and Finance.
Negotiations between the FSM and League finally restarted Tuesday last week and, after Eurosceptic Mr. Savona was relegated from the ministry of Economy and Finance to the ministry of European Affairs, President Mattarella formally accepted the new government team, starting Italy’s 65th cabinet of the Italian Republic.
From a bipolar to a tripolar political system – Italy from 1948 to 2018
Before the arrival of the FSM, which entered parliament for the first time in 2013, Italian electoral and parliamentarian struggle was based on a more or less clear bipolar political system. During Italy’s “First Republic” (from 1948 to 1994), the centrist Christian Democracy governed almost constantly (in coalition with other minor parties and, in the 80ies, with the significant participation of the Socialist Party), while the Communist Party was at the opposition. The 1994 judicial investigation “Mani Pulite” (Italian for “clean hands”) resulted in the collapse of the Christian Democracy and of many other minor political parties, including the former government ally Socialist Party.
The void created by Mani Pulite was immediately fulfilled by Berlusconi’s party “Forza Italia” (Forward Italy) which, in coalition with other right-wing parties (the League and Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance) formed a government in 1994. From 1994 to 2013, the electoral competition was again based on a rather constant and clear centre-right vs. centre-left contest: Berlusconi and his allies (including the League) on one side; the Democratic Party and his allies on the other.
The growth of the FSM and its astonishing electoral result in the 2013 general elections – where it obtained 25% of the votes – dramatically reshuffled the deck. Three poles of similar parliamentary size entered parliament: the Berlusconi/League centre-right coalition, the Democratic Party led centre-left coalition and the catch-all anti-establishment FSM.
It took two months of negotiations to the new 2013 tripolar Italian parliament to agree on a cabinet: the Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s party, archenemies since 1994, formed a government together. The League and the FSM became opposition parties. In other words, the institutional functioning of the parliament converted the electoral tripolism into a new bipolism which, however, was not based anymore on the traditional ideological centre-right vs. centre-left struggle (e.g. conservatism vs. progressivism, Christian-democratic vs. social-democratic) that characterised post WW2 Italy and Europe, but rather on a new “new vs. old”, or establishment vs. anti-establishment competition.
This year’s electoral campaign was defined by the same “tripolism” that characterised 2013 elections. Berlusconi and the League formed a centre-right coalition of convenience, the centre-left coalition was again led by the Democratic Party, while the FSM ran solo. Again, as in 2013, the need to find a majority in parliament demolished the centre-right electoral coalition and led to the birth of the League/FSM government.
Is Italy run today by a far right wing xenophobe government?
Potentially yes. The League, which controls – in practice – 6 out 15 ministries of the new government, has always been, since its inception, a proudly xenophobic and homophobic political party. In 2000, League’s incumbent European MP and former vice-minister of Justice Mario Borghezio obtained international media coverage for his efforts to ‘clean up’, with rags and disinfectant spray, trains allegedly used by migrants.
In 2007, League’s leading member and Senator Luigi Calderoli (former Minister for Legislative Simplification in the Berlusconi IV Cabinet, and Minister for Reforms and Devolution in the Berlusconi I and II Cabinets) called for a “Pig Day” protest against the construction of a mosque in Bologna: “I am making myself and my pig available for a walk at the site where they want to build the mosque”. Calderoli added he would eat “a nice plateful of pork chops to show my lack of sympathy for those who consider pork forbidden meat”. In July 2013, Calderoli insulted Italy’s first black Minister, Italo-Congolese Cécile Kyenge, saying: “Whenever I see Minister Kyenge, I cannot help but think of an orang-utan”.
In 2016, League’s leader along with today’s Vice Prime Minister Salvini called for a “controlled ethnic cleansing” of Italian cities from migrants. Mr Salvini will serve also as the Interior Minister, therefore controlling the State police and the prefects.
Obviously, as illustrated above, the League already took part in governments in the past, and already pushed legislation on themes that League’s voters have at heart. For instance, in 2002 the Italian government passed by decree Law the “Bossi-Fini” law, which introduced criminal sanctions for persons caught illegally entering the country, or returning after expulsion. In 2009, the decree Law “Maroni” authorised the so-called ‘citizen patrols’ (ronde padane), namely groups of non-armed citizens who operate in the undertaking of territorial defence activities.
However, League’s governing activity was, in the past, restrained by its lower electoral success, by the presence of other parties within governing coalitions and, principally, by Berlusconi’s enormous political and financial power. League was only a minority shareholder and could only partially convert its xenophobic and reactionary stances into governing action.
Today, however, things are rather different. Firstly, as discussed above, League is one of the two parties of the governing coalition and obtained its best general elections results since its foundation (17.5% of the votes), almost doubling its previous record obtained at 1996 general elections (10% of the votes).
Secondly, today’s governing coalition is led by the FSM, a catch-all party that does not have a guiding ideology, is led by political novices and – most importantly – does not possess the same political, financial and media power of Berlusconi, League’s traditional ally.
The first signals of this rightist drift already appeared. Lorenzo Fontana, new Minister for Families and Disabilities, declared, the day after he was sworn in, that same-sex parents “don’t exist at the moment, as far as the law is concerned” and said he believed in “natural” families where children have one father and one mother.
New Minister of the Interior Salvini action plan is equally unequivocal. A few hours ago, at a rally in Sondrio (northern Italy), he declared: “The good times for illegal migrants are over – ‘get ready to pack your bags’”.
Other League’s repressive stances were put on paper in the aforementioned governing contract, where the sections dealing with justice, immigration and law and order are considerably longer than those dealing with FSM’s traditional political goals (e.g. labour rights, the reduction of the cost of politics, or environmentalism). Besides the promise to expel migrants, the contract promises to shut down unauthorised Gypsy camps and Islamic associations, and to strengthen citizens’ right of self-defence.
In other words, it is possible to suppose that the FSM will not have the strength to resist League’s extremist push and, therefore, the possibility that the political agenda of the new government will be cannibalised by League’s xenophobic, intolerant and reactionary traits is tangible and alarming.
Photo source: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/06/01/europe/italy-new-government-sworn-in-intl/index.html