“The principal enemy of the new Italian government? The financial markets and the European technocrats!”
With the constitution, in Italy, of a new government based on the alliance of the League and the Five Star Movement, respectively represented by Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, both named vice prime ministers, are we witnessing a new episode of this “populist moment” whose contours you sketched in one of your recent essays?
Despite the attempt of a legal coup d'état by President Mattarella, claiming rights that the Italian Constitution didn't grant him, who attempted to veto the constitution of this new government on May 27th in order to please the Brussels Commission and the financial markets before changing his mind amid the outcry raised by his attitude, the representatives of Lega and the Five Star Movement came to power. The polls show that they have the support of a clear majority of the Italian people, to whom they affirm the desire to “give their voice back” while breaking with the dominant vulgate in practically every domain (immigration, austerity, citizenship income, the fiscal system, etc.) It is evident that the election of a sovereignist and “anti-system” majority in Italy, a founding country of the Common Market and the third economy in the European Union today, is a veritable thunder strike. This is indeed the type of event that my book Le Moment populiste predicted.
That said, it suffices to examine the composition of the new Italian government in detail in order to note that it is not, properly speaking, a populist government. What we can say, on the other hand, is that it is close to it. Giuseppe Conte, the new president of the Council, didn't elude the question in any case: “If populism means being capable of hearing the needs of people, then we claim it!” he said.
What are the chances of this “anti-system” government to successfully achieve the implementation of its policy?
The obstacles will evidently be numerous, whether they come from the relative inexperience of the new rulers, or because of the unrealistic nature of some of their propositions, or because of rivalries or divergences of view between the League and the Five Star Movement which, while both opposed to the “system,” are nevertheless not in agreement on everything and also address different electorates socially and geographically (the League being rooted in the North and Five Star in the South).
But the principal danger will come, of course, from the financial markets and the technocrats of the European Union which, as already happened in Greece, will do everything in their power to subvert the new government's program. We remember the little sentence of the German Günther Oettinger, European Budget Commissioner, affirming that “the financial markets will teach the Italians how to vote.” And also the article in the Financial Times qualifying Salvini and Di Maio, and their 17 million voters with them, as “barbarians” (Salvini immediately replied “We prefer to be barbarians rather than servants”) One cannot see, in these conditions, the European authorities accepting the cancellation of all or part of the Italian public debt, as the new government demands …
Also, we've yet to dispel some ambiguities. The new government affirms, thus, that Russia is “to be seen, not as a threat, but as a partner.” But how will it fight against the sanctions taken against Russia while it also confirmed its “membership in the Atlantic alliance, with the United States as a privileged ally.” Will the government, for example, refuse the new B61-12 atomic bombs that the United States is preparing to deploy in Italy against Russia?
This event is, in any case, a major blow for Emmanuel Macron. And on the European scale?
It's indeed very bad news for Emmanuel Macron, who has wagered everything since his election on a revival of the European construction. But, the European Union is, today, caught in a real dynamic of disintegration. Italy has endowed itself with a government exactly opposed to all the Macronian orientations at a moment where, in Germany, the Merkel era is coming to an end, where Spain, which also just changed government, continues to debate itself in the Catalan psychodrama, where populism rumbles in Austria, Slovenia, Denmark and elsewhere, where Great Britain is endlessly negotiating the conditions of its Brexit and where the Visegrad group has practically seceded due to hostility towards the European diktats in migratory matters.
This erosion of institutional parties to the benefit of “populist movements” is the result of thirty years of open borders, relocations, and the decline of the middle classes. Marcel Gauchet recently wrote that “the present divide is that of the France without a future against the France for whom the future is not a problem.” This diagnostic can easily be transposed to all of Europe, to the point that one can ask if the next European elections will not show a quasi-majority of Eurosceptics. Then it would be the beginning of the end.
Interviewer: Nicolas Gauthier