The Irish Times view on Italy’s new government: the populists take power
Incoming administration will take office with a disruptive, radical and incoherent agenda that reflects the internal inconsistencies of its constituent parts
Matteo Salvini (left), leader of the far-right League party, and Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome in April. Photographs: Tiziana Fabi and Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images
Eleven weeks after an inconclusive election, Italy is close to having a new government that will bring upheaval at home and inject new tensions into the country’s European relationships.
Assuming that President Sergio Mattarella gives his blessing, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant League look poised to form a populist coalition. The leading candidate to become prime minister is Giuseppe Conte, a relatively little-known law professor who has advised Five Star.
The government will take office with a disruptive, radical and incoherent agenda that reflects the internal inconsistencies of its constituent parts: the hard-to-classify Five Star Movement, which was founded by a comedian and draws its support from left and right, and the ultranationalist League, which started out as a virulently racist regional party. Their plan proposes to lower the retirement age, introduce a guaranteed income for the poor and the unemployed and cut the tax rates to just two at 15 and 20 per cent.
The potential for fresh clashes with Brussels is written into the coalition deal, which calls for a review of EU treaties, repatriation of powers to member states and a relaxation of EU budgetary rules. On foreign policy, the coalition’s orientation is strikingly eastward-looking. It wants sanctions on Russia lifted, seeing Moscow not as a military threat but – laughably – as “a potential partner for the EU and Nato”.
As prime minister, Conte will face a constant challenge in balancing the demands of two parties whose shared populist instincts mask fundamentally different views
A key plank of the incoming government’s agenda – a plan for mass deportations of illegal migrants and a scaling back of Italy’s efforts to rescue those attempting the sea crossing from North Africa – will add to these tensions while further poisoning the social atmosphere facing Italy’s large migrant communities. The far-right League owes much of its recent growth to the backlash against the arrival of more than 600,000 migrants in Italy over the past four years. Its leader, Matteo Salvini, is expected to become interior minister, which would give him control over the immigration brief.
The government will face institutional constraints. Its majority in parliament will be slender, and some of its more far-reaching plans are bound to face constitutional challenges. As prime minister, Conte will face a constant challenge in balancing the demands of two parties whose shared populist instincts mask fundamentally different views on the future of their country. A great deal rests on the relationship between Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader, who is expected to become labour minister.
But even if the joint effect of institutional obstacles and internal wrangling is to be a brake on the new coalition, its potential to damage Italy and its relationship with the rest of Europe could be real and long-lasting.