Two Hearts Believing in Just One Mind

Two hearts, believing in just one mind… Phil Collins' amazing hit Two Hearts  from 1988 could perfectly represent the status of the current Italian Government. We have two very different and distanced hearts, the Five Stars Movement (5SM) and the League, believing in just one mind which is represented by the very delicate goal to make the government last to May 2019 European elections. And as we get closer to this electoral appointment, the objective becomes more and more difficult to achieve, for a several range of varieties, starting from domestic to foreign policy ones.

As for the domestic dimension, each of the two coalition ally is making greater efforts in preserving and putting in place the political proposals they put forward during the 2018 electoral campaign, (which by the way never ended and it is still on-going): on one side, the 5SM with the minimum citizen income, on the other, the League with the pension reform. The domestic governmental equilibrium is apparently guaranteed by the fact that none of the two will make any interference in the plans of the other.

Things become more difficult on the external dimension. Since the very beginning, it was clear that the two parties had a totally different vision of Italy’s foreign policy and its relations with the EU and other global actors. And this difference is becoming more and more marked every day. Important to mention is that migration is not a foreign issue anymore but a purely domestic one used as a pretext to show Italy as the strong man in Europe at the eyes of Italian citizens and voters.

On key international dossiers, among them Russia, Libya, the US, how to play in Europe and more recently Venezuela, the Italian government does not really have a unique position, and this is where the daily battle ground takes place. More specifically, France and Venezuela represent the two faces of the same medal. The 5SM is using the gilets jaunes movement to question France leadership and France “special treatment” in Europe while the League is keeping a lower profile limited to occasional attacks to Paris on more bilateral issues like the Mitterand Doctrine and the High-speed rail system which should connect the Italian and French cities of Turin and Lyon. On Venezuela, is the perfect contrary: a more exposed League which, behind the scenes, is building political networks and relations with the Guaidó team; a more distant 5SM, a traditionally sympathizer of Maduro, which has declared that no one should interfere in other states domestic developments, as stated by the UN, nor at the EU or more international level.

The immediate consequence of this very polarized status quo is how Europe looks at Italy today: an important economic protagonist on the global scene to work together with, however a medium sized political actor with whom the dialogue is becoming more and more difficult. Italian foreign policy is currently stuck between two different strategies and two different tactics, with too many voices and protagonists, from Salvini and Di Maio, to Prime Minister Conte and a more balanced approach by Italian Foreign Minister Moavero Milanesi and the Head of State Mattarella.

In addition to this, a very fragmented leftist opposition inside at what is left of the Democratic Party, which is struggling in finding its new leader and in building new proposals and strategies.

As said at the very beginning, the finish line to cross is represented by May European elections. Before it, we should expect this modus operandi to be stretched and pushed forward. The issues at stake, namely the European parliament seats the two parties will manage to gain, is very high and very precious for both. The main risk of this current tendency is that Italy, a founding member of the EU, won’t be able to play a major role in Europe and for Europe. It will be only looking at how other European key member states will be moving and will only make random public interventions on some specific issues, although with no strategy, as done so far. And we the current economic growth forecasts for 2019 just released by the European Commission, with Italy at very end among member states, the situation gets even complicated.

What after the elections? The two hearts will probably start believing in their own mind each.

Does the EU Have an Italy Problem?
Vincent Della Sala
On 7 February, the French government recalled its ambassador to Rome as a sign of its displeasure over the numerous forays the current Italian government has made into the domestic affairs of its European partner. It came only a few days after the EU failed to establish a common position on the Venezuelan crisis because the Italian government refused to endorse a call for elections.
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