Populists in Power: The Best Way to Resolve Political Crisis in Italy

Last week the political situation in Italy changed with the kaleidoscopic speed, which disarmed anyone who was trying to predict further developments. In the best Machiavellian traditions, the main actors of the Italian political play (even called by the media as a “collective psychodrama”) easily denied what they had said the day before, contested themselves and others, attacked and retreated, accused and repented.

On May 23, Italian President Sergio Mattarella charged a little-known lawyer Giuseppe Conte to form a coalition cabinet with representatives of the Five Star Movement (5SM) and the League. However, the coordination of the list of ministers, which the president must approve, quickly reached a deadlock. The stumbling block was the candidacy proposed by the League for the post of Minister of Economy - Paolo Savona, a convinced euro opponent, who believes that the euro and the EU were created by Germany in order to provide a "colonial control" over other European countries. His nomination cast doubt to what extent the yellow-green coalition was sincere when it abandoned plans to withdraw Italy from the eurozone, which both parties talked a lot about during the election campaign.

Confronted by the intransigence of the League, Mattarella returned to the neutral government option, about which he spoke early in May. The mandate for the formation of the government was given to the economist Carlo Cottarelli, but he had no chances to pass a confidence vote in the parliament. It seemed that new elections were inevitable. But on May 30 there was another sharp turn in the Italian political performance. The 5SM leader Luigi Di Maio, who only three days earlier accused Mattarella of a coup attempt and called for his impeachment, withdrew his words and made it clear, that he would not object if Savona took some other position. The next day the League leader Matteo Salvini agreed with this. To sacrifice Savona would mean losing face, so a compromise was found - Savona received the portfolio of the Minister for European Affairs, and Giovanni Tria, dean of the economics faculty of Rome's Tor Vergata University, became Minister of Economy.

Mattarella took this option with apparent relief - elections in the midst of summer vacations were too risky, especially when, according to the polls, they would give another victory for 5SM and the League, and the "psychodrama" would continue. He obviously did not want to take responsibility for the inevitable aggravation of the political crisis in the country. At the same time, having shown firmness in disputes with the League and 5SM, he managed to achieve that, in addition to Di Maio and Salvini, who got ministerial portfolios and posts of vice-premiers, the government included many moderate figures.

The question of the longevity of the new cabinet remains open. On the one hand, faced with fierce resistance from the Italian and European establishment, the yellow-green coalition is likely to be more careful in words and deeds, which can give it some stability. On the other hand, many factors that do not play in favor of the new cabinet did not disappear: it is the fragility of the alliance between the League and the Five Stars, inexperience in public administration, and cautious - if not hostile - attitude of the EU and the ruling circles of leading European countries. Almost every measure from the program of the yellow-green coalition will meet a hostile reaction both in Italy and abroad. In conditions of constant tension, today's allies may quarrel well.

Relations with the EU are one of the key issues of the new Italian cabinet. Euroscepticism of Savona, whose views some experts consider "radically and suicidally anti-German", will be balanced by non-partisan Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi, an experienced negotiator who worked in the European Commission and served as minister for European affairs in the governments of Monti and Letta. Milanesi will not allow a sharp deterioration of relations with Brussels, but such issues, as the problem of migrants, will be raised by him and Savona, and Brussels will somehow have to seek a compromise.

An important foreign policy topic is relations with Russia. The program of the yellow-green coalition states that anti-Russian sanctions should be abolished as soon as possible. Of course, Milanesi is not considered a Russophile, and we should not expect that he will begin an active struggle in this direction. Moreover, it is obvious that the fate of anti-Russian sanctions is not decided in Rome, but in other capitals. However, due to the growing economic conflict with the US, the European Union has already intensified contacts with Moscow: in May German Chancellor Merkel visited Russia. She was followed by the French President Macron, President and Prime Minister of Bulgaria, which now presides in the EU. Italy always treated Russia with benevolence, and the new government can take positive steps and contribute to the revision of the European policy towards Russia.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.