By Autumn, several million Italians will be left feeling disenfranchised. Could their minds be changed on Europe?by Alessio Colonnelli / May 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
Lega Nord Leader, Matteo Salvini, following statements to the press. Photo: PA On Sunday 27 May, we had a practical example of what the job of a head of state in a parliamentary republic is like. Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella made it clear he isn’t just a notary when he refused to accept the new populist coalition’s pick for economy minister, Paolo Savona. Savona—a former Bank of Italy director, university professor and erstwhile industry minister—is a renowned anti-EU theoretician, although he has toned down his criticism a bit over the past couple of days and even issued an open letter as proof of his newly-found moderation. Mattarella’s requirement was clear and simple, and was given with plenty of notice. The Sicilian statesman had one wish only: anyone but Savona. The president defended his decision by claiming that the octogenarian professor would have been too much of a risk for Italian families and mortgage-paying workers, because his strong Euroscepticism could spark widespread uncertainty in the country’s economy. Mattarella has always made it clear that Savona, the darling of far-right leader Matteo Salvini, would have been a constant worry in Europe as well as among international investors. Italy’s large public debt requires the country to keep servicing interests as low as possible, so that such a debt can remain sustainable—if only just. Yet speaking on behalf of both the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League, Salvini’s organization, prime minister in waiting Giuseppe Conte made it clear he wasn’t having any of it. “I have given up my mandate to form the government of change,” he told the media outside the presidential palace following failed talks with Mattarella. The result is that the several millions who chose either M5S or the League almost three months ago won’t see their parties in charge, for the time being. But what if Savona hadn’t been mentioned at all? What if the centre-left Democratic party (PD)—who came second in the March elections with 18 per cent of the national vote, slightly more than the League obtained—had decided to talk to arch-rivals M5S to form a government? Perhaps Italians would have a government by now; and PD wouldn’t be destined to irrelevance, as it looks increasingly likely today. In autumn, when a new general election will be due, M5S and League voters are likely to feel angrier—cheated by what they see as a euro-loving establishment, committed to backing the currency they reckon has made them poorer. To win, Italy’s left has to be unanimously pro-Europe, and convincingly at that. Mattarella has done his bit to help (indirectly). If they wanted, PD could try and persuade voters that being pro-Europe also means being in favour of a federal and sympathetic EU which works against all kinds of nationalism—including against the kind of egotistic behaviour promoted by Berlin’s successive conservative governments over the past decade. It’s a humongous task, requiring first new party leaders. The old ones have had their chance and lost, moderates and radicals alike; they are guilty of severely harming the left by splitting it. Most of them must now go to free up space for much-needed new blood. It’s either that or putting up with blindly angry Italians—red in the face but nowhere in the mind.