The people of the Eurozone’s third largest economy - Italy - yesterday evening became the first in western Europe to get what is popularly known as a 'populist' government. The imperial eurocracy will not – cannot – allow such a mortal threat to the EU from the patriotic people to survive – not in Italy. The markets are getting decidedly agitated. Game on.
Giuseppe Conte, a 53-year-old law professor at the University of Florence, who has never been involved in politics let alone been elected to the Italian Parliament, is Italian Prime Minister. More than two months after inconclusive elections on 4th March, the Italian President Sergio Mattarella was compelled through gritted teeth to ask Prof. Conte to head a populist coalition government of the alt-left Five Star Movement and the hard-right Lega.
As Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steven K. Bannon put it in an interview with the Turin daily La Stampa: Italy is now 'the leader of the anti-establishment populist movement in Europe' with a government that has 'the overwhelming support of its people'. Me – almost certainly the only British expat in Italy who supports hard – i.e real - Brexit – regardless of what it may or may not mean for me personally - I say: Allelujah!
To drag Europe out of the moral, social and economic mess in which it is mired requires drastic remedies. Things cannot go on like this. Democracy, as practised up until now, is breaking down in Italy - as everywhere in Europe. Italians want - not to take back control - but to take control. That is the impulse that has brought this populist government to power in Italy. It will no doubt fail. But it is a noble cause.
Prof. Conte will be Italy’s 65th Prime Minister since the Republic of Italy was founded in 1946 after the fall of fascism in 1945. He will also become the fifth unelected Italian Prime Minister in a row since the last elected one Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon, was forced to resign in 2011 at the height of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.
Italy’s elections did not give any party the required 40 percent to win a majority in Parliament. Five Star got 32 percent of the vote and the Coalition of the Right whose main components were the Lega, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia got 37 percent. The Lega got more votes – 17 percent - than the other parties in the coalition.
This alliance between the populist left (Five Star) led by Luigi Di Maio and the populist right (the Lega) led by Matteo Salvini reminds me of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Stalin’s international socialists and Hitler’s national socialists against capitalist Britain and France in 1939. That unholy alliance between Communist Russia and Nazi Germany enabled Hitler and Stalin to carve up Poland and Hitler to invade and defeat France. Where will this unholy alliance lead?
Like the Communists and the Fascists, Five Star and the Lega have much in common. They have both spoken loud and clear against the EU in the recent past and pledged referendums on the euro. Both want to deport illegal migrants masquerading as refugees who have been ferried into Italy from Libya (there are 600,000 known to be in Italy) and to stop any more arriving. Both approve of Donald Trump and Vladmir Putin. And both oppose austerity. Yet Five Star and the Lega are sworn enemies and were unable to agree during their endless talks since the elections on a Prime Minister from within their own ranks. Forced to cast about for a non-political figure acceptable to both, they came up with Conte.
Di Maio will be Minister of Work and Economic Development, Salvini Interior Ministry. Five Star won the south where 'nobody works' with a promise of a guaranteed wage of 850 euros a month paid by the State to everyone whether they have a job or not. The Lega won the north where 'everyone works' with a promise of a 15 percent flat tax. However, the difference between the two is best defined perhaps not by their policies but by their attitude to food: Five Star are vegetarians, Lega meat-eaters.
Conte is the choice of Five Star which prides itself on its Robespierrian 'J’Accuse' approach not just to smokers and meat-eaters but to the corrupt and thieving èlites: i.e lock them up, the lot of them. During the election campaign, Conte was on Five Star’s list of proposed Ministers – as Minister for de-bureaucratisation whose task would be to simplify Italy’s labyrinthine bureaucracy which stifles the will to live let alone to work.
On the eve of his appointment as Premier, journalists discovered numerous false entries in his published CV in which he claimed to have studied at universities abroad including New York, the Sorbonne and Cambridge, which he had not. Once again, the Five Star preachers of moral purity were – it was revealed - up to their necks in moral turpitude. But Conte’s massaging of the truth on his CV comes from a man born in Italy – from the south in Puglia no less - where – no point beating about the bush - dishonesty is in the DNA. So more to the point: why were the Italian media reduced to trawling through this professor’s CV in an attempt to discover who the next Italian Prime Minister is?
Like everyone, I know nothing about Conte but have noticed one thing about him which I like. Even in the Italian spring which is bloody hot when the sun’s out he wears waistcoats with his dark suits and these waistcoats have a definite air of Savile Row about them. So he is a gentleman, or at least he would like to be one. A Latin version of Jacob Rees-Mogg!
Like the Brexiteer, he is a practising Catholic, but he is both separated from his wife - with whom he has a son aged 10 - and he is what Italians call a 'cattocomunista'. This means he is a 'Communist' and a 'Catholic' which true Communists and true Catholics know is a contradiction in terms. Yet the current Pope is also accused of being a 'cattocomunista' - hated by the Curia but loved by the flock,
But what cheers me up about this populist coalition is the man it has chosen to run the economy. Paolo Savona, 81, is a member of the Lega and an economist. He believes that Italy must leave the euro because it is 'a German cage' built to impose German control of Europe. 'Germany has not changed its vision of its role in Europe after the demise of the Nazis' - writes Savona in his autobiography published this month - 'Even though it has abandoned the idea of imposing it militarily.'
The euro has enabled Germany to flourish but condemned countries like Italy to penury where as a result prices have doubled while wages have gone down. The austerity the Germans are so keen on does not alleviate but aggravate economic depression. The only way to make the euro work would be to insist on the mutual sharing of the sovereign debt of each Eurozone member state – he reminds us - which of course the Germans will never sign up to. Italy is about to become as big a story as Brexit – if not bigger.