Thought Babble

How Italy isolated itself for 2 months from the rest of Europe

What has been happening in Italy in the past few days? Maybe non-Italians are not so up to date on the latest developments, but there have been many – all of them absolutely typical of a government formed by parties such as the Five Star Movement and the Lega.

These two political parties represent the anti-establishment side of Italian politics _ one from the right (Lega, member of the EU parliamentary group ENF, Europe of Nations and Freedom) and the other with no particular political  orientation (the Five Stars Movement, member of the EFDD, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy.)

The parties have been defined as populists, which seems fair from an objective point of view. Populism is, after all, the political attitude which praises the people as the best part of society against which an enemy is identified: Lega and Five Stars Movements had different kinds of populism and at last they came together. But, after an electoral campaign full of promises, they had to face reality.

This reality is that their own promises – such as lowering retirement age, introducing a flat tax of 15% and giving everybody a basic income -have completely disappeared. No one talks about them and the reason why it is simple. There is no money to implement them.

Italy has EU budget restrictions coming from the Fiscal Compact, so what is happening? The government has to distract people from their own failure to reform the economy and they do it by insisting on cheap economic measure with a political echo – in other words, on migration and security.

The decision to close down ports has surely brought before the EU and the neighbour states the problem of the migrations from the other shores of the Mediterranean, but in the last days an Italian boat, after having saved 100 migrants, took them back to Libya, violating the principle of the safest port (Libya is not safe).

The current xenophobic climate in Italy of the last few months (numerous cases of racism) has been fuelled by the attitude of the government, intentioned to side with countries like Austria and Hungary which have already stated that they have absolutely no intention to help Italy by taking a share of the people landing here. On the contrary, Italy has done everything possible to deteriorate the relations with countries more keen to support it even further, like France and Spain.

The fact is that this so-called “migration emergency” does not exist in Italy, and it is just a political narration to distract the country from its real problems – especially the economy which is curbing, with levels of employment decreasing in the last days and the growth slowing down.

On the economic side, the Minister for Economy, Giovanni Tria (a specialist but not a politician) has already expressed his own scepticism towards the economic policies of the two parties, and has reiterated that Italy will respect the rules which guarantee a macroeconomic governance of the Eurozone.

Tria has been under fire in the last few weeks because his department has presented a report which claimed that the new labour market reform wanted by the welfare minister, Luigi Di Maio, will increase unemployment as it will penalise contracts at determinate time increasing the labour cost: we are already witnessing how the business world is reacting to these first measures.

With its migration policy, the government is managing to make enemies in the EU. For this reason we have had the interior minister, Matteo Salvini defending, the UK in the Brexit process by accusing the EU of not being in good faith, and then we have the eclipsed Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte flying to Washington DC to see Trump after having established a kind of good relationship with him during the last G7.

Trump knows that he can count on Italy to attack the EU, but Italy did not get much from the USA during this visit; the intention of opposing sanctions against Russia, wanted by the two government parties, has been dropped completely.

Furthermore the government, especially on the Five Stars Movement, had pledged to cut military expenses, but apparently that pledge has disappeared as well (the minister of defence has affirmed that the planned F-35 fighter jets will be bought) and Conte has also confirmed to Trump that Italy may increase in expenses.

The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, another project the government wanted to scrap, will be kept. And lastly, no guarantee on the Italian exports has been given by the USA and its protectionism, even if it has obtained the US participation to the conference which will be held in Rome on Libya.

In other words, Italy currently is the most isolated country in the EU: isolated by its former core allies, mocked by the Visegrad countries and by Austria who pretend to be its friends, and with Washington and Moscow looking at it ready to use it to boost their own interests.

To sum up, the new Italian government has made too many U-turns in the last two months, and to cover this up, has insisted on security and migration issues, even if not as urgent as they claim (crime data reveals everything): the promises made on electoral campaign, their quick-fixes, have come colliding with reality and realise that their economic policies were impossible to implement, that scrapping some projects was not easy, and that there was therefore no conspiracy behind them nor the governments which wanted to pursue them.

The case of the Tsipras government has already shown how things said in electoral campaigns can become waste paper the day after the election when you win. In Italy this has been proven once more. The problem is that the government has no intention to fix its relations with the EU, but hopes to play the hawk–dove game apparently hoping for concessions in the budget negotiations (a dangerous game which cost Yanis Varoufakis his place when he tried it).

It has always been clear that in foreign and European politics, if you want something, you need to give something in return. It is called multilateralism and is the only effective approach: Italy has not understood this and will pay the price, – including the price of choosing the wrong friends (namely Orban, Seehofer and Trump). This can only end with people realising that all the promises made were nothing more than words, and that reality with its complexity makes them impossible to keep.

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