Two factions of Italian Populists joined together to form a coalition government which took power on Friday. Now the European Union is watching to see what happens next.
Giuseppe Conte was chosen as the Prime Minister as a compromise candidate. Five Star leader Luigi de Maio, who ran on a hardline Environmentalist and anti-austerity platform is a Deputy Minister, the Minister for Economic Development. The League leader Matteo Salvini, who ran on an anti-crime, anti-illegal immigration platform, is a Deputy Minister, the Minister of the Interior, as well. (CNN)
Conte is a former law professor who has no political experience. He did not run for office, but was chosen as an acceptable person for the leadership position during wrangling between de Maio and Salvini. He was chosen as Prime Minister on May 21, resigned when one of his minister choices was vetoed by Italy’s President, Sergio Mattarella. After de Maio and Salvini conferred with Conte and found a replacement suitable to the prospective Prime Minister, Conte resumed his position and was sworn in on May 31.
[An aside, to explain Italian politics: Italians elect members of their Parliament, and there are many parties vying for seats. In the event that a single party does not claim enough seats (a simple majority) to assume leadership, coalitions between parties are sought. The winning party/coalition then chooses a Prime Minister, who does not have to be a Parliament member. Checks and balances between the Prime Minister, the Parliament and the Judiciary are maintained by the office of the President, who is chosen every seven years by a Parliamentary vote and is typically an elder statesman. The President has some of the powers typically assigned to the U.S. President, Senate Majority Leader and House Majority Leader, in that he has the ability to issue pardons/commutations, he appoints a third of the justices on the Italian version of the Supreme Court, has some appointment / veto power over Administrative positions, and is in charge of most Parliamentary actions by their Congress.]
Conte has been fairly quiet during his first two days in office, coming up to speed on world and national affairs. He took some time to attend the Republic Day military parade with his cabinet on Saturday (TRTWorld) , but has otherwise been absent from the public eye. Conte has issued a statement on Facebook indicating he had been congratulated by Angela Merkel of Germany and Emmanuel Macron of France and looks forward to meeting with them at the upcoming G-7 Summit in Canada. (il Giornale)
Meanwhile, the two prominent Deputy Ministers were busy making statements for the consumption of their constituencies. From The Local, Matteo Salvini spoke publicly on immigration:
Salvini announced on Friday that he would visit Sicily to see the situation for himself at one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East.
“The good times for illegals is over — get ready to pack your bags,” Salvini said at a rally in Italy’s north on Saturday, adding however that he wants to economically assist migrants’ countries of origin.
Also from The Local, de Maio went to Facebook before a Five Star rally in Rome:
Deputy premier Di Maio, who is serving as economic development minister, also took to Facebook, calling for “entrepreneurs to be left alone”.
“Employers and employees in Italy must not be enemies,” he said, promising “I will not disappoint you”
He has also announced revoking of pro-business legislation, in keeping with the Five Star model of promoting small, single-person or family businesses and advocating for the dissolution of large, national ones. (Reuters)
The rhetoric used by League members has attracted racists to their cause, even as the League carefully avoids officially supporting or encouraging them. This has already been the source of incidents of hatemongering and violence, which has caused concerns among EU allies. (CBC) (Reuters) The anti-austerity position of Five Star has also worried some in the EU, as they fear a destructive Greece-style expansion of the welfare state policies that have left Italy economically damaged. (Despite the fact that the EU demands of its members many other welfare state policies.)
The EU commission President has already weighed in. Per The Guardian:
“The Italians cannot really complain about austerity measures from Brussels. However, I do not now want to lecture Rome. We must treat Italy with respect. Too many lectures were given to Greece in the past, in particular from German-speaking countries. This dealt a blow to the dignity of the Greek people. The same thing must not be allowed to happen to Italy.”
Neither Five Star nor League called for exiting the EU in their election platforms, but both have issued such declarations in the past. One thing is certain, there is much attention and trepidation being focused on Italy, as fears remain (Business Insider) over the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Italian financial system that could, in turn, take down the Euro.