Ricominciamo da capo

Thomas Jones

A week is a very long time in Italian politics, but also no time at all. When the last issue of the LRB went to press on 25 May, it looked as though a new government was about to be formed in Rome. The Movimento 5 Stelle and the Lega had drawn up, signed and approved a coalition agreement – a curious and probably unworkable mix of their variously anti-establishment and racist policies – and nominated Giuseppe Conte to be prime minister. The president of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, had reluctantly agreed to ask Conte to form a government. But then it all fell apart when Mattarella and the leader of the Lega, Matteo Salvini, couldn't agree on who would be finance minister: Salvini refused to propose anyone except the eurosceptic Paolo Savona; Mattarella refused to give him the job; Conte threw in the towel; ricominciamo da capo.

Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the M5S, took to Facebook to record a video calling for street protests, and it was hard not to wonder if he wasn't happier as an opposition figure with a canny social media strategy than he would be in government. (A few days earlier, Guy Verhofstadt had grilled Mark Zuckerberg in the European Parliament. A lot of Italians see the EU as an enemy of democracy, but so – less visibly – is Facebook, and the EU is one of the few bodies with the clout to curb the digital monopolies' powers.)

There was a lot of talk of coups and subverting the will of the people, even the suggestion that Mattarella should be 'impeached', but the president was acting according to his constitutional rights – his duty, even – to defend the Republic. Vague death threats were issued against him on social media, suggesting it was time he join his brother, murdered by the mafia in 1980. The centre-left Partito Democratico, or what remains of it, rallied behind him, under the banner of a 'republican front'.

Accusations that Mattarella was subverting democracy might have been more convincing if Conte and Savona had themselves been elected. If the M5S and Lega had proposed a cabinet led by Di Maio, the leader of the party with the most votes at the last election and the most seats in Parliament, Mattarella might have found it harder to block.

Mattarella proposed a caretaker administration led by Carlo Cottarelli, a former director of the IMF, to draw up a budget and prepare for fresh elections next year. If it failed a vote of confidence in Parliament – as it was bound to – there would be a vote in the autumn. Salvini said that wasn't good enough: Italy should go to the polls immediately.

Amid the uncertainty, the Italian stock market went down and the cost of borrowing went up: the notorious spread – the difference between interest rates on Italian and German 10-year bonds – went over 300 points for the first time in years. EU officials made unhelpful remarks about how the Italians needed to start behaving more responsibly. 'More work, less corruption, seriousness,' Jean-Claude Juncker said – just the kind of attitude that makes Brussels hated, and stokes support for parties hostile to the EU. The way Italy gets talked about, you wouldn't think it had run a primary budget surplus every year since 1992 apart from 2009; its enormous debt (more than 130 per cent of GDP, the second highest in Europe after Greece) was largely accrued in the 1980s.

Opinion polls suggested that a M5S-Lega coalition would win more than 90 per cent of the vote if an election were held immediately. But it also looked as if a right-wing coalition of the Lega, Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the extreme right Fratelli d'Italia – the three parties contested the election together in March – could win enough to get an outright majority, handing Salvini the premiership and leaving the M5S out in the cold, the high water mark of their electoral success having passed without their having formed a government.

But then the M5S and the Lega said they were prepared to have another go at putting a cabinet together after all, without Savona. Rumour had it that Salvini had realised elections in July wouldn't be so great for the Lega, because too many of its voters would be away at the seaside. Whatever the reasons, they came up with a compromise solution that Mattarella could live with, and we're more or less back where we were a week ago, with Conte as PM, and Salvini and Di Maio his deputies. The government is about to be sworn in, and will probably last longer than three days, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were fresh elections before the year is out.


  • 1 June 2018 at 1:57pm
    Armando Gascon says:
    Dr Bardi, a well known and respected Italian scientist, has a completely different opinion from this.
    «Those Weird Italians: do They Really Think Italy is a Sovereign State? A Comment on the Recent Failure of Forming a New Government»

    • 5 June 2018 at 5:23pm
      Rich Will says: @ Armando Gascon
      I don't know if your far-right blogs are going to find much of an audience here. Try Breitbart.

  • 1 June 2018 at 5:44pm
    Stu Bry says:
    Citizens of the Eurozone countries can now only vote against the Fiscal Compact which mandates austerity by voting for parties willing to violate EU treaties. This a gift to the Far Right.

    Juncker's "work harder" message is disgusting and exposes the nature of the EU project since Maastrict. The current fiscal model for the Eurozone has no future.

    • 9 June 2018 at 3:58pm
      Andrew McGee says: @ Stu Bry
      Sadly, the 'work harder' message is not disgusting at all. It is absolutely in point. Much as I love Italy, I find it impossible to deny that the country as a whole needs to:

      - work harder
      - pay its taxes

      - eliminate its endemic corruption.

    • 11 June 2018 at 7:15pm
      Stu Bry says: @ Andrew McGee
      We live in an age of abundance. A significant proportion of workers labour in roles which are entirely or largely unproductive. Automation is going to greatly reduce the quantity of necessary work.

      Juncker and his bedfellows have no interest in a more productive society in Italy or elsewhere. They have an interest in creating a society where the elite takes an ever larger share of wealth. Since 1970 the share of GDP taken by Italian workers has fallen by 13%. This has happened as millions of women have also entered the workforce. Italians are already doing far more work than they were 50 years ago for significantly less pay.

  • 4 June 2018 at 11:30am
    Marmaduke Jinks says:
    "This a gift to the Far Right".

    It is a gift to democrats everywhere.

  • 5 June 2018 at 5:22pm
    Rich Will says:
    On reflection and with hindsight, the M5S was only ever a placeholder for the return of the fascists. Hearing the opening bigoted salvos from Salvini and Fontana, I'd imagine that the grillini who put them into power must be feeling really, really proud of themselves. Porco dio.

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