“The Situation is not Serious but Grave”, once again

Future Europe

Ennio Flaviano’s popular quote may be useful once again to describe the current governmental situation in Italy.

The new government formed by the yellow-green coalition is being described by the media as populist and Eurosceptic. It is upon this basic common ground that two apparently different parties like the 5 Stars Movement and League could come together and find an agreement over a programme for the government to be. A programme that ultimately, according to the two leaders, entails all the priorities of both the parties involved. For those who followed the Italian political debate over the past couple of years, it may sound quite ridiculous. In fact, Di Maio and Salvini spent this time insulting each other and repeating  they would have never formed a coalition together. It took 88 days since the election day, but here we are observing giddy and gleeful smiles on their faces while swearing in as new Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers.

Describing what this government looks like is less obvious than expected. It is anti-establishment, anti-Europe and populist. Yet there are seven technocrats out of eighteen Ministers anti-establishment technocrats. The Euro is not even questioned: the new finance minister, Giovanni Tria, told reporters that “no political party wants Italy out of the euro”. The European Union itself represents a question mark in terms of policies that the government is likely to pursue. The programme is not precise on this matter, hence unclear.

Rather than anti-Europe, this government is anti-solidarity and its protagonists have been using the EU as the scapegoat for everything they found wrong for Country. But it’s too soon to say whether this attitude will change now that they are in charge or if an Orban-like rhetoric should be instead expected. The latter is the most likely to happen, as both League and 5 Stars even expressed appreciation for the Hungarian policies and narrative against the EU, and since hiding the dust under the carpet – read, deliver statements that don’t correspond to the truth of facts – is a longstanding hideous habit in Italian politics, and now more than ever. Thus the rhetoric is grave, but not serious.

Hence, the real uncertainty. By reading and analysing the programme of the government, we know that its policies will be generally informed by far-right principles. But a close-up view let us glimpse that the rhetoric might be misleading the real intentions regarding the relationship with the EU. In fact, we can expect less (or no) commitment to the advancement of the EU integration, less support for solidarity mechanisms, and opposition to some EU policies considered to be too intrusive into national affairs.

Donald Tusk indirectly revealed its doubts towards the new government by delivering two very different congratulations to the new Spanish Prime Minister and to Giuseppe Conte, the Italian one. “I trust that you and your government will play a constructive role in the European Union,” wrote Tusk to the Spanish socialist leader after pointing out that “your appointment comes at a challenging time for Europe. European unity is now more needed than ever.” His letter to Conte didn’t take any fruitful cooperation for granted instead, reading “I strongly believe that our community will only flourish when based on respectful dialogue and loyal cooperation, which I will do my best to ensure,” Tusk wrote, “To overcome our common challenges, we need unity and solidarity more than ever,” Tusk added. Relying on solidarity won’t be easy, considering that Salvini reacted to his first immigrant flow as the new Minister for Interior Affairs by saying “the good times for you – the immigrants, ed. – are over!”.

The good times for the Italian Europeanism are probably over as well. The yellow-green government has to deliver a lot, to be able to continue relying on the popular consensus. But the EU needs to deliver a lot too, by respecting the Italian vote while at the same time stressing the yellow-green government contradictions. Otherwise the Europeanism sentiment that is left in the country would fade away.

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