Robert Harneis-TDO- (FRANCE)-The Italian President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, yesterday asked Professor Giuseppe Conte, the candidate proposed jointly by the Five Star Movement and the League, to form a new government. Accepting the mandate, Conte said he will act as “the defense lawyer of the Italian people,” but also stressed he was “aware of the need of confirming Italy’s European and international standing.” The comments reflect the fact that the Italian President is the guardian of the treaties under the Italian constitution. They include the Treaty known as the Treaty of Rome, because that is where it was signed when Italy with France, West Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg founded what was then the Common Market but has now become the European Union. The new coalition blames Europe and the Euro for much of Italy’s current problems.
Matarella will have been under great pressure from Brussels to do everything possible to avoid the formation of a government containing the two anti-Europe parties. But the electoral arithmetic, with its dramatic rejection of the traditional center right and center left parties of government, has made the present coalition inevitable. In addition, both the European Commission in Brussels and the pro Europeans in Rome will be uncomfortably aware that opinion polls are showing no signs of any weakening in the anti-European anti-immigration vote. Thus, the option of having another election was not attractive
The driving force behind the dramatic shift in electoral opinion has been Italy’s big immigration problem and stubbornly high unemployment. Matarella has himself urged all political parties to concentrate on the unemployment problem. Many electors believe that membership of the European Union is to blame for the severity of the immigration problem and that the Euro is more than a little to blame for the high unemployment figures. As far as the economy is concerned they are supported by two distinguished economists Alberto Bagnai and Claudio Borghi, both of whom are fiercely opposed to Italy’s membership of the Euro and the current austerity policies that go with it. The new coalition will be strengthened by the fact that both have been elected to the Senate for the Lega.
The European Commission was in conciliatory mode and said Italy was last year “broadly compliant” with the “preventive arm” of the EU’s stability and growth pact, which requires member states to work towards reducing their debt below 60 per cent of GDP. Bearing in mind Italy’s government debt is 120% of GDP, that was more than generous. However, the Commission cautioned that Italy will have to take further steps to reduce its public debt. Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU Commissioner responsible for the Euro said, “Our political message is very clear. Italy needs to continue to reduce its public debt which is indeed second highest in the EU after Greece.” Quite how the Italians are supposed to do this with a fixed exchange rate and no growth has not been explained.
Conte is a complete unknown in Italian politics although he is clearly Eurosceptic. He owes his place to the inability of the two parties forming the coalition to agree which should nominate the Prime Minister.
The largely pro-Europe media lost no time in pointing to his lack of experience and posed questions over the veracity of his CV. The Courrier International pointed out that neither Matteo Salvini of the Lega nor Luigi Di Maio of 5 Star have a university degree. However, electors may well have concluded that, bearing in mind the results of putting experienced politicians in charge, now is the time to try inexperience.
Conte will now draw up a list of ministers, which Mattarella has to approve. The President will be most concerned about who is proposed as Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Economy. Then Conte must win a vote of confidence in the Italian parliament, which should not be a problem given the support promised him by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
President Matarella will have to tread a fine line between attempting to limit the anti-European tendencies of the new government and being seen to be anti-democratic. Whilst the coalition has drawn back from its most radical proposals, notably leaving the Euro, it continues to propose economic policies that would seem to mean just that.
The coalition is also adamant that sanctions against Russia should end as they are counterproductive and harming the Italian and European economy.
Brussels is grimly aware that it will not be possible to treat the third biggest economy in the Eurozone and 60 million Italians in the harsh way they have trampled on Greek democratic and economic aspirations.