Italy's far-Right repositions itself in bid to govern

Italy's pro-European old guard has been swept away. Now the far-Right La Lega party led by Matteo Salvini is repositioning itself in what is emerging as a serious bid to take power. Brussels, meanwhile, looks on in horror as any real world outcome to the horse trading is certain to yield a Eurosceptic government

Matteo Salvini eyes the top job
Tim Hedges
On 8 March 2018 07:42

The utter annihilation of Italy’s pro-European old guard at last weekend's election means that the country will be led by one Eurosceptic party or a coalition with Eurosceptic leanings. The dealmaking has begun.

The largest single party, Luigi di Maio’s 5-Star, will seek a coalition with the centre left Democratic Party (PD) but there is a movement led by leftist former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to ensure that no deal is done between them, even though that would give Di Maio enough seats to govern (a majority of 24).

So the President, Sergio Mattarella, who oversees proceedings, will turn his attention to Matteo Salvini, leader of the Centre Right coalition after his La Lega party did better than his coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

He has 263 seats in the House, and needs 316. Despite having been regarded in the past as a swivel eyed fascist, Salvini has repositioned himself and comes across as intelligent and reasonable. Here he is addressing the British people on Brexit:

‘Great Britain is a friendly country with a long tradition of trading with Italy. You made a free choice with Brexit and I very much hope it will be possible to maintain completely open trade with the EU without any penalties.’

This is what British Eurosceptics always said should be Europe’s response and it represents a refreshing change from the Brussels-fixated soft left who in Italy have been running the country since Berlusconi was ousted in 2011. Salvini leaves us in no doubt he can stand up to Brussels and present a common sense, non-ideological approach to this and other issues.

Whilst for the left the coalition option would be simply PD plus 5-Star, for Salvini the mathematics are more complicated. He has two problems with a coalition with 5-Star. Firstly he is nervous that its commitment to a national minimum income will be an encouragement not to work (there is no unemployment benefit here).

Salvini sees himself as the champion of those who want to involve themselves in the economic process but cannot due to the austerity policies imposed by Europe.

Second, he is concerned that 5-Star will refuse to have anything to do with his partner Silvio Berlusconi and only go into coalition with his own Lega Party. This would provide a majority but would make him the junior partner, a difficult psychological step to take after a famous victory.

But there are many who are urging the two winners, 5-Star and the centre right coalition, to go into full coalition together despite their problems. They agree on many things and would have a massive majority enabling constitutional change, including the constitutional commitment to a balanced budget.

The markets may ponder that possibility with trepidation, although it is no more than a reflection of the truth. None of the parties has the slightest intention of balancing the books in the foreseeable future. They are about to embark on a forbidden spending spree.

Whilst a coalition between the two winning groupings, 5-Star and the Centre Right, may eventually make sense, at the moment what is most likely is that they each try picking off individual members of the old parties to make up the numbers. It will be a race to get over the 50 percent line.

One of them is likely to make it, and Brussels can only look on with horror as it unfolds.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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