The Italian government is facing a very delicate situation, with its two major measures in the process of being ratified by the parliament, writes Daniele Fulvi.
Both the far-right League and the populist 5 Star Movement (M5S) that make up the coalition government know their credibility depends on the approval of economic measures that will provide for the citizenship income (the key point of M5S’s agenda) and the security decree (strongly advocated by the League’s leader Matteo Salvini).
However, while the security decree should be ratified by the Parliament without too much trouble, the economic manoeuvre is being opposed by the European Commission, which is trying to convince the Italian government to modify it.
The heart of the economic manoeuvre is twofold: a citizenship income on the one hand, and a flat tax on the other.
To fund the manoeuvre, the government wants to increase the deficit to 2.4%, which basically means increasing Italy’s public debt at the expense of the younger generation.
On this point, the European Commission, a body responsible for implementing European Union decisions and enforcing its treaties, has expressed great concern. It has repeatedly called on the government to modify the manoeuvre and cut its deficit. But both Salvini and M5S front-man Luigi Di Maio said the measure will not be changed, saying the EU needed to understand Italy’s position.
The risk now is that the Commission will open an infringement procedure against Italy to force it to adopt austerity policies once again, as Mario Monti’s government did in 2011. Di Maio and Salvini say they are not worried about a possible infringement procedure, arguing the measure will boost the economy with tangible benefits for Italian people.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also held a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to convince him of the validity of the measure. Juncker said he was open to dialogue, saying “the EU is not at war with Italy”.
However, the impression is there will be tough negotiations, at the end of which the Italian government will surrender, accusing the EU of disrespecting Italian national sovereignty. The next elections to the European Parliament will be held in May. A potential rejection of the manoeuvre and an infringement procedure could be the key argument in the electoral campaign of League and M5S.
In other words, EU opposition to the manoeuvre will increase popular discontent, and the government will blame the “financial elites” of the EU.
It is certainly crucial to oppose the EU’s neoliberal policies, which have already brought to a dramatic rise in poverty and unemployment, especially in the poorer areas of Europe. However, the Italian government is on the wrong path too, since the economic manoeuvre is likely to benefit the rich (thanks to the flat tax) and not to reduce poverty and inequality.
The security decree, on the other hand, has already cleared its first hurdle and is likely to be ratified by the parliament in the next few weeks, despite some M5S members trying to oppose it.
Among other things, the decree provides for very restrictive measures for immigrants and asylum seekers. It also incentivises vigilantism by making it easier to buy arms.
In fact, the decree is a fully-fledged act of racial discrimination based on nationalism and insecurity, in continuity with Salvini’s crusade against “irregular immigrants”.
This is not surprising, since Salvini built his whole electoral campaign on anti-immigration sentiments, security and self-defence. He is now the interior minister and still uses anti-immigrant propaganda to find a scapegoat to people’s real problems (such as unemployment) rather than concretely solve them.
About 20 dissident members of M5S tried to oppose Salvini’s wretched decree, both by presenting amendments to modify the decree and by protesting to Di Maio and other M5S leaders. As a result, they were accused of treachery and threatened with expulsion from the M5S, causing them to eventually withdraw their amendments and approve the decree.
So in the name of the stability of the government, the dissidents were forced to silence their conscience and vote in favor of a racist and anti-humanitarian decree.
However, there is within the government, for two main reasons.
Firstly, the dissidents of the M5S still don’t look favourably on the government coalition, since the League has been found guilty of embezzling of 49 million euros. The M5S built its political success on the fight against the corruption of the political class, of which the League is a fully-fledged part.
Secondly, there are some controversies about environmental issues. Salvini is in favour of the creation of a waste incinerator in southern Italy, while the M5S opposes it.
The agendas of the League and M5S are different on some points, but, according to the latest surveys, the government has a 60% approval rating. Both know that it is better to silence internal dissent and push ahead with the government’s agenda.