Following weeks of negotiations, Italy’s 5 Star Movement (M5S) and the Democratic Party (PD) have agreed to form a new coalition government, which will also include the progressive Free and Equal (LeU) party.
Giuseppe Conte will remain prime minister and the key ministerial roles will be evenly divided between M5S and PD.
Significantly, this new coalition will put former Interior minister Matteo Salvini’s far-right Lega (League) into a corner — at least for the immediate future — preventing the authoritarian shift Salvini was trying to realise.
To definitively defeat the rise of the far right, however, the anti-fascist forces cannot simply out vote them. What is needed is to shake consciences and put in place a real alternative to their reactionary, nationalist and xenophobic agenda.
The new government agenda includes some progressive and environmentalist points, in contrast to the previous government in which Salvini held an undisputed leading position.
The new government intends to implement a Green New Deal by promoting the fight against climate change, for renewable energy sources and biodiversity protection. Moreover, the government agenda includes the introduction of a minimum wage and equal pay for women.
On the negative side, the new government has said they will not introduce new property or income taxes. Despite this, there seems to have been a change in direction compared to the previous government.
Relegating Salvini to the opposition could be a double-edged sword, however, gifting him an overwhelming victory at next election.
One of the reasons the new coalition government wanted to avoid fresh elections (which was a possibility if the M5S and PD had failed to form a coalition government) was the possibility this could have led to a win for the far right, based on opinion polls.
Such a victory would have enabled the far right to elect the new President of the Republic in 2022 and reform the Constitution without any hindrances.
While it is good that the democratic institutions have been safeguarded and Salvini has been sidelined, this will only work in the short term. The left needs to take this opportunity to form a united front, to stop the far-right and become a new leading and ruling force.
Protests against the new government
There have already been far right protests against the new coalition government. Salvini and Giorgia Meloni (leader of the far-right party Brothers of Italy) led a rally outside parliament on September 9, calling for new elections.
Protesters praised Mussolini and gave the Roman salute, with the tacit agreement of both Salvini and Meloni. Such protests represent a shameful fact in Italy’s recent history.
The real reason for the protest was Salvini’s disappointment in his failed plan to take power. Ironically, he triggered the crisis that led to this new government, by trying to force an early election to secure a large parliamentary majority for his party.
An absolute majority for the far right would have posed a serious threat to the stability of Italy’s democratic institutions and to democracy itself. The far right is increasingly indulging the neo-fascist wave and denigrating and defaming anti-fascist organisations.
The right’s goal is to reduce parliament’s powers and to centralise decision-making in the hands of the head of government — that is, a radical, authoritarian presidentialism.
This danger has been avoided for now, however, the right will continue to pursue its anti-democratic and authoritarian agenda, to which resistance and alternatives will be needed.
What future for the left?
It is no mystery that the rise of the far right (both in Italy and in Europe) has been indirectly encouraged by the indulgence of progressive and moderate parties. In Italy, both the PD and M5S bear huge responsibility for the growth of the far right and of Salvini in particular.
For too long, the PD has endorsed the neoliberal policies of the European Union (EU), creating an atmosphere of discontent and adding fuel to the fire of right-wing populism.
It was the PD that approved — in the name of “economic stability” — unfair and unpopular laws required by the EU such as the “Jobs Act”, which led to a rise in job insecurity.
The M5S has also undoubtedly paved the way for the rise and diffusion of Salvini’s racist, sexist and xenophobic ideas. They knew perfectly well who Salvini was and what his agenda was, when they formed an alliance with him last year.
There is no excuse for the fact that the M5S deliberately and willingly endorsed Salvini’s reactionary policies as part of their own government agenda.
Some politicians and columnists have said the agreement between PD and M5S was 18 months overdue. Indeed, if they had made this deal immediately after last year’s elections, Salvini would not have been allowed to join the government.
While this is true, it is a very short-sighted view. Even if Salvini had been in opposition since last year’s election, the reasons that led Salvini and Lega to increase their influence had already been created by previous governments.
In other words, it is true that the deal between PD and M5S is late, but not because it should have been made last year. This deal should have happened after the 2013 elections, when the PD and M5S would have been able to form a stable government without having to face the threat of the far right and of the “centrist push” by some PD members.
In 2013, Italy came out of the difficult period of economist Mario Monti’s technocratic government (installed in the wake of Italy’s debt crisis). A radical change was needed back then.
After the elections, the only radical change possible in the parliament would have been an alliance between the PD and M5S. However, M5S categorically refused to take part in any coalition and decided to sit in opposition, in the name of their anti-establishment ideology.
M5S betrayed this ideology when they allied with Salvini, and revealed their fundamentally reactionary nature by accepting and endorsing Salvini’s agenda.
M5S’s rejection of the PD’s proposal for a coalition in 2013 also led the centrist Matteo Renzi to take control of the PD and the government — with disastrous results.
On the one hand, the new coalition seems to have been made mostly for the immediate political convenience of its members. On the other hand, both the PD and M5S have the chance to prove their maturity and leave their unfortunate pasts behind.
Renzi has already announced that he is going to leave the PD (together with his inner circle) to create a new centrist party. This is very good news, since it could allow the PD to shift its agenda to the progressive side and leave aside any neoliberal policies.
The real challenge for the left, however, is to use this opportunity to finally put into place a new agenda, radically different to both hegemonic neoliberalism and to the far right.
If this does not happen, the far right will come back stronger than before and will be able to realise its reactionary project with almost no opposition.
Italy and Europe cannot let this happen.