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Italy versus the EU establishment: now who’s being irresponsible?

Credit: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/DPA/PA Images

Credit: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/DPA/PA Images

March 14, 2018   3 mins

As an Englishman with relatives in various European countries, I’ve always been puzzled by the UK’s lack of interest in its neighbours’ politics.

It’s true that fewer people in Britain identify as European than in any other EU country; however, even fewer Britons identify as American, and that doesn’t stop the British media from following US politics in extravagant detail. America may be the most important country in the world (for the moment), but what happens across the English Channel is every bit as relevant to Britain as what happens across the Atlantic.

In part, the problem is one of complexity. In America, only two parties matter (and just the one in Russia and China); but with European politics there are multiple parties in multiple countries to keep track of.

Was that why the broadcasters did such a poor job explaining last week’s Italian general election to the British public? Or, was the result – a disruptive surge in support for Eurosceptic populism – simply too painful for the Europhile media establishment to dwell upon? There is, however, one Europhile bastion – the Economist – that does understand the gravity of the situation:

“Both chambers of parliament are hung… More alarming is that half of the voters—fed up with high unemployment, stagnant wages, uncontrolled immigration and a self-serving political class—voted for the two main populist parties, the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the Northern League. Both are hostile to the EU and especially the euro, and both campaigned on lavish tax and spending promises that Italy cannot afford. Mathematically, no government can be formed without one of them.”

It’s difficult to see the PD (the main party in the outgoing, EU-compliant government) from doing a deal with either Five Star or the League.

Other options also lack feasibility:

“For the PD, the choice is between hemlock and cyanide. But refusing to give even limited support to either risks an even more gruesome possibility: an alliance between the League and M5S. Right now that seems unlikely. The League’s traditional hostility to the poorer south, where M5S is strongest, makes such a pact hard… Faced with deadlock, President Sergio Mattarella could seek to appoint a short-lived technocratic government. Or Italians may be asked to vote again. Neither option will solve much. Scheming to keep the populists out will only strengthen them…”

At some point, a government of some description will emerge – but not one with the inclination or the mandate to implement the painful measures being urged upon Italy by its partners in the Eurozone:

“The euro zone’s third-largest economy has low growth and public-sector debt of about 130% of GDP. It is also too big to bail out. Italy poses a systemic risk to the euro unless it can reform itself. And on the evidence of last weekend, it can’t.”

In its current form, the EU can’t move forward without major reforms to the Eurozone, but those can’t happen without major reforms to Italy – which the Italians have just rejected. This is why the Economist calls the election result “a vote for irresponsibility”.

But who’s really being irresponsible here? The Single Currency – that crushing burden on Italian growth – is an invention of French politicians, engineered by German bankers. The nature of Italy’s economy and government was never a secret, and yet the country was welcomed into the Eurozone.

Even less of a secret is Italy’s geography. When Germany opened its borders to mass immigration, Angela Merkel knew that the invitees would have to come via southern and eastern Europe. In the face of a domestic backlash, she then reimposed controls – as did Emmanuel Macron – trapping migrants on Italian soil.

What happened on 4 March was an inevitable consequence. The Italians may have done the voting, but the result was of France and Germany’s making.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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