If one outsider can disrupt Italian politics, then it can happen again
For hardline Remainers it is necessary to portray Britain as the deranged man of Europe: a uniquely riotous realm, unable to cope with life outside the EU. Thus the fall of Boris Johnson is portrayed as a chaotic constitutional meltdown — and not what’s actually happening, which is our political system working exactly as it’s meant to.
The corollary of this is that genuine dysfunction in our European neighbours must be played down. Therefore let’s not a make big thing of the collapse of Germany’s energy alliance with Russia — an economic and geopolitical catastrophe that dwarfs the downsides of Brexit. Let’s not dwell upon the fact that Marine Le Pen’s National Rally is now the second largest party in the French National Assembly. And let’s not even mention that the Spanish far Right is back in business — and may soon enter government as a coalition partner to the centre-Right.
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But most of all, let’s make light of events in Italy. Following the resignation of Mario Draghi as Prime Minister, a general election has been called for the 25th September. According to current polls, the most likely winner is a Right-wing alliance dominated by two overtly populist parties — Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Matteo Salvini’s League.
It says something that the hoped-for moderating influence on Meloni and Salvini is Silvio Berlusconi — who leads the much smaller third member of the Right-wing alliance. Still, not to worry, argues Maria Tadeo for Bloomberg. Italy might be about to get a Eurosceptic government, but there’s little danger of an “Italexit”. The idea of the EU’s third-largest economy leaving the single currency, let alone the Union, “has disappeared almost entirely from the national debate”.
But what if the next Eurozone crisis isn’t initiated by the populists directly, but by the money markets taking fright at a populist victory? In the New Statesman, Jeremy Cliffe makes the case for calm. He doesn’t like the idea of the far Right taking power, yet thinks it a “relatively safe assumption” that a Meloni-Salvini government would “collapse in a year of two after much drama and little substance”. The task of “managing Italian decline” would then pass on to the “next incumbents”.
I’m afraid this is complacency on the scale of Germany’s Russia policy — and likely to come to grief. Escape from the Eurozone may be impossible for Italy, but that doesn’t mean that popular discontent will dissipate. Impotent fury has a habit of festering away.
If Meloni and Salvini fail, then new outlets for voter anger will be found. Don’t forget that at the last general election in 2018, Meloni’s party received only 4% of the vote. Today it has more than five times that level of support. If an insurgent force can come from the fringe to disrupt Italian politics then it can happen again, especially if a nation’s desire for change is frustrated by outsiders.
The EU establishment and the liberal press shouldn’t just worry about Meloni and Salvini — but also about what and who could follow them.