The importance of the Italian elections

04 oktober 2022 | John Laughland

Prior to the elections, on 11 August, the three-party alliance which won hands down on Sunday night published its manifesto, in which the conservatives promised to respect Italy’s international alliances, including Nato, and to continue its support for the EU’s post-Covid package, for Ukraine and for the process of European integration. 

There was therefore absolutely no suggestion that right-wing victory would cause any kind of rupture between Rome and Brussels.  On the contrary, the manifesto’s manifest intention was to reassure everyone that much would go on as before. ‘Everything must change so everything can stay the same,’ the notorious saying of Tancredi, in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, has been the watchword of European ‘opposition’ parties for a very long time. 

Cynicism?  A clever ruse?  The ‘centre-right’ as it likes to call itself undoubtedly contains numerous anti-EU elements. Maybe it is now trying to cover them up. In the run-up to the 2018 elections, Matteo Salvini’s Lega had a plan to introduce a parallel Italian currency, undoubtedly a prelude to Italexit from the euro zone.  The party also wanted the anti-euro economist  Paolo Savona to be Finance Minister, an appointment vetoed (unconstitutionally) by President Mattarella.  Even Silvio Berlusconi started to criticize the euro before being ousted from office in 2011.

Meanwhile, when it was in power, the Lega was regularly attacked from the Right by Fratelli d’Italia which has never wielded power before.  Fratelli has now emerged as by far the biggest party with over 26% of the vote, while Lega scored barely 9%.  It is paying a high price for having agreed to join the government of Mario Draghi, the arch-globalist and savious of the euro, while Fratelli was the only party in Italy which refused to support him.  Lega scored 18% in 2018: the burnout has been very rapid.

So the new Italian government could theoretically lead to a breakup of the euro zone – to which one should add the strong showing of the left-wing anti-euros, Cinque Stelle (15%).  On the other hand, Giorgia Meloni will surely try to avoid such an outcome.  She will be faced not only with the energy crisis, in common with all other European states, but also with the famous ‘spread’ between German and Italian bond prices which induced Draghiavelli to start buying tens of billions of euros in government debt every month for several years.  Italy would have a lot to lose from a euro breakup, especially if it were disorderly, and to plan for it in secret, and then carry it out, would require miraculous amounts of political acumen.  So let us not predict anything for the time being.

By contrast, the Italian election result will have two immediate and undoubted effects.  The first is that a major Western European state is now sanctions-sceptic.  Salvini has spoken out strongly against the sanctions, Berlusconi is sceptical of the Nato narrative on Russia, and Meloni, while pro-American, also said in April that the sanctions will hurt Italy more than Russia.  Rome will therefore now join Budapest as a voice of reason against the ideological and suicidal sanctions inflicted by Europe on itself, on American orders.

The second immediate effect will be that, on social issues like immigration and LGBT rights, where Poland and Hungary have been in the Commission’s crosshairs for years, those two Central European countries will now have a strong ally in a major Western European state.  Meloni stans clearly for social conservatism, like Viktor Orban.  Italy’s change of government will make it more difficult (but not impossible) for the European Council to withhold €7 bn in aid to Hungary, as it has threatened to do, and it makes it impossible to suspend Hungary’s voting rights, which would require unanimity.  (Of course Poland promised to stand by its Hungarian ally, and vice-versa, but the Budapest-Warsaw relationship has come under severe strain since February.)  The arrival to power of conservatives in Rome of course also comes hard on the heels of the election of a more conservative parliament in Stockholm.

In sum, Ursula von der Leyen’s plans for a European federation have suddenly become much more difficult to implement.


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