Analysis The struggle to form a government in Italy

09/04/2018

Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla is a professor at the European University of Madrid


After Holy Week, the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, opened consultations in the first week of April on a possible commission to form a Government. And there is already a starting point for this: the agreement Movimento Cinque Stelle of Luigi Di Maio and the League of Matteo Salvini to elect the presidents of the two legislative chambers. In fact, Roberto Fico, Cinque Stelle deputy will be the President of the lower chamber or Chamber of Deputies (located in Palazzo Montecittorio), while for the first time in front of the upper chamber or Senate (located in Palazo Madamma) it will be a woman who will be in charge of it, specifically Senator María Elisabetta Alberti from Forza Italia. This makes the situation even more complicated, because, with this move by Salvini (who has ceded this honour to a member of Berlusconi's party), it is clear that the young politician from Lombardy intends to play the two assets he has at his disposal.

On the one hand, the young Lombard politician seems to be satisfied with a Cinque Stelle -Liga Movement agreement that at the time gives in the Senate (where it is always more difficult to achieve a majority) a total of 167 votes when the votes are won at this time with only 160 votes, taking into account that there are 318 members in the Chamber. On the other hand, Salvini leaves the door open for the center-right coalition he leads, with a total of 137 senators, to be the one that ultimately governs, aware that it is enough for them if 23 senators join them at the key moment of voting the "fiduccia" (or trusteeship) for the new Government. Twenty-three senators who can now leave the 52 senators of the Partido Democratico (PD), where Maurizio Martina is acting as interim secretary, but where former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, at least for the time being, actually has control of the National Assembly, which is to vote on the post-electoral agreements.

However, the time has yet to come for abstentions or divisions: it is time to find a five-year government agreement between two parties which, it has to be said, have very few similarities. Thus, while the League is the standard bearer of the interests of the rich industrial north, although no longer exclusively (because thanks to the change of discourse of Salvini, much more inclusive than that of Umberto Bossi, also receives votes from the center and south of the country), Movimento Cinque Stelle represents the Italian youth (increasingly downward as a result of the long demographic meltdown the country has endured for decades) and also a middle class fed up with the corruption embodied by the so-called Italian "caste". A middle class that once would have voted for the Italian left (either the PD or the Libres e Iguales) but has now decided to place its trust Cinque Stelle "grillinis", not least because their leader, Di Maio, comes from the punished south of Italy (he was born in Avellino, a town close to Naples and, like the whole south of the country, suffers extremely high unemployment rates).

The most important question to ask ourselves, therefore, is what really unites these two parties? First and foremost, the implementation of a tough line towards the European institutions. While Di Maio's colleagues blame the Community authorities for the fact that, with their austerity policies, they have only managed to increase the inequality between the centre and north of the Union, on the one hand, and the countries of the south (Greece, Italy, Spain and Greece), on the other, from east to west), on the other hand, Salvini's voters, for their part, are demanding more protection against the continuous waves of immigrants that are proliferating more and more on the streets of the thriving north of Italy, fostering a sense of insecurity among citizens. And they are not unreasonable on this issue, since Central and Northern Europe have shown very little sensitivity to the migration problem, forgetting that southern Italy is not the border of the transalpine country, but of the European Union at large, and that it is thus a problem to be tackled by all the countries that make up the current European structure.

But, beyond all this, little more can be glimpsed of a possible new government program. Movimento Cinque Stelle wants to abolish the Renzi government's labour reform (the so-called "Jobs Act"), but it is difficult for Salvini to support him in this respect, since the Italian business sector, represented by the Confindustria employers' association, and which in many cases is behind the vote for the League, believes that this labour reform, although it has increased the precariousness and seasonality of new (and not so new) Italian workers, is (in the positive sense) to blame for the transition from a recessionary economy to one that is experiencing stable growth (-2.8% of GDP in 2012 to +1.5% in 2017). In any case, the Italian business community must be very self-critical, because the reality is that the new generations of young people from the south no longer go to the north of the country, but directly to other countries and even to other continents, leaving the country without their best talents.

It is possible that both will also find agreement on the repeal of the Fornero Law (named for its author Elsa Fornero, Minister of Labor of the Monti Government, November 2011-April 2013), which brought the retirement age to 67 years of age. Of course, there they may find that Italy is once again failing to comply with the deficit targets set by the EU and that means a further increase in the very large national debt (132.6% of GDP), so we should see how they reform this controversial law.

The bottom line is that Salvini has many more points of consensus, not only with Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Meloni's Hermanos de Italia, but even with Renzi's PD, who is accused on the Italian left of being an undercover Christian Democrat'. Whether or not this is the case, the truth is that Renzi, at least for the time being, has refused a possible pact with both Di Maio and Salvini, which makes it difficult for President Mattarella to reach a so-called " Plan B " agreement, which would be to try to reach a Movimento Cinque Stelle -Democratic Party agreement, something that would spearhead the sector led so far by the Minister of Culture and former interim secretary of the PD Dario Franceschini. It should not be ignored that Mattarella, whilst never having to give up his role as a completely impartial referee, is ultimately a member of the PD and it so happens that as a native of Palermo, he also belongs to the affected south of Italy, which would have his share of influence in a possible PD- Movimento Cinque Stelle pact. In any case, Franceschini is once again confronted with the certainty that Renzi continues to control the PD, since his replacement (Martina), although he belongs to the leftist tendency of the Partito Democratico, repeats what Renzi said just after the elections: no to the pact with the Liga, and no to the pact with Cinque Stelle. At least, for the time being.

And, to make the situation even more complex, we should not forget to mention the ever-important issue of personalism, which plays a fundamental role in politics. Salvini has no intention of being a subordinate of Di Maio's, and Berlusconi and Meloni are already pushing him to do what he can to continue to look for votes for the centre-right to return to office in Italy, which has not happened since Silvio Berlusconi had to resign early in November 2011 due to the deep economic crisis in the country. So, as we have seen, Mattarella, as was the case of Napolitano in 2013, has a lot of hard work ahead of him, since there are many combinations to form a government and several candidates (Di Maio, Salvini and even Gentiloni) to chair what would be the 65th government in the history of the Italian Republic. Let the Italian politicians surprise us once again with that ability to reach an impossible pact and, of course, at the last minute.

Translation: David Alonso Galera. 

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