Italy says goodbye to the extreme right

It took 88 days of negotiations and one of the most contested elections in the country’s history, but on May 31, 2018, Italy presented a radical far-right government that left in shock half the world and embarked towards collision with the rest of Europe.

Threatening to deport more than 500,000 migrants, abandon the euro and bring Italy closer to Russia, the populist government was the worst-case scenario for the European Union, leading some to fear the end of the then block of 28 state.

“Open doors for good people and a one-way ticket for those who come to Italy to create commotion and think they will be taken care of. Sending them home will be one of our priorities ”, declared the vice president and interior minister Matteo Salvini hours after taking possession of the position.

If his intentions weren’t entirely clear, Salvini, who had previously accused migrants of bringing crime and disease to Italy, also tweeted a video It showed an immigrant plucking a pigeon. “Go home !!!” he wrote.

Matteo Salvini at a rally in Catania, Sicily, in June 2018, days after taking office.

Almost three years after the coalition of the League of Salvini and the 5-Star Movement took power, Europe is battling another crisis and Italy is forming another government, the 68th since the end of World War II. Previously, Salvini had broken the coalition with his government partner seeking an electoral advance after a series of favorable polls. It did not go well and the Democratic Party occupied the gap in the League.

In this new crisis of government, both the mood of the Italians and the position of Salvini have radically changed.

“Regarding immigration, we will propose the adoption of European legislation. It is good for Italy that it is treated in the same way as in France or Germany, with the same rules ”, Salvini declared this week. A speech far removed from his furious calls in favor of “closed ports and zero landings.”

But the most surprising thing is Salvini’s support for Mario Draghi, in charge of forming a new government and spending the 200 billion euros of European funds to alleviate the economic crisis derived from the pandemic.

Salvini not only campaigned for Italy to abandon the single currency, the one that Draghi saved when he was president of the European Central Bank, the League accused the economist of being an “accomplice” in the economic “massacre” of Italy.

Anti-racist demonstration in June 2018 in Rome.

“The League wants to join Draghi in trying to clear its name in Europe, to get rid of its reputation as a Eurosceptic party,” a party source tells Reuters.

The next step for the formation of the government is for Draghi to present his list of ministers to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and reveal his political program in parliament.

The most feared man in Europe

The unthinkable coalition between the extreme right of the League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which elevated Salvini from regional councilor to internationally relevant figure, had been brewing for years.

Anger towards the austerity measures promoted by the EU after the financial crisis of 2008 and fears towards immigration led Italians to reject the then powerful establishment from the country. By promising the poorest a guaranteed minimum income, pension reform and the deportation of migrant ships, the League-Five Star coalition filled the void.

Baptized as “The most feared man in Europe”, Salvini quickly became one of the most powerful and divisive politicians in the world, courting other populists like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.

Closer to home, Europe was caught in a wave of populism as, in 2018, elections across the continent confirmed the popularity of far-right leaders who, after decades on the periphery, were forming governments alone or in coalition.

After transforming a regional party like the League into the most popular group in Italy, getting 34% of the vote in the 2019 European elections, Salvini left the government seeking an electoral advance that would make him prime minister.

Salvini asked for “full powers” and walked bare-chested along the country’s beaches dancing to the Italian anthem. He miscalculated and the center-left Democratic Party replaced the League in government, moving Salvini into the opposition, where his popularity began to sink in favor of another far-right leader, Giorgia Meloni. The candidate of Fratelli D’Italia and ally of Vox will be the only one who, in principle, opposes Mario Draghi.

Inflection point

In an ironic turn of events, Salvini’s political resurrection in 2021 has not only changed the political landscape in Italy, it has also divided the eurosceptic and populist parties on the continent, including some such as the National Front of Marine Le Pen in France or Alternative for Germany.

“Salvini’s conversion is a turning point for Italy and Europe,” explains the editor-in-chief of the Italian edition of the HuffPost, Gianni Del Vecchio. “This completes the normalization work of the populist parties: the Five Star Movement already became pro-European in 2019. Now it is the League’s turn.”

The League’s far-right allies in the European Parliament are furious at Salvini’s support for a Draghi-led government, which is set to immediately set to work on a recovery plan using millions of European funds.

Matteo Salvini after meeting Draghi on February 9.

“It is a joke, but in bad taste and that the Germans will not be able to laugh at,” said Joerg Meuthen, one of the Afd leaders.

In response, some League politicians have rekindled rumors that Salvini may soon leave the far-right group in the European Parliament and join that of the center-right parties.

Party members say it is a calculated move aimed at improving Salvini’s image and, as a consequence, increasing the chances that he will one day become prime minister. It also serves to boost the group’s image, which had dropped in polls.

“We want to be like the Republican Party in the United States. An inclusive party that reconciles all the positions of the center-right Italians without excluding anyone ”, explained Giulio Centemero, a deputy of the League, to Reuters.

The party has seen an immediate rise in the polls thanks to its decision to support the new Draghi government, increasing its percentage by 0.7 since last week, thus reaching 24%, the largest increase among the parties according to SWG pollsters.

“Salvini’s turn shows that the League is a fully mature party and makes it clear that it is a trustworthy governing party,” said Gianluca Cantalamessa, one of the members of the League who is part of a new wave of parliamentarians from the south. from Italy.

In the center of the action

Salvini 2.0 may not display the same agitated nature, but his political instincts are no less keen, and his transformation from populist star to pro-European entertainer comes at one of the most critical moments in contemporary European history.

At stake is 200 billion from the EU, part of a 750 billion euro bailout fund designed to revitalize the battered Italian economy, which has barely grown in two decades.

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Mario Draghi, before the media after accepting the order to form a government.

Regional governors of Salvini’s party urged their leader to support Draghi to secure a share of the loot, confident that the economist will draw plans to spend business-friendly EU funds. According to internal party sources, there was “very little opposition” to the policy change.

“The pandemic has shown that polarizing policies are not accepted by citizens in the face of suffering. Voters want solutions to their problems, ”explained Nicola Pasini, professor of Political Science at the University of Milan.

While the pandemic has caused the latest political earthquake in Italy, Gianni Del Vecchio says the tremors could be felt across Europe. “Right now populism is a minority in Italy,” said the journalist. “In Europe, the same could happen. The EU populist group split into three in the last vote in parliament on the recovery plan. The Italian case could be the first sign of crisis among European nationalists ”.

But in a country in which all the governments that have come out since the Second World War have a life expectancy of just over a year, Roberto D’Alimonte, professor of politics at the Luiss University in Rome, is clear that Salvini does not he will hesitate to change tack if the Draghi experiment goes wrong.

“It is a strategic choice that will only be consolidated if things go well. If they go wrong, it’s all over. He will return to the nationalist camp ”, declared the professor.

HuffPost Italia and Reuters have contributed to this report.

This article It was originally published in the US edition of HuffPost and has been translated and adapted from English by Uxía Prieto.

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