The Italian Establishment’s Coming Crash

After a political saga an Italian newspaper compared to a “Monty Python” sketch, Italian populists have cobbled together a government the Financial Times likens to “Modern Barbarians.” All good, then.

The heady brew of alt-Left Five Star and hard-Right Lega forms Western Europe’s first unabashedly populist government at the beating heart of Western civilization.

A tempestuous March election, then months of wrangling, eventually led to an arranged marriage of populist Lleft and Right—both are united in their muted disdain for the European Union, and the beggarly Euro currency responsible for 20 years of stagnation.

Last weekend, the Five Star-Lega coalition looked set for power, until Italian elites shot down their attempts to form a government after objecting to the populists’ pick for finance minister.

Paolo Savona, an economist hostile to the Euro, was vetoed by Italian prime minister Sergio Mattarella who decided markets knew best. Popular newspaper La Stampa said the fiasco could have been plucked from “Monty Python.”

In a nutshell: Mattarella banjaxed Savona, who fell on top of the proposed coalition’s prime ministerial candidate, Giuseppe Conte, only for him to be replaced by establishment and former International Monetary Fund official Carlo Cottarelli—known affectionately as “Mr. Scissors” for his budget-slashing penchant—who was cobbling together a technocratic government ahead of new impasse-breaking elections to be held in August. Then new talks had a breakthrough on Thursday night. Savona could now end up European affairs minister, while Giovanni Tria, a little-known economics professor, would helm the finance job.

The Five Star-Lega coalition, if you’re still following, will now go ahead. A “panino con zuppa,” said a Sicilian friend.

Over the weekend, Italian elites had seemed content with blocking the populist coalition and installing their favored pro-EU panjandrums to run the country, an attitude typified by Guenther Oettinger, the EU’s budget commissioner, who suggested market turmoil would “teach the Italians to not vote for populists.”

The meek elite revolt lasted a few days, until snap polls showed Italians, already incandescent, would happily return the barbarians to office with even weightier numbers—a ruthless truth from which perhaps #TheResistance could glean a morsel of sense.

That was indeed a wise move. Any new election would have been a de facto referendum on the Euro currency immiserating Europe’s fourth-largest economy. Italy hasn’t grown in two decades, leaving Italians mired and without the mithridate of devaluation to cure their ills. Leaving the Euro, as nosediving markets this week showed, surely would have spelled the end of Italy’s membership in the already besieged EU.

Adding to Brexit, the European Union now has a government hostile to its very marrow, parked in the power center of one of its founding, and once most fervent, member countries.

After all, EU values have been rejected wholeheartedly by half of Italians, and the “disease” of populism doesn’t stop there. Italian elites, ventriloquized by their EU brothers-in-arms, have serious problems ahead.

A major YouGov study of 11,000 people found that in nine of 11 European countries, immigration and terrorism were the top two concerns of voters—areas in which the EU founders most drastically. In Spain and Italy, those polled said unemployment concerned them more than terrorism, with immigration the top concern.

Half of all those polled felt “concerned” about immigration, with two-thirds of Germans agreeing and three-quarters of French, Greeks, and Italians nodding in unison.

Given that asylum applications have increased five-fold since 2008, and with much of Western Europe blemished by 60 or so attacks by radical Islamic terrorists in the last few years, the gangrene creeps kneeward.

Adding to the tumult, incoming Italian populists plan to do what they promised during the campaign.

Lega’s Matteo Salvini, a Trump-like figure with a molto simpatico palatable to the kinds of voters President Trump sadly repels, is likely to become interior minister. His promise to deport a half-million illegal aliens could start in earnest. Posting a video on social media on Thursday, Salvini decried the image of an apparent migrant plucking a pigeon on the streets—“Go home!” was the tag.

So the death of populism was greatly exaggerated. The winning formula is simple: promise a more sensible immigration policy, place denizens over data, question the bankrupt markets über alles, and most people will agree with you.

As President Trump found, wage-killing open-borders is not too popular with ordinary folks who are already struggling. In the UK, too, Brexit would have remained the nocturnal fantasy of policy wonks if not for the promise of taking back control of the country’s borders being placed invitingly center stage.

Elites across Europe and the United States  refuse to heed the convulsions all around them,preferring to ignore, brand, deride, and mock those lacking letters. But those unfashionables get to vote, and they’re not impressed, as the quivering Italian establishment has found out.

Photo credit: Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB /LightRocket via Getty Images

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