I returned a few days ago from a conference in Italy where I spoke with some former economic advisers of the Five Star Movement (M5S), which is now in a coalition government with the hard right wing Lega, formerly the separatist Northern League, which has now gone national, appealing to southern Italy with a strong anti-immigrant push. While the not very exciting M5S leaders push for a minimum income guarantee, Lega’s Matteo Salvini as Interior Minister has been capturing all the public attention with direct actions to block African immigrants from arriving over the summer. With Steve Bannon showing up to support him, he is on a roll and obviously aiming to take full control and push the M5S coalition partner aside. One sign of the new era is that there are now heavily armed soldiers in camouflage pretty much everywhere patrolling, Interior troops, in contrast to the old local police and low key federally supported carabinieri. There is a very different atmosphere from even a few months ago.
The two share some positions. They both criticize the EU leadership and claim to support leaving the eurozone. However, that appears not to be too likely. What is more likely is that they will break rules on budget deficits that have long been in place, with both parties supporting this, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It also appears that Lega will go along with some sort of income guarantee, although M5S’s former support for a strong environmental policy of sustainable development seems to have largely gone by the wayside, aside from wacko opposition to vaccinations, this being a major reason one of my friends stopped supporting them. Unsurprisingly at the conference there was a presentation on how bad outcomes can arise from having too many people not getting vaccinated.
I note that last year Italy finally began to see some economic growth after a long time of just pure stagnation, although at about 1% per year not too much. But this was not enough to hold off this surge of creeping authoritarian populism. I do not think Italy will wither, as my post title hinted, it continues to have vast wells of creativity and innovation. But I fear Salvini could come to full power, and I fear where that might lead, not just for Italy, but all of Europe.