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Will Italy’s New Government Be a Real Change from the “Government of Change”?

How did two bitter rivals such as the Five Stars Movement and the Democratic Party end up together? And what will they actually do?

Italian PM Giuseppe Conte (Photo Credit: Palazzo Chigi).

It remains to be seen if, along with the announced “change in language,” the new Government will also radically modify the political line of the previous one. Certainly, that would be the intention of the Democratic Party, while the Five Stars Movement is trying to reassure its electorate about the bills—such as the so-called “income of citizenship”—it had sponsored in the previous administration.

After the new Italian government, formed by the populist Five Stars Movement and the center-left Democratic Party, was sworn in a few days ago, some attentive readers may have wondered how these two bitter political rivals could have ended up becoming allies over the course of two weeks. The new coalition, which won the vote of confidence both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, seemed to be unachievable only a month ago, when the Five Stars Movement was aggressively labeling the Democrats as “the Bibbiano party.” In fact, the FSM was referring to a horrific scandal, erupted last June in the town of Bibbiano (Emilia-Romagna), about an organization that allegedly brainwashed children in order to sell them to foster parents. And because the DP local mayor was found to be involved, Beppe Grillo’s movement started insulting the political rivals, misleadingly implying that the whole party could have had something to do with the abhorrent scheme uncovered by the Italian police in Bibbiano.

On the other hand, we could hardly argue that the Democratic Party’s representatives used to be soft on the Five Stars Movement, which they accused of a lack of competence and political experience. The Italian center-left harshly criticized many of the laws enacted by the so-called “Government of Change”, in which the FSM was ruling along with the far-right League party. And the DP secretary, Nicola Zingaretti, repeatedly defined Luigi Di Maio, the FSM’s political chief, as a “serial liar.”

The new Italian Government (Photo Credit: Palazzo Chigi).

We should probably clarify that such an unlikely coalition is not totally unprecedented in the history of Italian politics. Constitutionally, Italy is a parliamentary republic, which means that on election day, the electorate chooses its own representatives in the two Chambers, who are entitled to find a majority in order to form the government. A well-known example of how two different political forces could cooperate, which has gone down in history as the “historic compromise,” was a political alliance and accommodation between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist Party back in the 1970s.

However, for part of the Italian electorate, it is still hard to understand this kind of compromise, especially when such different and antagonistic political forces are involved. It is no coincidence that “inciucio” (“political flirtation”) is one of the most popular words in the Italian political jargon. Will this new “inciucio” last longer than the previous one? It would be hard to say. Certainly, the glue that holds together the new allies—the opposition to the former Minister of Interior and Vice Prime Minister Matteo Salvini—seems to be very strong. Indeed, while Mr. Salvini used to represent the actual and most influential leader in the previous government, he now embodies the “common enemy” that succeeded in the almost impossible mission to bring together the Democratic Party and the Five Stars Movement.

From this perspective, we could expect a significant change of pace from the “Government of Change” era. It is not surprising that Giuseppe Conte, who is still Prime Minister, speaking before the two Chambers, announced a new political language; radically different from the one full of provocative slogans and sound bites used especially by Mr. Salvini, but also by Mr. Di Maio. “All my Ministers and I,” Mr. Conte said, “solemnly commit ourselves to choose our words carefully, and to use a more appropriate vocabulary, and a language that is more respectful of the people and of their different ideas.” However, some critics are wondering why Mr. Conte remained mostly silent while Mr. Salvini was regularly inflaming Italians’ worst passions over migration issues.

It remains to be seen if, along with the announced “change in language,” the new Government will also radically modify the political line of the previous one. Certainly, that would be the intention of the Democratic Party, while the Five Stars Movement is trying to reassure its electorate about the bills—such as the so-called “income of citizenship”—it had sponsored in the previous administration.

 In any case, Italy’s migration policy could become one of the main potentially divisive issues. The new allies committed themselves to promote the debate on an EU level, in order to change the so-called Dublin Treaty, which puts most of the burden of asylum on South-European countries such as Italy. However, the Government will probably not be able to eliminate Matteo Salvini’s Security Decrees, aimed at criminalizing the NGOs’ ships that save migrants’ lives in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, Mr. Di Maio made it clear that the Decrees will be modified under the directions provided by the President of the Republic, but not dismantled.

 That is not surprising: The Five Stars Movement is aware that the majority of the electorate appreciated Mr. Salvini’s harsh stances on immigration, and were it to cancel the decrees, it would arguably deny its own recent political past. In the meantime, the new Minister of Interior, the former Police Chief Luciana Lamorgese, despite being celebrated as “radically different” from her predecessor, confirmed that the “ports closed policy” remains in force. In fact, she didn’t allow the landing of the 5 migrants still on board of the Alan Kurdi ship, which has been waiting for a safe port since August 31, after rescuing 13 people fleeing Tunisia. At this point, the question that arises is this:  Will this new Government be an actual change from the “Government of Change”?

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