Rome's future road map still in limbo

VALERIA GIANOTTA
Published 12.09.2019 00:22

It has been a very hot and hectic summer for Italy as the so-called "yellow-green" government composed of the League and Five Star Movement (M5S) not more than 14 months ago crumbled. Although Italy has a long tradition of government crises, the latest one had a particular connotation and fluctuating logic.

Legally, a political crisis arises when there is a breakdown in the relationship of trust within the parliament or between coalition forces, where the outcome is the resignation of government. Under such conditions, in a parliamentary republic like Italy, the parliament is entitled to revoke the confidence of the government by voting a no-confidence motion or by not confirming a decree upon which the government had placed trust.

After the March 2018 elections, the Italian government was based on a majority made by the alliance between two political groups, the League and the M5S, different in terms of organization and ideologies, but united by the protest against the traditional interpretation of politics.

Their alliance was sealed with a political contract focusing on a list of measures agreed by the two parts and useful to obtain a governing mandate. The government was a mixture of technocrats and politicians led by Giuseppe Conte, appointed as a prime minister without having political affiliation to any group and with the aim to act as a trait de union between the two forces.

Conte as the prime minister was an institutional figure not linked to any political party, the balance of interest was kept by two deputies: Matteo Salvini, leader of the League and interior minister, and Luigi Di Maio, leader of the M5S and minister of labor.

However, despite some friction last year on some files, Aug. 8, after the vote on the TAV (a high-speed train line linking Italy to France), Salvini declared that "the rift in the government had become too big" and invited Prime Minister Conte to resign.

At this point, a crisis erupted as Conte asked to discuss the issue within the parliament and on Aug. 20 he resigned, although Salvini changed his mind and withdrew his no-confidence motion. That was the beginning of a new realignment. In order to unlock the situation and according to his constitutional duties, the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, started a round of talks with all political groups within the parliament, aiming at finding an alternative political majority.

In procedural terms, this was not a difficult task since an agreement between the M5S and the opposition Democrat Party (PD) was already underway. All the multiple political fractures became evident in that time as every single group made a move according to its own interests and desire to hold power, despite any coherence with the former program and manifesto.

And not just that – all of them played on different tables, looking for a solution useful for keeping their own prerogatives, despite the political stability of Italy that is often invoked. Indeed, the new majority was mainly born from the interests of the parties and their will to solve the conflicts.

However, the agreement between M5S and PD depended on the logic of the Five Star Movement's direct democracy logic known in Italy as the Rousseau platform. Never before has the destiny of a government and of a political majority been dependent on the tools of an anti-establishment movement and on the will of blog users who expressed their preference about the new coalition.

The electronic vote was a sort of referendum on the new majority approved by 80% of the voters. The result was welcomed by the top leader of the M5S as "a plebiscite" and an example of "digital citizenship." And the slogan "Time to change Italy" became viral between PD members while Matteo Salvini claimed that "this Italy will work for the privileges of politicians and of the EU."

This climate has enabled the "Conte 2" government and actually the real winner in all this intricate crisis is Giuseppe Conte himself. Perceived as little more than a shadow during the former mandate, the new Conte appears now as a professional politician who found the convergence with the PD on 26 points ranging from neutralizing the increase in VAT to the immigration issue, from cutting taxes to reducing the number of parliamentarians to reforms related to justice.

Furthermore, Conte was able to gain international sympathy. Right after the clash with his former partner Salvini, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the "lawyer of the people." The EU too seems relieved in front of an Italian government without the League, which means a more European political approach without a sovreign rhetoric and the assurance that the next European commissioner would be a real Europeanist.

It follows that in the light of Brexit, Europe can regain Italy in the basket of the pro-Europe countries and consolidate its backbone. Nowadays, Conte has proved to be able to form a government for the second time and again the real tests are the challenges ahead. Is there any margin for concrete results?

Actually, along with its political inexperience and almost non-existent tradition, the M5S demonstrates not extreme and isolationist stances, but it confirms a sort of flexibility. It was born as a breakaway movement and it has shown a deep capacity for survival. Definitely, the agreement with PD is a very new and recent marriage, made upon contingencies and not on common visions and concrete mutual commitment; therefore, it needs time to prove its tenure.

What Italy is experiencing is a new polarization and a new political trend left of the political spectrum, and a sort of volatility. Will it be beneficial for the political stability of the country and for the welfare of its citizens? Is this a solid base for being a respectable actor at the international level as well?

For the time being, all those issues are open. As the political sociologist Max Weber once said, there is a thick difference between a "politician by profession" and "politician for profession," which is given by passion, a sense of responsibility and the skill of foresight. Whether the new governing team will be able to show a real dedication to the cause, ethics and vision in making facts happen is a question mark and only time can dissolve these doubts.

* Assistant professor at the University of the Turkish Aeronautical Association, Ankara

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