Italy’s Populist Government

On Thursday, May 31, 2018 in Italy, the Five-Star Movement, a young anti-establishment party, and the Northern League, a far-right party, successfully formed a government in the aftermath of March 4, 2018 elections, which propelled these parties to an unprecedented level of significance and power. There were many setbacks and difficulties along the process which led to the formation of this new populist government.

Just four days earlier, the process had become stalled after Italian president Sergio Mattarella vetoed the selection of anti-euro economist Paolo Savona for the position of finance minister. This was resolved by moving him to a different cabinet post. The cabinet will incorporate Luigi Di Maio, Five-Star leader, as welfare minister, while League leader Matteo Salvini will become the interior minister. Giuseppe Conte, a law professor at the University of Florence, will serve as the 58th Italian Prime Minister after taking office on June 1, 2018.

A brief joint statement by Di Maio and Salvini said that “All the conditions have been met for an M5S-League government.” Conte, the next prime minister, stated that “We will work intensely to realize our political objectives which we have already put together in our government contract.” The acting head of the Democratic party, which represents the centre-left, said that “The Lega-Five Star government is populist and rightwing with a dangerous platform for Italy — a mix of extremism, anti-Europeanism and inequality.”

The formation of this populist government represents a different direction for Italy, in the aftermath of the March 4 elections that marked a significant shift away from mainstream parties, and towards more populist, extreme parties. Anti-European Union (EU) and anti-immigration campaigns marked the election. It can be argued that despite the headlines which declare that this government marks the “first” populist government in Western Europe, there have been some prior examples of populist governments in this region of Europe, including the 1994 Italian coalition government headed by Silvio Berlusconi.

The platforms and beliefs of the two parties forming this new coalition government do place significant challenges on the global fight for equality and justice, in assisting those who have been displaced due to a variety of factors. The effects of policies designed to crack down on migrants are a major concern. The growing anti-EU sentiments in Italy has left only 44 percent in the country stating that Italy has benefited from membership in the EU. 41 percent state that Italy has not benefited from membership. The lack of recovery in faith in the EU, in contrast to some other countries that faced similar discouragement, makes the views of an increasing number of Italians a growing concern for the future of the EU and the fate of Europe as it is constructed today.

It remains to be seen as to what steps are needed to find humane, holistic, and comprehensive solutions to the range of issues that are affecting countless lives in Europe and surrounding regions. The economic ramifications of policies that promote low taxation and high levels of spending, and their realization in the dynamics of a coalition government consisting of populist characters, is another uncertainty.