A broken Italy in a fraying Europe

By Cristina Font Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/5 21:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



Europeans have no time to get bored. When it is not the UK with its squabbles over Brexit, it is Spain trying to control the Catalan people or when it is not the Germans struggling to form a functional government, it is Italy's vaunted election.

Italians voted on Sunday in vaunted elections in which former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is trying to make a comeback. Projections based on the latest results on Monday showed that the right-wing and populist parties will win most seats, though a clear majority will make it difficult to form a government. Trends showed that the Eurosceptic five-star coalition was set to win the largest proportion of votes. 

Berlusconi's right-wing coalition was projected to win the largest number of seats in the lower house of parliament. This is in line with a February 17 poll that had predicted a victory for the controversial leader. 

Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, also had his bet on Berlusconi's block, despite the Italian leader's allies including the far-right anti-immigrant Northern League and Brothers of Italy. A hung parliament is likely and echoes what Junker said a week ago: "We must prepare for the worst scenario, which is that there is no operating government in Italy."

Italy, together with France and Germany, is at the core of Europe. It is the continent's third largest economy, but it has seen an economic slowdown, high unemployment and huge public debt in recent years. In 2011, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy in a crisis that unleashed fears of contagion.

Italy is used to political instability: it has had 64 governments in over 70 years, disturbing economic and institutional reforms.

As the guardian of Europe's stability, Brussels cares for the proper functioning of its markets. That is why, in the eyes of Brussels, it is preferable that Berlusconi's coalition emerge victorious rather than a divided vote.

However, here Europe is being short-sighted. Instead of only focusing on the short-term needs of the common market, it should see the larger picture. The result of the Italian polls, rather than being important in itself is proof of a greater damage to Europe.

First, the entire political campaign is focused on immigration. The economic crisis, fake news, and bad politics have created a cocktail that has spawned a witch hunt against foreigners. The fatal events in Macerata are the consequence of anti-immigration hate speech by right-wing leaders, including Berlusconi. The former Italian prime minister and his allies have for years been encouraging hatred of foreigners, which has led to violence against them. Berlusconi warned that migrants were "a social time bomb ready to explode," and he promised to deport 600,000 of Italy's total 630,000 migrants if elected.

Fascism is also alive in Italy, and is growing stronger. Nowadays, Benito Mussolini is appearing in Italian cinemas in the satire movie I'm Back, which imagines the dictator returning to the Italy of 2018. "The Italians, unlike the Germans, never dealt with their dictator," said director Luca Maniero. "Watching what is happening today in our country, I am convinced that if Mussolini came back, he would win the election." Also, it is possible to display swastikas and fascist flags during political demonstrations without consequences, despite such symbols being banned by the Italian constitution.

What happened to the lessons of the WWII? After more than 70 years, all of them have been forgotten. While fascist propaganda and action are forbidden both in Germany and Austria, they go unpunished in Italy. Such inaction results in politicians like Berlusconi or Roberto Formigoni, former president of the Lombardy region, sentenced to six years in prison for corruption in 2016 and awaiting the outcome of more trials, to attempt to return despite having lost all credibility.

As Sabrina Gasparrini, secretary general of the Italian Federation for Human Right explains, after the foundation of the country in 1861, the process of creating a national identity based on principles similar to those born out of the French Revolution began. However, it was unsuccessful.

Even though the actual republic has offered them a democratic opportunity to redeem themselves; history has not worked on their side. Italian incapacity for endowing themselves with an identity has implied a lack of social cohesion and a platform for the triumph of hate speech.

This is becoming a well-rooted problem in Europe. It is not only home to right-wing parties and populist moves, but also fascism. Moreover, the issue has an effect on the younger generation. Youth are politicized to breed disaffection, xenophobia, and Euroscepticism. Europe should pay more attention to young people or the Italian problem may worsen over the next few years. Then Berlusconi's coalition and the 5 Star Movement will be a headache for Europe.

The author is a Europe-based foreign policy analyst. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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