May 23, 2018

IntelBrief: Italy Moves Closer to a Right-Wing Populist Government 

Giuseppe Conte, right, shakes hands with leader of the Five-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, during a meeting in Rome. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino).
  • After two months of uncertainty, a coalition between Italy’s populist and right-wing parties has submitted a nominee with no previous government experience for prime minister.
  • The left-wing populist Five Star Movement (M5S), led by Luigi Di Maio, and the hard-right La Lega (the League), led by Matteo Salvini, are set to take control with a very slim majority.
  • The new coalition is raising fears of economic disruption, a possible referendum on the E.U., and echoes of Italy’s last populist/right-wing leader, Benito Mussolini.
  • It remains to be seen how much of the coalition’s recently announced plan will be achieved.


There is renewed concern over a rise in nativist sentiment by the countries comprising the European Union (E.U.), this time in Italy. The E.U. was formed in an attempt to cement coalition and cooperation; the insular turn by many in the E.U. is deeply troubling. Italy, infamous for its chaotic politics and rotating heads of state, now will be governed by a coalition between a hard-right, anti-immigrant party—la Lega—and a populist left-wing party—the Five Star Movement (M5S). This has provoked questions among other E.U. members as to what this means for Italy and the E.U. as a whole.

The leaders of the two groups—Luigi Di Maio for M5S and Matteo Salvini for la Lega—agreed upon Giuseppe Conte, a law professor with no government experience, as their choice for the country’s next prime minister. As required by law, the name was submitted for consideration to Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella. The prospect of Italy with hard-right immigration policies combined with far-left economic policies is generating serious concern. Those concerns fall primarily into two spheres of worry: economic and socio-political.

The new coalition unveiled its economic plans last week. It introduces a flat tax, a minimum salary, and a halt to the country’s overburdened pension systems. All of this, according to many economists, will exacerbate Italy’s already unsustainable debt. The euro fell to a 5-month low against the dollar on May 18 after news that the new coalition might seek up to €250 billion in debt forgiveness from the European Central Bank (ECB). Yet the coalition was formed in large part because of resentment over Italy’s struggling economy and the perception that it has been badly damaged by an international financial system and E.U. budget and immigration requirements. Roiling financial markets is exactly what some of the coalition’s supporters expect. The voters supporting M5S are less worried about the E.U seven-year budgets than about recovering some semblance of economic security.

That sense of insecurity also fuels the rise of right-wing groups like la Lega, who place an oversized blame on migrants—and immigration overall—for many of Italy’s issues. La Lega leader Matteo Salvini said on March 5, shortly after his party’s success in the parliamentary elections, that Lega had ‘the right and duty’ to govern Italy. He had initially ruled out a coalition with M5S, but the realities of a coalition government have changed that preference and now Lega will have to merge its hardline anti-immigrant stance with the left-wing policies of M5S.

However the coalition solidifies, in terms of its cabinet and its priorities, the reality is that another openly anti-immigrant, more nationalistic party is in position to govern another E.U. member state. Hungary’s Viktor Mihály Orbán has moved his country far to the right of fundamental E.U. governing beliefs and policies. The coming year will test the ability of the E.U. to accommodate different economic and even socio-political governance among member states while not acquiescing to governments that stand in direct odds with the consensus approach that is the foundation of the E.U.


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