Pro-EU authoritarianism will only strengthen Italy’s racist right

Italian president Sergio Mattarella has plunged Italy into an institutional crisis of grave proportions.

In rejecting the proposal by the 5 Star Movement and the League to form a government, which included a finance minister considered to be too Eurosceptic, Mattarella openly declared that the decision taken was based on a fear that allowing the government to proceed would produce a shock “to the markets”.

Bending to the pressures of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the threats of financial markets, Mattarella has given the reins of government to Carlo Cottarelli, an unelected IMF economist and member of the Italy’s infamous Spending Review Commission, who is known as “Mister Scissors” for his enthusiastic support of austerity economics.

Italy will now be governed for the next few months by a technocratic administration with the priority of “balancing the accounts”, as Cottarelli himself has declared. 

It will no doubt be a government very much along the lines of the unelected Monti administration which, to “balance the books”, raised the pension age, cut public services and brought in a series of reforms that significantly undermined workers’ rights. 

The continuation of austerity politics will be disastrous for workers in Italy already suffering from wage stagnation, labour market casualisation and high youth unemployment, along with the hollowing out of welfare provisions.

The real crux of this crisis is not only that the president intervened to stop a 5 Star-League government, but the reasoning he gave to do so. To state so explicitly that the choice of Savona as minister was unacceptable because his monetary politics are not in line with that of the EU exposes the subordination of democracy to the demands of EU-imposed austerity. 

It is unacceptable to use the threat of the market instability to silence the expression of Euro-critical policy positions. If it is true that debate on the euro and the EU was largely absent during the election campaign, taking such extreme measures supposedly on the basis of the mere appointment of one minister makes it seem that in Italy, sovereignty lies not with the voting public but with the markets and financial powers.

It is disappointing but unsurprising that the established “centre left”, including the Democratic Party and CGIL trade union, have given their uncritical support to Mattarella, siding implicitly with the ECB and markets’ intervention. This positioning will have grave consequences, as it will help to widen the gulf between the majority of disenchanted Italians suffering under years of austerity and the institutions of the historic left.

Mattarella’s actions have also granted Matteo Salvini and 5 Star’s Luigi di Maio the golden opportunity of being able to prove their “anti-system” or “anti-establishment” credentials. They will now be able to paint themselves as victims of the powers-that-be, battling for the interests of the poor and disenfranchised. 

As such, the decision of the president has done much to ensure that the racist and xenophobic sentiment promulgated by the League will continue to spread in Italy, distracting from all the socially regressive policies that were in fact central to the proposed government programme. 

Italy desperately needs change, it needs social justice, redistribution of wealth and guarantees or basic and social rights. Instead it is suffocating from the hate whipped up by malign forces like the League.

The actions of Mattarella will allow the League to hide the fact that wherever they have been in government, they have continued to deploy the same neoliberal policies as former prime ministers Mario Monti and Matteo Renzi, acting in the interests of the business class, of which Savona is a prominent member. The 5 Star-League headline policy of a flat-tax won’t help alleviate the suffering of the working classes after seven years of punishing austerity.

In the same way that we were ready to oppose the 5 Star-League government, we also oppose the Cottarelli government and Mattarella’s decision to impose it. We must break with the authoritarianism of enforced austerity by removing the EU balanced-budget rules from our constitution, which were introduced by Monti, Berlusconi and the Democratic Party. 

Progressive forces must refute entirely this false binary between the EU and Italian political elite on the one hand and the 5 Star/League on the other, or run the risk of ceding further ground to the right on issues of economic sovereignty. 

By taking a reflexive pro-EU position, the established institutions of the centre left will only feed this vicious cycle. We as a political movement are committed to articulating a political alternative to both the reactionary forces of the right and the neoliberal authoritarianism of the centre, neither of which can provide a solution to the economic and political turmoil Italy finds itself in.

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Viola Carofalo is the spokesperson for grassroots left wing movement Potere al Popolo (Power to the People). Republished from www.poterealpopolo.org.