terça-feira, 28 de março de 2017

Populist Italian marriage to give Brussels heartburn

Populist Italian marriage to give Brussels heartburn
5Star Movement may join forces with the far-right Northern League to govern.

By GIADA ZAMPANO 3/28/17, 4:02 AM CET Updated 3/28/17, 7:31 AM CET

Beppe Grillo's 5Star Movement may have to make a choice between sticking to its principles and remaining in the opposition, or forming an alliance with a like-minded party

ROME — Italy’s next government could see a populist alliance between the 5Star Movement and the Northern League that if consummated would turn Italian and European politics on their heads.

This joining of forces long seemed unthinkable (and, for many, unpalatable). But the rise of the two parties in the polls — and the disintegration of mainstream forces — increases the odds of a government in Rome that, among more unconventional steps, promises to take the country out of the eurozone.

When Italians go to the polls, no later than early 2018, the 5Stars could well win the vote but fail to secure a big enough majority to govern. The party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo had long pledged to rule only on its own and shun coalitions in favor of staying in the opposition.

This revolutionary principle is being reconsidered. According to top-level insiders, the 5Stars’ leadership is already working on a Plan B in case it lacks the votes, as is likely, to govern by itself. Such a plan, partially confirmed in public comments by some lawmakers, would include a parliamentary alliance with the anti-immigrant Northern League and other smaller populist parties, such as the far-right Brothers of Italy.

“We want to run alone at the next elections, as we always did, and we target a 40 percent win, which would allow us to obtain the mandate to form a new government,” Alessandro Di Battista, one of the leaders of the movement, told POLITICO.

“If that doesn’t happen, and we get less than 40 percent of the vote, we’ll be ready to explain our platform in parliament and submit it to all the other parties. Then it will be their responsibility to say Yes or No to a government led by the 5Stars.”

The leaders of the 5Stars insist they would reject any old-school backroom deal or trading of political seats in exchange for parliamentary backing.
A populist triumph in Italy would be as shocking to the European establishment as any outcome in this year of elections, including a victory by Marine Le Pen in France this spring. Between them, the 5Stars and Northern League back a cocktail of policies considered anathema by Brussels.

“The plan [for a populist alliance] is there and it’s being discussed in the parliament’s corridors,” said a person familiar with the situation. “What remains to be seen is how and if it’s going to work once in place, and what the junior partners will ask in exchange for their parliamentary support to a possible 5Star government.”

The leaders of the 5Stars insist they would reject any old-school backroom deal or trading of political seats in exchange for parliamentary backing.

“That’s old politics and we just want to erase it,” said Luigi Di Maio, the 30-year-old deputy leader of the lower house and a possible 5Star prime ministerial candidate. “Any alliance will be based on our program and will be done in parliament, where the votes are.”

If the coalition call comes, the Northern League, led by the outspoken and social media-savvy Matteo Salvini, is ready to at least consider it — as long as any potential suitor is ready to back his battle against “a disastrous European Union and its harmful policies,” which he says have led Italy toward poverty and political irrelevance.

Salvini has transformed the League from a struggling separatist party into a national political force, along the lines of Le Pen’s National Front, hammering home three messages: no euro, no immigrants, and lower taxes.

On some grounds, a 5Star-Northern League alliance seems a natural fit. Both rage against Italy’s elite and European bureaucracy, and there is growing convergence between the 5Stars’ anti-euro, anti-globalization stance and that of the Northern League.

Salvini and 5Star founder Grillo even share a fondness for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump.

But it would be a risky marriage for both parties, who would have to overcome their remaining differences and form a government strong enough to produce a bold and realistic agenda, able to address the needs of a country mired in debt, with moribund growth and stark social divisions.

“We remain open to dialogue, but I still see many differences between us and the 5Stars,” Salvini said. “Obviously, if they change their minds and prove to be interested in reaching a compromise, we are here, ready to listen.”

However, Salvini has concerns. “We have completely different views on how to defend our borders from the immigrants’ wave. Not to mention labor and fiscal policies: The 5Stars want social handouts for people who don’t work. We want to cut taxes for companies that invest in hiring workers. That’s a big difference.”

On the up

At Italy’s 2013 general election, the 5Stars came from nowhere to become the second most popular party. Despite a few ups and downs along the way, its poll ratings have remained steady at around 30 percent, generally ahead of a divided center-right and, more recently, slightly ahead of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) of former premier Matteo Renzi.

According to a recent Ipsos poll, the movement is polling at a record high of 32.3 percent — a 5 percentage point lead over the PD. That’s likely in part down to the role the 5Stars played in the success of the No campaign ahead of a constitutional referendum last year that cost Renzi his job. In the Ipsos poll, the Northern League remained steady at around 13 percent, well up on the meager 4 percent it scored in the 2013 elections.

If a 5Star election win is a concern for many, fears of a 5Star-Northern League deal are even greater.
Many European partners, however, fear that a 5Star election win would put Italy’s economic and political stability at risk because of its lack of experience and unclear agenda — and their fears haven’t been assuaged by the 5Stars’ shaky management of Rome since Virginia Raggi won mayoral elections last June. Raggi has been rocked by corruption scandals and though the 5Star leadership has so far defended the mayor, it knows that failure in the capital doesn’t bode well for its chances of governing nationally.

That’s not the only concern. Critics and supporters note that Grillo’s movement has been pushing an increasingly inconsistent political platform of late: it has backtracked from wanting to take Italy out of the EU and even tried (unsuccessfully) to forge an alliance in the European Parliament with the Liberal group of arch-federalist Guy Verhofstadt — leaving it to continue its European alliance with Nigel Farage’s UKIP.

“The lack of clarity and political coherence, which has proved successful for the 5Stars as a pure protest movement, now risks undermining their ambitions to govern, as their traditional electorate resist the need for transforming what was an exceptional protest group into a real party, fit for office,” said Massimiliano Panarari, a professor at Rome’s LUISS University

If a 5Star election win is a concern for many, fears of a 5Star-Northern League deal are even greater.

The two parties would face “immediate contrasts,” said Panarari. “But above all, they would have to quickly tackle the need to transform their radical and often impracticable plans into realistic economic and social policies, able to push Italy out of one of its deepest crisis.”

One obvious area of division is membership of the single currency. The Northern League has dropped calls for a referendum on exiting the eurozone, saying such a move would have no constitutional relevance, while the 5Stars maintain their long-standing pledge to hold an anti-euro referendum.

They are, however, slightly closer on immigration than they were, with the 5Stars taking a much harder stance of late. Italy “can’t become Europe’s refugee camp,” 5Star lawmaker Sergio Battelli said Thursday, calling for EU sanctions against countries that refuse to accept refugees, but also for bilateral agreements to speed-up economic migrants’ repatriations.

The 5Stars have had great success attracting disaffected voters from both right and left. Now, one of the leading anti-establishment forces in Europe has to preserve and widen its electoral base as it fights to become a governing force — a process that often leads to painful compromises and hard electoral choices.

According to Roberto D’Alimonte, politics professor at Florence University, “without a broad alliance among the main parties, either on the left or on the right side, the result at the next elections will be just chaos.”

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