“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Italian elections were a victory for Trumpism

EU shaken as 'Italy First' message prevails in general election

Just as the EU's federalist ambitions seemed to be back on track, Italy has delivered a jolt to the system. Andrew Lynch reports

New guard: Berlusconi mops the brow of political ally Matteo Salvini during the Italian election campaign. Photo: Reuters2
New guard: Berlusconi mops the brow of political ally Matteo Salvini during the Italian election campaign. Photo: Reuters
Matteo Salvini might best be described as Italy's answer to Donald Trump. The leader of La Lega (The League) has a policy platform called "Italians first", loves to provoke opponents through social media, wants Roma camps "razed to the ground" and insists that the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini actually did a lot of good things. He says the European Union cannot survive in its present form and condemns the euro as "a crime against humanity".
Not surprisingly, then, many senior figures in Brussels are openly dismayed at the prospect of Salvini becoming Italy's next prime minister. After last weekend's chaotic general election result, however, this now looks like a distinct possibility. Over half of Italian voters supported hard-right, openly racist or Eurosceptic parties that until recently would have been described as 'fringe' - creating a stalemate that casts grave doubts over the EU's plans for further fiscal and political integration.
"The populists have won," was one government senator's gloomy summary when the outcome became clear on Sunday. Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment organisation founded by comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009, were the biggest winners of all with 32pc of the vote. The ruling centre-left Democratic Party slumped to 19pc, prompting the immediate resignation of their leader and former prime minister Matteo Renzi.
La Lega (which was formerly known as The Northern League), meanwhile, surprised almost everybody by taking 17pc and emerging as the largest party in a putative right-wing coalition that finished with a combined total of 37pc. Matteo Salvini has therefore overtaken his political ally Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time prime minister who is currently barred from holding office due to a tax conviction. Although the media tycoon's sleazy business practices and sex-fuelled 'bunga bunga' parties have made him an international laughing stock, in the context of modern Italian politics, he is now regarded as a moderate.
For one Irish woman in particular, this was disappointing news. If Berlusconi's Forza Italia had been the biggest conservative party as expected, he would have nominated the European Parliament President Antonio Tajani to lead a new government. As the parliament's first vice president, Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness would then have almost certainly succeeded to the top job - although she is at least now free to potentially run for the presidency of Ireland later this year.
Other non-Italian voices are delighted to see the country heading in a markedly anti-EU direction. The former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, French National Front President Marine Le Pen and Russian President Vladimir Putin all regard Matteo Salvini as their natural ally. Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who visited Rome to observe the election, has said: "Italy is the leader. The Italian people have gone farther, in a shorter period of time, than the British did for Brexit and the Americans did for Trump."
Before the 2008 financial crash, Italy was regarded as one of the EU's strongest supporters. Now opinion polls show that almost 60pc of Italians hold a negative view of the union. They blame it for decades of weak economic growth, the 33pc unemployment rate among under-25s and above all, the arrival of 600,000 undocumented migrants since 2014. Nobody has been better at stirring up xenophobic sentiment than Salvini, who told one election rally: "Italy needs a mass cleansing, street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood."
Racism also gave rise to the campaign's ugliest moment. On February 3, a former La Lega candidate who called the party leader "my captain" shot and wounded six Africans in the city of Macerata, allegedly as an act of revenge for the murder of an Italian teenage girl by a Nigerian immigrant. Afterwards, he delivered a fascist salute with the national flag draped over his shoulders and shouted "Italy for Italians".
All this has serious implications for any EU leader who hoped that the rise of populism had finally started to subside. In 2017, the Dutch, French, German and Austrian elections all saw mainstream politicians prevailing over challengers from the radical right. Some powerbrokers in Brussels argued that Brexit might turn out to be a blessing in disguise since it would finally rid the union of its most troublesome member.
Last September, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared: "The wind is back in Europe's sails," and suggested more federalist reforms such as the creation of a single EU finance minister. Shortly afterwards he was enthusiastically backed by the new French President Emmanuel Macron, who wants Britain's 73 MEPs to be replaced from a pan-European list of candidates spread across the continent. In December, Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament and until recently leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party, called for the creation of a United States of Europe by 2025.
Now the Italian electorate has poured cold water over all these ambitions. As well as being a founder member of the EU, Italy is its third-biggest economy and would be almost impossible to exclude from any further moves towards integration. In a post-election press conference last week, Salvini made his feelings on the matter clear. "We have taken a step forwards towards freedom from Brussels' cages and constraints that have brought hunger, precariousness and insecurity to Europe," he said. "They won't fool us any more. In Italy, Italians will decide from now on - not Berlin, not Paris, not Brussels."
The formation of a new Italian government will not begin in earnest until parliament meets on March 23. Several combinations are possible and some commentators have even speculated about a grand Eurosceptic alliance between La Lega and M5S, which Steve Bannon calls "the ultimate dream… they would pierce through Brussels' heart and scare the EU to death."
Nigel Farage has also displayed his usual gift for understatement by announcing that Italy's electoral earthquake means, "the end of the EU is nigh. Why are they rebelling against the establishment? Primarily because migration has become the fault line in European politics and all the social democrat, socialist parties are seen to be just simply too soft on this issue."
"Everything will change," is how one Italian newspaper summed up the country's new political reality. Right now, this is exactly what the EU's top brass are afraid of.

The new faces of Italian politics

Matteo Salvini
Age: 44
Position: Leader of La Lega (The League)
Background: A native of Milan, he abandoned a history degree at the age of 20 and began his political career as a communist. He took over the Northern League in 2013 when it had just 3pc support and has transformed it from a regional party into a national one, despite his apparent contempt for southerners. "What a stink," he once said at a party rally. "Even the dogs are running away, here come the Neapolitans."
Policy demands: Introduce a parallel Italian currency to run alongside the euro. Abolish the EU's fiscal compact which imposes restraints on public spending. Create a flat tax rate of 15pc. Expel 100,000 illegal immigrants a year. Reopen Italy's brothels.
Luigi Di Maio
Luigi Di Maio
Age: 31
Position: Leader of the Five Star Movement
Background: A former lawyer, journalist and steward at the San Paolo Stadium in Naples, he became deputy speaker of the Italian parliament when aged just 26. Unlike the movement's demagogic founder Beppe Grillo, he wears smart suits and has held out the possibility of joining a coalition government. This has alarmed Grillo, who says: "It would be like saying that a panda can eat raw meat. We only eat bamboo."
Policy demands: Introduce a minimum monthly wage of €780. Abolish 400 "useless" laws to allow earlier retirement and increase job security. Improve Italy's diplomatic relations with Russia. Oppose EU integration but treat a referendum on leaving as "an extreme last resort".
Indo Review


  1. The euro was very much out of the spotlight for most of Tuesday though a late rally as the US Dollar struggled took EUR/USD back on to a 1.24 handle for the first time since last Thursday’s ECB Council meeting. For the 12 hours of trading in Asia and the European morning, just 25 pips separated the high and low for EUR/USD and it settled around the mid-point of its range, lacking both direction and momentum until the announcement of the sacking of the US Secretary of State.


    “The euro is and remains a flawed currency,” League leader Matteo Salvini told reporters in Strasbourg, repeating his common line but, “There is no unilateral and improvised exit on the horizon,” he added. Salvini campaigned on rewriting European Union budget rules in order to make drastic tax cuts, and on mass deportations of irregular migrants but has not yet been invited by Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, to try to form the next Government.

  2. insists that the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini actually did a lot of good things

    Word is Mussolini made the trains run on time but I never believed it.

    I've read Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone, 1936.

    And I remember the wolves.

    1. It didn't end well for Benito - or his lady -

      Mussolini Dead Pictures and Photos | Getty Images
      Milan Mussolini hanging with his mistress Petacci in a public square April 28 Italy Washington National. Benito Mussolini. Benito Mussolini *29071883Politiker Italien19251943/45 Diktator ItaliensDie an einer Tankstelle auf dem PiazzaleLoreto in. Citizens Gazing at Body of Benito Mussolini. After the third day the great man ...

      1945 Mussolini Hanged - YouTube
      Video for Photo of Mussolini and wife hanging from lamppost▶ 1:59
      May 31, 2010 - Uploaded by Marshall Poe
      dude, I've been tweeting out countless death photos of mussolini for a year. This is what Trump and his wife ...

      Mussolini is Strung Up (Graphic) 1945 Milan, Italy - YouTube
      Video for Photo of Mussolini and wife hanging from lamppost▶ 0:50
      Feb 9, 2013 - Uploaded by Audie Murphy American Legend
      An indignant mob aims well-placed kicks at the bodies of Mussolini and his mistress lying in a public square ...

      Death of Benito Mussolini - Wikipedia
      Mussolini and Petacci were shot the following afternoon, two days before Adolf Hitler's suicide. The bodies of Mussolini and Petacci were taken to Milan and left in a suburban square, the Piazzale Loreto, for a large angry crowd to insult and physically abuse. They were then hung upside down from a metal girder above a ...

      ‎Preceding events · ‎Execution · ‎Subsequent events · ‎Post-war controversy
      Unseen Pictures of Mussolini's Corpse [GRAPHIC IMAGES]
      Nov 30, 2011 - From Piazzale Loreto in 1945, where Mussolini's corpse was displayed to an angry crowd and hanged from a lamppost, the documentary shows the morbid link between the dead dictator's body as a representation of the power and the downtrodden Italian people, who were finally able to retaliate and ...

    2. - or his lady -

      his mistress Petacci

  3. Mr Salvini added: "Over the past few years European policies have stolen the right to a future and to hope.

    "We want to negotiate with the European Union about the rights that have been denied to Europeans and to citizens who, with their vote, are now claiming them back."

    A recent study revealed 51 percent of Italians would be in favour of leaving the EU – with young citizens holding the worst opinion about the impact of the EU on their country.

  4. 579 vote lead now for Conor Lamb.

  5. Stephen Hawking, RIP

    76 years of age.

  6. Di Maio, speaking to foreign correspondents, sought to defuse concerns that the 5-Stars are an extremist political force or determined to work against the European Union .

    "I challenge anyone to say we have an extremist policy," he said, later adding: "We don't want to have anything to do with the extremist parties of Europe."

    Arguing that Italian exporters suffer, Salvini has strongly lobbied for dropping sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.

    Di Maio was vague on sanctions, saying only "Let's see if it's an opportune tool to use or not."