It is a remarkable, overlooked fact that Italy hasn’t governed itself in a democratic sense for quite some time. Incredibly, Silvio Berlusconi was the last prime minister who explicitly ran for the job at the head of a major political party, in 2008. Since then, Italy’s ramshackle governance has been a case study in the EU elite’s ruinous quasi-colonization of the country.
Most recently, this anti-democratic scenario reared its ugly head again. Following the failure of two governments led by the unelected Giuseppe Conte and supported by the out-of-their-depth Five Star movement, yet another unelected EU functionary was parachuted in to save the day. Mario Draghi, the former successful head of the European Central Bank, was summoned by his EU masters to take charge in Rome.
His government was designed to steer the country through the pandemic, and also to wisely allocate the more than 200 billion euros coming Italy’s way in terms of the EU’s massive aid package — the country’s last, best chance to drag itself out of its generations-long economic torpor. For the astounding reality is that Italygrew at average annual rate of zero percent between 1999-2016; this amounts to nothing less than a lost economic generation. Above all, the EU’s mandarins believed the highly respected Draghi would be able to provide stability until the next election, then scheduled for 2023.
But, as the Scottish poet Robert Burns put it, the best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry. Like most Western governments, Draghi made monumental mistakes over the pandemic, opting for (unsurprisingly given his pedigree) a top-down, draconian approach that until recently has still forced Italians into the dinner-theater of wearing masks, long after the rest of Western Europe came to its senses. The economic losses have been immense, as has been the loss in the presumption of individual liberty.
But Draghi’s biggest failure is that the EU’s anti-democratic power play has failed in the most basic terms, in that he did not provide the stability that was the main point of his technocratic government in the first place. Having served only 17 months, on July 21 he was forced to resign as the populist Five Star movement, the rightist, populist Lega, and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia parties undermined him. Without a democratic mandate, Draghi’s government proved the opposite of what the almost-always-wrong Brussels elite had confidently predicted; it was fragile rather than strong, as it simply had no sort of popular mandate to sustain it when times got tough.
It is little wonder that the main beneficiary of the crisis, Giorgia Meloni and her rightist, populist Brothers of Italy Party, have risen in popularity as the only major party that shrewdly chose to stay outside Draghi’s technocratic government. She leads a surprisingly united Italian center-right alliance, also comprising Matteo Salvini’s populist Lega and Berlusconi’s centrist party.
An Aug. 12 Politico poll of polls has the Brothers of Italy with 24 percent of the prospective vote, the Lega at around 14 percent, and Forza Italia at seven percent. The fractured center and center-left (comprising five parties) together have only 45 percent of the vote between them. There is little doubt the Italian right are on course for a famous victory.
The deal welding them together is that the party in the alliance with the most votes will select the new prime minister, an eminently democratic point of view. Meloni therefore finds herself in the driver’s seat for the job, because she leads in terms of the democratic vote. The irony is that while Meloni is trying to quell fears about her party’s quasi-fascist lineage, it is she who has been the true democrat.
Meloni, who personally gets on quite well with the outgoing Draghi, intends to follow in his economic footsteps, carrying out Italy’s recovery plan in order to receive the cascade of promised EU funds. She is likely to also push for conservative policies such as curbing immigration and flattening the tax rate for lower earners, while increasing funding for child-friendly policies (nursery schools and child benefits).
On the foreign side, given her close ties to the global conservative movement, Meloni will find the progressive Biden administration a tough partner to deal with ideologically. Likewise, within boundaries the haughty Brussels functionaries will reap what they have sown, due to Meloni’s social conservatism, latent euro-skepticism, and plans to unilaterally curb immigration. However, given Italy’s monumental and growing public debt rate (an Olympian 152.6 percent in the first quarter of this year) there are limits to how far Rome can go in biting the hand that feeds it.
Nevertheless, for all the challenges ahead, the good news is that Italy has repudiated the notion that it is a quasi-colony of the EU. Now it is up to Meloni to govern more effectively than her hapless technocratic predecessors, and thus avoid the full colonization by Brussels that economic collapse would surely bring.
This post was originally published in Arab News.