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Populism Watch: 4 Things To Watch as the New Italian Government Moves Forward

By / 6.14.2018

In Italy, the first populist government in Western Europe was sworn in on June 1st. The win was secured by a coalition between the right-wing League and the eurosceptic 5Star Movement. Below, four things to follow in the coming months:

  1. How long can the coalition hold?

Amid divisions (the League is a right-wing party with a northern background, 5Star is an ideological mixed bag with southern roots) the two parties succeeded in holding together through the election. Their divides, such as differences of opinion on combating economic decline (the League has proposed precipitous tax cuts, while Five Star has supported funds for the unemployed) did not break the coalition. Yet support for the League has grown from 17 to 25 percent since March, while support for 5Star has plateaued at 32 percent. Of additional concern is Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Conte is a former academic, whose only government experience has been a stint on the government administrative justice council. What this means for the future of the coalition is yet to be seen. Italy has had over 60 governments since becoming a republic in 1946.

  1. The Impact of the Coalition on Stocks, the Euro, and Italian Public Debt

The coalition has put forth a 58-page agreement outlining its agenda. The plan could cost as much as €125 billion, a far greater sum than the €500 million the coalition has budgeted for it, according to a report by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. The plan includes a guaranteed income of €780 a month and a near-flat tax policy. Of additional concern is the coalition’s unpredictable impact on stocks, shaky support of the euro, and willingness to reduce public debt. The advancement, stagnation or decline of the Italian economy under the new government may impact future support for the coalition.

  1. Impact on New Arrivals

The future for migrants, immigrants, and asylum seekers within Italy is uncertain. Interior Minister Salvini has taken a harsh stance, saying “the good times for illegals are over – get ready to pack your bags.” Salvini has pledged to deport up to 500,000 immigrants without papers. Tensions between Italy’s native population and immigrants, particularly migrants, has risen steadily. The fatal shooting of Malian-born legal resident Soumaila Sacko, a trade unionist who protested working conditions for migrants, has done nothing to ease tensions.

  1. Impact on International Relations

Conte has explored lifting the sanctions placed on Russia following the crisis in Ukraine. NATO opposes the idea. In a speech to parliament on June 5th, Conte has pledged to both “reaffirm our convinced membership of NATO” and “support opening up to Russia” including reviewing the sanctions that “risk humiliating Russian civil society.” In response, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “I think the economic sanctions are important because they send a clear message that what Russia has done in Ukraine has to have consequences.”

These economic, immigration, and foreign affairs concerns will impact both the longevity of the coalition, and the future of Italy, the EU, and international relations as a whole.