Listening to Italy
THE BULLDOZER ARRIVES
Brexit? The Italian press are largely ignoring it.
The 26th May EU elections are of far more interest and importance to Italy. Last month’s column considered the recent local election results which were universally unfavourable for The Five Star Movement, M5S. (They are the largest single party in the Government). The regional elections were held in five areas only and the last, in the southern province of Basilicata, was held on 24 March.
The results were consistent with the current trend and the left’s 25 year stronghold was beaten by a centre-right coalition. Of interest is the halving of votes for M5S and the tripling of support for Lega. The party, previously called Lega Nord, had never considered organising anywhere except the north until the arrival of Matteo Salvini. Silvio Berlusconi was seen celebrating the win. But this was a victory for the centre-right coalition – rather than for his party. His Forza Italia, Fi, continued its decline falling from 16.1% at the last general election to 9.1%.
M5S‘s Luigi Di Maio claimed correctly that M5S were now the largest party in Basilicata. But with a fall from a 44.3% to 19.7% of the total vote and an insignificant lead of a miniscule 0.58% over Lega‘s 19.12% this was a claim which could only be ridiculed. M5S were expected to take a firm line against the oil industry’s development in this agricultural area, but it didn’t materialise.
Basilicata’s winning Lega candidate Vito Bardi is a retired Guardia di Finanzia general and some older photographs showed him in uniform. The Guardia di Finanzia is organised as a military structure and is responsible for protecting the legal economy, which includes customs, tax fraud and acting against drug trafficking.
Di Maio continues to fail to make a positive impact on the Government or the country. Rather pathetically he is trying, unsuccessfully currently, to persuade a charismatic ex-colleague and ex-MP Alessandro Di Battista to join his campaign. The word bipolarismo has appeared in the press to signify the possible end of M5S populism and a return to politics on a left/right axis. Indeed M5S must take a minimum of 20% of the vote share in the EU election to continue to be credible.
In the EU election waiting-period the press has chewed over several issues, political, strategic, financial and salacious.
Starting with the last. Many days of press coverage were given to the unexplained death of 35 year old Imane Fadil. In English she is a: “bunga bunga model” and in Italian she was referred to as an olgettina. Apparently Berlusconi paid the rent for the apartment in Via Olgettina that housed the many girls involved in his sex parties. Imane was a witness at Silvio Berlusconi’s 2010 trial where he was eventually cleared of having sex with an underage prostitute but convicted of tax fraud.
Imane said that she was present at one of the gatherings at his Arcore residence where two “nuns” stripped off and performed sex acts. She claims that she was openly shocked and Berlusconi offered her €2,000 to calm her. Recently she said that she had always rejected the many attempts to corrupt her by Berlusconi and his entourage and she had suffered a lot compared to those who had been paid off. There are no implications in the press of any Berlusconi involvement in Imane’s death. Investigations have suggested either unusual concentrations of heavy metals in her body, or radioactivity or a bone-marrow deficiency. The police have taken away a book that she was writing and investigations continue. “There are anomalies” they say.
On 17 March The Governor of Latzio, Nicola Zingaretti started work as the new elected leader of the main party of the left: The Partito Democratico, Pd. He might sound familiar; his older brother is Luca who plays Inspector Montalbano, in the TV series, based on the novels of Andrea Camilieri. Nicola aims to be “a leader rather than a chief”, marking a clear distinction between his intended future style and that of the dictatorial Matteo Renzi. His pressing task is that of uniting the fractured Pd as soon as possible and certainly in time for the EU elections.
Meanwhile the Government struggle to resolve several issues, unlikely to be confronted successfully before the EU elections. TAV, the high-speed train line from Lyon to Turin is planned to run through a new tunnel between France and Italy. The current tunnel is unsuitable for development. It is an issue of enormous conflict. M5S at all levels (including Turin’s M5S mayor) are bitterly opposed to the new tunnel, which does cut through asbestos rocks. Commercial Turin needs the new line and Lega are also in favour.
The Finance Minister, Giovanni Tria, is struggling to respond to an increasing budget deficit and pressure from the EU to curb and control spending. Meanwhile the M5S and Lega want to introduce a minimum wage and a flat tax.
The State visit of China’s President Xi started in Italy. Luigi Di Maio is very keen to establish good relations and investment opportunities with the Chinese. He also favours the development of links with Russia. But it seems that Macron and Merkel successfully diverted attention away from Italy in favour of their two central European countries. An editorial in La Repubblica was headed: “Count on Merkel, not Di Maio”. It went on to say that Xi understood immediately where Europe’s power lay, and his Italian visit became just a recreation. After that diversion “the most serious part of his European journey” took place.
Meanwhile Salvini is more interested in the development of links with Trump and the United States.
Rome’s ineffective M5S mayor Virginia Raggi’s failure is now viewed as a challenge by Matteo Salvini. Currently one central Metro station in Rome has been out of service for five months. Two more are failing. Yet another of her colleagues is under investigation for corruption. Rubbish piles up in the streets; there are rats; Salvini has seen Rome’s “aggressive gulls like pterodactyls”. A Lega-run administration is his aspiration and he says: “The Romans deserve a better city. And even the Metro would like me to make it work better”.
So, lined up for the aftermath of 26 May is the Lega “bulldozer” – Salvini’s word. Immediately after the EU elections he expects to be in the position of being able to “smooth out the M5S opposition” to his policies with a government reshuffle. Clearly Matteo Salvini has ambition. He aspires ultimately to be Premier and is looking in the longer term to the 2020 general election to fulfil his plans.