Sat, Jun 02, 2018 - Page 9 News List

EU helped create the Italy crisis by ignoring the refugee crisis

By Cas Mudde  /  The Guardian

That a populist party is to head the next Italian government is sending shock waves through Europe.

Once again, the EU is facing a mortal threat — the status quo is under siege from the unstoppable rise of populism and shadows of Europe’s darkest past are looming over the continent.

Commentators have been speaking of Western Europe’s “first populist government,” while some have even gone so far as to liken the coalition between the “red” Five Star Movement (M5S) and the “brown” League to the Stalin-Hitler pact of the 1930s.

Most commentary pieces on the developments in Italy have three things in common.

First, they show a poor understanding of Italian politics in general, and M5S in particular.

Second, they employ limited historical perspective, seemingly thinking that populism emerged only in the 21st century in Europe.

Third, while they highlight the anti-EU sentiment in the government parties, and less so in the Italian population, they fail to address their explanations and validity.

Leaving aside that neither M5S nor the League is extremist, or anti-democratic, M5S is also not radical left. In fact, it is barely left at all.

As various experts have argued recently, largely to no avail, M5S has no clear core ideology.

Its nominally left-wing positions (environmental protection and free Internet) are combined with (radical) right stances and alliances — M5S is part of the Europe for Freedom and Direct Democracy coalition in the European parliament.

Most importantly, M5S became Italy’s largest party by running a strongly anti-EU and anti-immigration campaign.

Secondly, the M5S-League government is not the first populist government in Europe, Western Europe or even Italy.

Populist governments existed in Eastern Europe, for example in Romania and Slovakia in the 1990s, and currently exist in Hungary and Poland.

Western Europe has had, and still has, populist governments.

Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK governments were populist, particularly in the 1980s, and the Greek government is a coalition of left and right populism.

Finally, the first right-wing, populist government in post-war Western Europe was — you guessed it — in Italy.

In 1994, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi formed his first coalition government, which consisted of his right-wing populist Forza Italia, radical-right Lega (Nord) and the “post-fascist” National Alliance.

Finally, below the groundswell of political resentment that brought M5S and the League to power, there is a little-told story of EU failure.

A Kantar Public poll on European attitudes, commissioned by the European parliament, showed that “Europeans love the EU (and populists, too).”

However, Italians love populists much more than the EU — a position that is unlikely to shift given the EU’s reaction to the election just gone, hinting there would be economic consequences for the nation because of the electorate’s choice, which would lead to the public mood moving away from the populists.

Italy has the lowest percentage of people saying their nation has benefited from EU membership (44 percent) and the highest percentage of those saying it has not benefited (41 percent).

This comes after a sharp decline in EU support starting in 2015.

However, whereas many nations faced a similar decline in 2015, most have recovered since last year.

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