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ANALYSIS: Here’s why Italy’s Matteo Salvini is down, but not out

Matteo Salvini's bid for power saw him lose his place in government, but the head of the populist League thrives in opposition. Italian politics specialist Daniele Albertazzi explains why it's too soon to write Salvini off.

ANALYSIS: Here's why Italy's Matteo Salvini is down, but not out
Matteo Salvini in the Senate this week. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s League party and former interior minister, has bad news piling up on him. Things have gone from bad to worse since he brought down his own government in an attempt to force new elections.

It became immediately clear that the president of the republic, Sergio Mattarella, was not willing to facilitate Salvini’s election plan. Instead, he encouraged coalition talks between unlikely allies – the Five Star Movement, which had been in government with the League, the Democratic Party and the tiny Free and Equal party. All went unexpectedly smoothly and this new government is up and running, having secured the confidence of parliament.

READ ALSO: Italy's new government gets final green light from senate

The Democratic Party has allowed Giuseppe Conte, who led the previous government, to stay on as prime minister. This is a huge victory for him and for Five Star, but it came with concessions too. The Democrats took control of many and important ministries, including the economy portfolio. That means an unapologetically pro-EU party is now in charge.

Five Star and the Democratic Party have shown an unexpected propensity for compromise so far. No doubt there will be plenty of clashes ahead, but there is also a realistic chance that the new governing majority will find agreement in areas their electorate very much cares about, including investing in the green economy and the welfare state, legislating on precarious working conditions and increasing investment in the south and education, to cite just a few.

READ ALSO: Here are the main things Italy's prime minister says his government will do

Headlines now declare Salvini’s era has “come to an end”. Deprived of his job as interior minister, he will no longer be able to use a position of power to conduct a constant election campaign based on immigration and law and order issues.

To those who have followed Italian politics for a while, however, these claims look very premature.

There is no doubt that Salvini has miscalculated – he is wounded and struggling to repackage his loss of power as a victory. His image as the successful “Captain” (as his social media team has renamed him to differentiate him from the previous League leader, who was known as “the Boss”) may take some time to recover. This may be a problem for a leader who has turned his party into a personalised organisation that very much relies on his image and communicative ability for its success.

But Salvini has many cards up his sleeve, both in terms of the strength of the organisation backing him (well rooted in the north and running a very efficient social media operation) and the issues he can campaign on in the near future.


Matteo Salvini protesting in front of parliament during a confidence vote in the new government. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Strength in opposition

For instance, Five Star is very successful in the south of Italy, so the new government is unlikely to deliver the kind of greater regional autonomy that wins votes in the north of the country.

In the regions of the north, where the League has always been strong, the desire to see more tax receipts being used to improve public services locally is very widespread. But introducing a reform that deprives the public purse of considerable resources would make it impossible to run decent services in the poorest regions of the south.

In this sense, not being in government is convenient for the League, as there was no way they themselves would have managed to deliver what their northern constituencies wanted while sharing power with Five Star. The circle simply could not be squared on this issue, and any compromise would have looked like failure.

The same can be said of the fact that the 2019 budget is obviously going to be drafted by someone other than Salvini. Reconciling the League’s promise to cut taxes with the Five Star’s largesse on welfare would have meant either cutting tax by too little or to too few people.

Now the League won’t need to compromise anymore, and neither will it be seen amending the budget to meet the objections of the EU Commission – as it had to do last year.

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Then there is, of course, migration (which the League has managed to reduce to the much narrower, but symbolically charged, issue of people trying to cross the Mediterranean sea from Africa).

Salvini’s approach (“let’s close the ports!”) has large support among the Italian electorate (including, interestingly, Five Star’s voters). No doubt the League will relentlessly focus on the supposed failures of the new administration on this issue.

Salvini has a clear message and “owns” several key themes such as low taxation, regionalism, immigration and law and order. He can also rely on a rooted party and a very efficient media operation.

Much like anyone else, he is, of course, beatable – and his aura as a winner has taken a heavy blow. But those now rushing to write his political obituary should take a good look at the reasons for the League’s success throughout the years, as well as the party’s presence on the ground and its ability to run effective campaigns. They won’t see this party or its leader disappear any time soon.

Daniele Albertazzi, Reader in Politics, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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