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Italy’s crisis and the crisis of democracy in Europe

Italy’s unelected pro EU President has just set a democratic election aside by preventing anti-EU parties forming a government

Alexander Mercouris

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Before analysing what has just happened in Italy and discussing its likely consequences, it is necessary to say something about the fact of what has just happened.

Italy is supposed to be a parliamentary republic with the Prime Minister and the government accountable to the parliament.

As in other parliamentary republics the Italian President is supposed to be a figure above politics, whose primary function is to safeguard the constitution, which he is sworn to uphold.  He is not supposed to meddle in day to day politics or to take on himself the leadership of the country.

Italy recently had parliamentary elections, which parties which can be broadly defined as ‘anti-EU’ decisively won.

Italy’s most prominent pro-EU party, the Democratic Party, saw its vote fall to 19% of the vote.  By contrast the leftist but anti-EU Five Star Movement won 32% of the vote, whilst the right wing but even more anti-EU Northern League won 17.7% of the vote.

After complex and protracted discussions of a sort which are by no means unusual in Italy, the Five Star Movement and the Northern League agreed to form a coalition government together.

That coalition government would have represented the two anti-EU parties which together won almost 50% of the vote in the parliamentary elections, and which have a majority in the lower house of the Italian Parliament the Chamber of Deputies.

There was no obvious constitutional or legal reason why that government, which represents the parties which won the parliamentary elections, should not have been allowed to take office.

In the event that is not what was permitted to happen.

The strongly pro-EU Italian President Sergio Mattarella – who is not directly elected, but is elected by an electoral college made up of the two chambers of the Italian parliament and of representatives of Italy’s regions – to the surprise of some (including me) appeared to agree to the coalition’s suggestion that its nominee Giuseppe Conte should be Italy’s new Prime Minister.

However, in what I strongly suspect was a prearranged move, he then vetoed the coalition’s nominee for Finance Minister, Paolo Savona.

This is despite the fact that Savona is an experienced banker and an internationally recognised economist, who has headed several of Italy’s banks, and who has previously held ministerial office.

In vetoing Savona’s appointment Mattarella did not question Savona’s qualifications for the Finance Ministry post or question his general competence.  Savona’s record makes that impossible.

Nor did Mattarella say that Savona was unfit to hold office because, for example, he suffers from ill health or has a criminal record.

Instead Mattarella vetoed Savona’s appointment because of Savona’s known skepticism about Italy’s membership of the Eurozone, with which Mattarella happens to disagree.

Mattarella has dressed this up by talking of the negative reaction to Savona’s appointment by the financial markets, and of his “duty” to protect Italy’s savers.

As to the first, that subordinates the will of the Italian people as expressed in a democratic election to the opinion of the financial markets; as to the second, that is purely Mattarella’s opinion, whilst the nature of his “duty” to “protect” Italy’s savers is unknown to me.

I would add that it also seems to be a case of “protecting” Italy’s savers by setting aside their votes.

In either case these seem to me to be strange reasons for a President to give for in effect refusing to confirm in office a Finance Minister selected by a government which had just been democratically elected by the people.

In reality I suspect that Mattarella never intended the coalition to take power.  He did not reject Conte because that would have been too obvious a rejection of the outcome of the election, so he rejected Savona instead, knowing that that would be unacceptable to the coalition, and would cause it to return its mandate to form a government.

In that way Mattarella is now able to say that the coalition’s failure to form a government is its fault, and deny that he has set the verdict of the election aside.

In fact this is a straightforward case of the European political establishment – of which Mattarella is very much a part – setting the result of a democratic election which it doesn’t like aside.  Moreover it is not the first time the European political establishment has done this, though it has not done this previously in quite so flagrant a way.

Thus back in November 2011 the Italian Presidency was also used to help engineer the resignation of Italy’s then Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi who also had by this time. become something of a bête noire for the European political establishment.

Berlusconi  says this was because he refused to apply for a loan to the IMF, which would have required him to impose swingeing austerity measures on Italy.   Spain’s former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero says that’s true.

As happened after Berlusconi was forced to resign, so now, the Italian Presidency is moving to appoint a rigidly orthodox pro-EU technocrat to run what is sometimes called a “technical government” in place of a government democratically accountable to the parliament.

In 2011 this was the former EU Commissioner Mario Monti.  This time it is the former IMF economist Carlo Cottarelli.

This is despite the fact that Giuseppe Conte – the coalition Prime Minister designate whose appointment the President has effectively blocked – commands a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, which Cottarelli of course does not.

Cottarelli in fact embodies and is committed to implementing precisely the mix of policies – fiscal orthodoxy, ‘supply side reforms’ and unending austerity inside the Eurozone – which Italian voters rejected in the elections in March.

There is an old British quip that if voting changed anything it would be abolished.  That is not true in Britain.  In Italy however the Italian people have just been given a lesson that voting changes nothing.

Back in November 2011, whilst the plotting against Berlusconi was still underway, but shortly after the European political establishment had engineered the resignation of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, I wrote the following on my personal blog

If the European Union collapses as a result of this crisis this will be the moment when that collapse begins.  The European Union is supposed to be a union of democracies yet faced by the greatest crisis in its history its response is to impose its decisions by arranging the removal of the government that is supposed to be accountable to the people affected by those decisions whilst denying those same people a say.  Moreover it seems that Greece is only the start.  Steps are apparently already underway to engineer through the Italian Presidency the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Italy so that it can be replaced with a new government that is more amenable to the wishes of the French and German governments and to those of the central European institutions.

Acting in a democracy to deny the people the right to a say in the way they are governed amounts to a coup d’etat.  This is so regardless of whether this coup is carried out legally or not.  The political crisis in Germany in the early 1930s was precipitated by the perfectly legal and constitutional step of forming technocratic governments that had not been elected and which were not accountable to the German parliament the Reichstag, which sought to use Presidential powers to impose by decree austerity measures the German people had not voted for.  The result was a crisis of legitimacy that ended in dictatorship.

I do not think that this time things will go this far but no one should be under any illusions about the momentous nature of the events that are now starting to unfold.  Europe is on the brink and its crisis has just stopped being only economic.

Compare that with what the British writer and commentator John Laughland is now saying about the Italian crisis

I don’t think it’s a constitutional crisis in Italy, I think it’s a constitutional crisis in the whole of Europe.  We’ve seen now systematically how members of the European elite, of which President Mattarella is an excellent example, use every method they can to prevent parties wielding power if that power is to be wielded against the euro or against the European Union.

Back in March, immediately following the Italian parliamentary elections, I discussed the reasons for the rise of anti-EU parties in Italy and across Europe.  I said that it was the inevitable outcome of the increasingly anti-democratic style European politics have been taking for several decades now and especially after the Eurozone was established.

I should have added that it was also an inevitable response to the draconian economic policies that go hand in hand with those politics, and which in the case of Italy have delivered two decades of economic stagnation.

I also said that the European political establishment appears incapable of learning anything from this, and appears determined instead to dig in, making it a certainty that resistance to it will continue to grow

…..instead of analysing and responding to what is happening the European establishment across Europe is retreating into denial.

Thus the parties and leaders who are increasingly winning votes are dismissed as “populists” – a label which is both meaningless and deeply anti-democratic – their voters are dismissed as ‘ultra-right’ and racist, and their electoral successes are explained by sinister Russian meddling which is supposed to occur but of which no evidence is ever found…..

Unfortunately, as its denialism about its repeated electoral defeats might lead one to expect, the establishment in Europe instead of changing its approach is simply digging in.

Thus we have seen the manipulation of the French electoral process in order to engineer the election of Emmanuel Macron in France, the cobbling together of the ‘grand coalition’ in Germany, the threats against Poland and Hungary, and the increasingly frantic attempts in Britain to reverse or water down the Brexit vote.

Unfortunately – as I also pointed out in the same article – in the desert which is post-modern European politics, no convincing alternative to the European establishment exists.

Though the coalition in Italy between the Five Star Movement and the Northern League mathematically speaking commands the support of around half of Italy’s voters, the two parties are ideological opposites, and it is far from certain that the coalition they have formed would have held together in government.

Moreover there are serious doubts not just about the viability of its programme but about the managerial competence of its members.

Whilst it is certainly possible that the two coalition partners will vote down Cottarelli when he comes to parliament for a vote of confidence – forcing elections in August – and whilst it is also possible that the two parties which make up the coalition will increase their share of the vote in the August elections – no one should assume any of that.

Italy being Italy, it is not impossible that the coalition will fracture, or that there will be a strong reaction against it at the polls.

In that case the coup will have succeeded, and the ancien régime will have been restored.

However that will not resolve the underlying crisis not just in Italy but in Europe.

In my previous article I spoke of the situation not just in Italy but in Europe being one of paralysis – what the Greeks called stasis – a state of immobility or ‘standing still’ despite the situation having become intolerable.

Just as everywhere else in Europe, the political system in Italy looks increasingly discredited and broken, but no viable alternative exists to put in its place.

As Gramsci once said

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

In the current political paralysis – what the Greeks called statis – “standing still” – the chaotic electoral result in Italy is just one more of the “great variety of morbid symptoms” which are bound to appear.

Events in Europe over the last few months illustrate the extent of this paralysis vividly.  Consider for example

(1) the inability of Merkel and Macron to agree together a programme for EU reform and the growing personal antipathy there is said to be between them;

(2) the resurrection of Germany’s unpopular and discredited “grand coalition” despite the severe setback it suffered in the German parliamentary elections last September;

(3) the inability of the EU to stand by Iran and to develop an effective response to Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the JCPOA or to respond to the further sanctions on Iran which he is imposing (see this discussion in the Financial Times).

The fact that the EU is almost certain to extend the sectoral sanctions it imposed on Russia at the end of June, though barely anyone in Europe believes in them any more, also tells the same story.

In Europe – not just in Italy – not only is it a case that “the new cannot be born”, but the Europeans look increasingly unable to break out of the prison they have made for themselves.

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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