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Italy’s crisis and the crisis of democracy in Europe

Shades of Greece as Italy’s pro-EU President has set a democratic election aside by preventing anti-EU parties from forming a government.

Alexander Mercouris

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Originally published in The Duran.
Before analyzing 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 percent of the vote.  By contrast the leftist but anti-EU Five Star Movement won 32 percent of the vote, whilst the right wing but even more anti-EU Northern League won 17.7 percent 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 percent 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 any 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 recognized 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, the Italian Presidency is now 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’s 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 and of 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 program 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.
Opinions expressed are those of the author alone and may not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Hellenic Insider, its publisher, its editors, or its staff, writers, and contributors.

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen exposes Washington’s latest twist in anti-Russia strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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