Italy Should Heed Dutch Advice

Giuseppe Conte Mark Rutte
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is received by his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, in The Hague, July 10 (Palazzo Chigi)

The Dutch government is criticized in the international media for resisting EU grants (it prefers loans conditions on reforms) to help pay for the economic recovery in coronavirus-struck Southern Europe. But the critics are oddly incurious about the Netherlands’ motives.

An editorial in Monday’s Financial Times is typical. It accuses Prime Minister Mark Rutte of singlehandedly putting the EU economy at risk, but it resorts to stereotype and innuendo to explain why he’s unwilling to sign off on a €750 billion recovery fund: the Dutch are stingy and Rutte is worried about losing voters to the Euroskeptic right. (He’s never been more popular.)

Mr Rutte pays lip service to the idea of a stronger, geopolitical Europe but is unwilling to accept the price tag that comes with it, especially with national elections looming next year.

I single out the Financial Times because it should know better. There have been worse opinion columns in the Italian and Spanish press.

At least the Financial Times hints at the need for “productivity-enhancing reforms” in Italy and Spain, which have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. But it doesn’t say which reforms or why.

In an opinion column for EUobserver, I do. Read more “Italy Should Heed Dutch Advice”

Right-Wing Italians Swap Salvini’s for Even More Right-Wing Party

Matteo Salvini Marine Le Pen Harald Vilimsky Michał Marusik
Far-right party leaders Matteo Salvini of Italy, Marine Le Pen of France, Harald Vilimsky of Austria and Michał Marusik of Poland give a news conference in Strasbourg, May 11, 2016 (European Parliament/Fred Marvaux)

It’s been a bad few months for Italy’s populist right-wing leader, Matteo Salvini.

First his erstwhile governing partner, the Five Star Movement, and the opposition Democrats outmaneuvered him by teaming up to avoid snap elections which polls predicted Salvini’s League would win.

Now his antics in reaction to the government’s coronavirus policy are falling flat.

Salvini and his party “occupied” parliament (refusing to leave the chamber) to demonstrate against the COVID-19 quarantine. He has tweeted out disinformation about the disease, claiming it was created in a Chinese lab. Few Italians care.

Polls find two in three have little faith in the EU anymore, which many Italians feel has been too slow to come to their aid. (Italy has had one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus disease in the world.) Yet it hasn’t given the Euroskeptic Salvini, who once argued for giving up the euro, a boost. Read more “Right-Wing Italians Swap Salvini’s for Even More Right-Wing Party”

Renzi Won’t Become the Italian Macron

Matteo Renzi
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers questions from reporters in Berlin, Germany, July 1, 2015 (Palazzo Chigi)

Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi is leaving the Democrats to form his own new centrist party. Some thirty lawmakers are reportedly ready to go with him.

Renzi, a social democrat, is hoping to do for Italy what Emmanuel Macron did for France.

Don’t bet on it. Read more “Renzi Won’t Become the Italian Macron”

Matteo Salvini Appears to Have Made a Huge Mistake

Italy’s most popular politician appears to have made a huge mistake.

Matteo Salvini, the country’s hardline interior minister, brought down his far-right League’s government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement on Tuesday, hoping to trigger early elections that polls suggest his party would win.

But none of the other parties are willing to play ball. Read more “Matteo Salvini Appears to Have Made a Huge Mistake”

Italy Is Failing Its Next Generation

Milan Italy
Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy, November 24, 2009 (Bjørn Giesenbauer)

Italy is creating a lost generation.

Consider the following statistics, some taken from the Financial Times:

  • 30 percent of Italians between the ages of 15 and 24 are out of work, more or less the same rate as in Spain but almost double the eurozone average.
  • Of those in work, the majority are on temporary contracts.
  • Nearly eight out of ten young Italians are in part-time work and unable to find full-time employment, the highest rate by far among large European economies. In France and Spain, it’s about 50 percent.
  • Italy spends far less on tertiary education that its neighbors. The result: only 27 percent of Italians in their thirties have a university degree, the second-lowest rate in the EU, where the average is 40 percent. Italy does especially poorly in educating migrants: just 13 percent of its foreign-born population has completed university against 36 percent in the EU as a whole.
  • Average real incomes are roughly at the level they were in 1995. In France, Germany and Spain, they have grown about 25 percent.
  • 3.2 percent of working-age Italians now live elsewhere in the EU, up from 2.4 percent in 2008. Read more “Italy Is Failing Its Next Generation”

Italy Backs Down from Budget Fight with EU

The leaders of Italy’s ruling populist parties have backed down from a fight with the European Commission over their 2019 budget.

Luigi Di Maio, the labor minister and leader of the Five Star Movement, and Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and leader of the far-right League, said after a meeting on Sunday that they had given their blessing to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s revised spending plan, which reduces next year’s shortfall from 2.4 to 2 percent of GDP. Read more “Italy Backs Down from Budget Fight with EU”

Italy’s Budget Standoff with the European Commission, Explained

Berlaymont Brussels Belgium
The sun sets on the Berlaymont, seat of the European Commission, in Brussels, Belgium (Shutterstock/Jasmin Zurijeta)

The European Commission has told Italy to revise its budget for 2019, accusing it of “openly and consciously” reneging on the commitments it has made.

This has been reported as the commission “rejecting” Italy’s budget proposal, but that is too strong a term. It has no such power.

Here is what’s really going on — and what is likely to happen next. Read more “Italy’s Budget Standoff with the European Commission, Explained”

Rome on Collision Course with European Allies, Financial Markets

Saint Peter's Basilica Rome Italy
Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy at night (Unsplash/Matthias Mullie)

I cheered too soon. A few weeks ago, I reported that Italy’s populists were coming to terms with reality. Now they have introduced a spending plan that puts them on a collision course with the European Commission and financial markets.

Reneging on the commitment of the last government, the coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right League, formed four months ago, proposes to run a deficit equal to 2.4 percent of GDP in 2019.

That is still below the EU’s 3-percent ceiling, but it is a reversal of the fiscal consolidation path followed so far and it means Italy’s public debt, already one of the highest in the world at 130 percent of GDP, will rise rather than fall. Read more “Rome on Collision Course with European Allies, Financial Markets”