Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Rebel states

As tensions rise in the standoff between a populist Italy and the European Union, Alessio Colonnelli assesses the implications for the left around the world

The latest tensions between Italy and the huge creature – the European Union – the country helped to spawn 60 years ago have been cause for grave concern. The child is now telling off her mother. Do we need to worry? Is Italy on course for a massive default?

More poignantly, on the backdrop of Brexit, what does this mean for the future of the EU itself?

Italy’s de facto negation of EU fiscal rules is widely seen – and understandably so – as a challenge to Brussels’ endeavour to bring in extensive economic safeguards for the eurozone in December. The Five Star-League coalition has repeatedly said this month that it has no plans to change its spending plan for next year. This is in open defiance to previous centre-left governments’ commitment to lower the country’s budget deficit; it is also mocking the EU Commission’s attempts to dissuade Italy from insisting on such a stance against commonly agreed rules.

At the time of writing, a few hours before the 19 eurozone members will officially declare whether Rome’s spending proposals for 2019 will be accepted or not, the EU looks to many people as fragile as never before. It is very likely that the group of 19 will not have any of Rome’s budgetary ideas.

Disobedient. Rebellious. Italy’s left-right coalition seems in fact to epitomise the world populists’ wildest dream: to go beyond old notions of left and right (Five Star’s mantra) and forge an alliance with elements of the far-right

Austria and Hungary are especially sceptical towards Italy’s plans. They have vocally (and consistently) expressed their disapproval over the past few days – Vienna first, then followed by Budapest. So much for solidarity among EU’s major rebel-states. While grave concerns should come from this consideration – a prospective Europe run by the populist far-right that is causing enough damage already, with the UK is set to leave in a few months – all eyes are set on a national government which the French radical left would call insoumis, their most cherished adjective: insubordinate.

Disobedient. Rebellious. Italy’s left-right coalition seems in fact to epitomise the world populists’ wildest dream: to go beyond old notions of left and right (Five Star’s mantra) and forge an alliance with elements of the far-right that they had previously steered away from – cleansed, that is, from the hatred towards foreigners so that the internationalist principle can be saved.

This is an old Latin American dream brought to Europe decades ago by the Belgian Chantal Mouffe (who lived long in Colombia and Bolivia) and the Argetinian Ernesto Laclau – they first met in London – which has done so much to inspire conspicuous strands of Labour. Jeremy Corbyn, Podemos (Íñigo Errejón more than Pablo Iglesias), Jean-Luc Mélenchon and even Luigi Di Maio – beneath his awkward language always struggling with the subjunctive – are all inspired by this strange update of the Third Way.

Of course, they would take exception to this view. The Third Way is equal to Blairism, a current much despised by the far-left. And yet, looking for votes at the other end of the spectrum is about compromising too.

By not openly opposing Brexit, Corbyn and his supporters are precisely doing this. Fair enough. Strategically, this makes absolute sense. You need to count as many votes as you can, after all. Beyond highfalutin talks of tenets and principles, the ability to find a halfway house is what brings politicians at the very top. If you believe your strategy will pay off, go for it – and leave all other theories to one side. Until you get into government, at least, which is exactly what the incumbent government in Rome has achieved. Politically speaking, these are exceptionally interesting times.

But if you are concerned about the future of the EU, I’d say you needn’t worry. Too big to fail. The question you ought to ask is: what about Britain?

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Alessio Colonnelli is a freelance journalist specialising in European current affairs. You can read his blogs here

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